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Denso’s Research Priorities

A Q&A with Denso R&D Director Masami Manabe.

 Masami Manabe
Denso R&D Director Masami Manabe will add 50 engineers to his workforce.  
Almost lost in the fanfare surrounding the December launch of Toyota Motor’s first fuel cell vehicle — the FCHV — was Denso Corp.’s new carbon dioxide airconditioning system.

The device, which debuted at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress last March, is one of 33 Denso components adopted for the fuel-cell hybrid which went on sale in the U.S. and Japan. Other components include the FCHV’s radiator, radiator cooling fan, reserve tank, water pump inverters, speed meter and a long list of sensors. The air conditioner, which Denso hopes will eventually replace conventional systems that employ hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, is one of the centerpieces of the company’s R&D activities and highlights the future direction of its products with respect to the environment, safety and information technology.

Annually, Denso management allocates 8 percent of consolidated sales, an estimated $1.5 billion in fiscal 2001, to research and development. Among Japanese automotive companies, the sum is larger than all but Toyota, Honda Motor and Nissan Motor.

Masami Manabe, managing director in charge of Denso’s Engineering Research & Development Center, feels current spending levels are sufficient to support the company’s main operating groups. These are powertrain control systems, electronic and electric systems, thermal systems, small motors and information technology products.

Interviewed at Denso headquarters, Manabe, who oversees a research organization organization of 500 scientists and engineers, says Denso currently divides its basic and strategic R&D activities into 24 themes. Of these, seven focus on the environment (including CO2 air-conditioners and hybrid and fuel cell vehicle components), three concern information technology (including telematics and future navigation systems), and two involve safety (including millimeter-wave radar).

In the future, he expects there will be a further subdivision of the information technology and safety areas, as he outlines this Automotive Industries’ exclusive JReports interview.

Q: What are Denso’s main research priorities?
There are three main areas — environment, safety and information technology.

Q: Mazda recently adopted Denso’s 1,800-bar diesel common rail system on its new Atenza/Mazda 6. Toyota is scheduled to do so on the Avensis this spring. What is the pressure limit for common rail systems?
We have been asked to raise pressure to 2,100 bar. However, we’re close to the limit in terms of metal fatigue and durability. Thus, in an effort to bring down costs, I would expect carmakers to shift back to 1,400, even 130 levels with multi stage injection capability.

Q: Toyota is currently requiring component defect levels in the 5-10 ppm range. How much lower can you go?
Our goal has been single-digit ppm, delivered rate. With expanded use of modules and increased complexity from adding functionality, this level will be difficult to maintain. At present, we produce front-end, cockpit and air-fuel modules.

Q: Who do you consider your toughest competitor?
Robert Bosch.

Q: Looking at competitors like Robert Bosch and Delphi, what is Denso’s strength in the R&D field?
I believe our ability to develop systems and integrate them into the vehicle is our greatest strength. We also have a broad range of technology from electronics to mechanics.

Q: How long does it take to transfer technology from central R&D to Denso’s systems groups?
On average, it takes between two and four years. In the case of laser radar, it took a bit longer to develop, around five to six years; for common rail, between two and three years. In the case of common- rail technology, around 70 to 80 percent of development work was handled by the Engineering Research & Development Center before being sent on to the powertrain systems group for completion.

Q: What are your targets for raising R&D productivity?
It is difficult to say, but over the next two to three years or by 2005, we plan to increase R&D engineers by 10 percent to 550, from 500 at present. Concurrently, we expect job complexity to increase by 20 to 30 percent.

Q: Apart from the 500 who are under your supervision, how many engineers in total does Denso employ?
Around 8,000 including 4,500 in product development in the system groups.

Q: In light of the early December launches of the FCHV and FCV by Toyota and Honda, when do you think fuel cell vehicles will come into the mainstream?
Both companies have said that costs won’t come down until after 2010 and perhaps 2020. For Denso, the biggest technical problem is cold climate operation. At present, one can’t drive a fuel cell vehicle in Canada.

Q: In the electronics area, is 42-volt electrical architecture a development priority?
We currently supply the 42-volt ‘stopand- go’ system for the Toyota Crown hybrid. My feeling is that interest in 42-volt architecture will lessen in the near term due to cost considerations. I expect carmakers to look for cheaper alternatives until around 2008 or 2010 at which time interest will pick up again.

This article was provided exclusively to Automotive Industries by J.REPORTS, a new information service offering in-depth coverage of automotive technology based in Tokyo. For additional information about this and other studies and prices, contact

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