The two automakers said Monday they signed a memorandum of understanding on the partnership. A final agreement is expected in 2012. The idea began with a chance airport encounter between their two CEOs, Alan Mulally and Akio Toyoda.
They also will cooperate on developing industrywide standards on in-vehicle communication systems that enable drivers to make phone calls, track emails and post to social networks from their vehicles.
The potential benefit from the alliance would be to make fuel-saving hybrid technology available in light trucks, which still account for more than half of all vehicles sold in the United States. Ford and Toyota would be able to bring the technology to market at a lower cost than if they developed it separately.
"The importance here is reducing the cost of ownership for truck customers . . . without compromising the ability to deliver the towing capacity and horsepower," said Derrick Kuzak, a Ford product development executive.
Kuzak compared the partnership to similar collaborations Ford has with General Motors Corp. on 6-speed transmissions and with PSA Peugeot Citroen on diesel engines in Europe. He declined to say which Ford model would be the first to incorporate a hybrid system that results from this partnership.
"The first phase will include a feasibility study where we define the scope and content of the partnership," Kuzak said. Once the roles and responsibilities are understood, Ford and Toyota will move on to forging a more detailed agreement.
The work the two companies plan on in-vehicle technology will focus on making systems safer to use. Concerns over driver distraction and customer confusion over certain touch-screen or voice-activated features have risen in the last year with Ford's introduction of MyFord and MyLincoln Touch features on the Ford Edge, Lincoln MKX and Ford Explorer.
Toyota is launching its own multimedia system called Entune later this year.