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Toyoda (left) and Suzuki say it's early days in their cooperation talks  (Photo: Toyota)

Toyota Motor and Suzuki, citing the major changes faced by the global auto industry and the need to bundle industry-wide R&D resources, said they are exploring a business partnership.

The two automakers provided little detail on the nature of their talks, but said in a press release that, next to traditional areas of R&D focus, “it is increasingly important to work together with other companies on areas such as infrastructure development, as well as the establishment of new industrial standards.”

Toyota is the world’s biggest automotive group, with a presence in virtually all car segments. Suzuki is much smaller but has a strong position in small cars, especially in Japan and India. It has a dominant share of the rapidly expanding Indian market through a partnership with local producer Maruti.

For Toyota, a partnership could help defray some of the costs of its widespread R&D operations. CEO Akio Toyoda said at a press briefing in Tokyo that Toyota is engaged in a broad range of R&D activities, including on environmental issues, safety and security, hydrogen propulsion, artificial intelligence, robotics and future technologies such as automated driving.

“In these fields there is a limit to the R&D which each company is conducting individually,” Toyoda said.

Toyoda acknowledged that his company is changing course with regard to partnerships. At a press briefing earlier this year, the Toyota CEO said the carmaker was “not really good at creating alliances” and that Toyota had traditionally preferred to operate independently in all areas.

“However, as the surrounding environment is changing drastically, we need to have capability to respond to changes in order to survive,” Toyoda said in Tokyo last week. “We would like to always keep our doors open for new partnership opportunities, which will contribute to the making of ever-better cars as well as to the development of the automotive industry.”

Suzuki, which initiated the talks with Toyota, said the partnership could help it address “a sense of uncertainty” with regard to future technologies. That uncertainty will persist “if we continue to just refine our traditional automobile technologies which we have been working on thus far,” Suzuki CEO Osamu Suzuki said at a joint press conference in Tokyo.

Contrary to other brands, Suzuki has been slow in embracing electrification and autonomous driving. In 2009, the brand agreed to pursue a broad cooperation with the Volkswagen Group, but after seven years of negotiations, relations were permanently severed in early 2016.