KARIYA, Japan -- Yasushi Yamanaka, the newly appointed global r&d chief at Toyota Group megasupplier Denso Corp., is chasing two elusive methods to radically improve fuel efficiency by 2025.
And neither involves sexy next-generation technologies such as electric-gasoline hybrids.
Instead, Yamanaka aims to tap the core technologies that helped transform his Japanese supplier into the world's No. 4 parts maker: engine management systems and air conditioning.
To be sure, Denso will be working on hybrid systems. But its engineers say there are big breakthroughs to be had in updating conventional technologies.
On the engine side, Denso plans to develop technologies that will boost the thermal efficiency rates of internal combustion engines to 50 percent. Thermal efficiency is a measure of how much engine power is lost through heat; a higher rate is better.
The ultraefficient engine on the current Toyota Prius hybrid, for example, achieves thermal efficiency of 37 percent.
In climate control, Denso wants to develop more efficient air conditioning that will narrow the gap between a vehicle's fuel efficiency rating and its real-world mileage.
Denso estimates that the actual mileage logged in everyday driving can be as much as 40 percent lower than the sticker mileage derived under contrived testing conditions.
Denso's goal: Whittle that gap to 20 percent.
The Japanese supplier wants to deliver both the superefficient engine technology and the improved real-world road efficiency by around 2025, said Yamanaka, a thermal systems engineer who was promoted to executive vice president in charge of global r&d on June 19.
"For Denso, the engine is the heart of the whole system, so we are working on r&d from all angles," Yamanaka said in a July 8 interview at the company's global headquarters outside Nagoya.
"There is a lot of growth that will come from these areas."
Yamanaka, 58, joined Denso in 1979 working extensively as an engineer in its air-conditioning business. In 2013, he also worked as CEO of the Japanese supplier's European unit.
Powertrain management and thermal control components are Denso mainstays, accounting for more than half of its revenue.
Sales of powertrain products, such as fuel injectors, throttle bodies and fuel-air modules, rose 6.7 percent to ¥1.53 trillion ($12.79 billion) in the fiscal year ended March 31.
Sales of thermal products such as air-conditioning systems increased 7.8 percent to $10.28 billion.
Both businesses outpaced the overall 5.2 percent increase in global sales that the company posted on a consolidated basis.
In fiscal 2014, Denso's sales to global automakers were an estimated $32.37 billion, No. 4 on Automotive News' list of top global suppliers.