PLYMOUTH, MI – JTEKT Corp., one of the best-kept secrets in the North American supplier industry, is experiencing tough times like everyone else and is looking to position itself for when the market recovers.

That could happen as soon as this fall, some analysts say.

But in the meantime, JTEKT, with headquarters in Japan, has a couple things going for it that will help take it through the slump: It is the main steering system supplier to Toyota Motor Corp. and North America, and claims to be the world’s leading supplier of electric power steering (EPS).

It also says it is the largest supplier of all-wheel-drive systems in both the North American and global markets.

JTEKT uses four U.S. plants to supply steering systems to Toyota’s North American-built Avalon, Camry, Sequoia, Sienna, Solara, Tacoma and Tundra, all hydraulic types; and the Corolla, Matrix, RAV4, Venza, Lexus RX 350 and Pontiac Vibe, all fitted with column-mounted EPS.

General Motors Corp. programs include the Chevrolet Cobalt, HHR and Equinox; Saturn Sky and Vue; and Pontiac Solstice and Torrent. In addition, JTEKT supplies the Suzuki XL7. Most are column EPS.

JTEKT also supplies the optional variable-gear-ratio system adopted by the Cadillac DTS and the 42-volt systems for GM’s growing lineup of hybrids including the 2-Mode GMC Yukon and Sierra, Cadillac Escalade and Chevrolet Silverado.

Management claims the EPS systems for the Silverado and Sierra hybrids are the first developed for fullsize pickups.

Chrysler Group LLC programs, comprising mainly power steering pumps, include the Chrysler 300, Sebring, Town & Country and PT Cruiser; Dodge Caravan, Charger, Challenger, Dakota and Journey; and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

A senior JTEKT research official confirms the supplier is working on several projects with Chrysler.

Elsewhere, JTEKT supplies hydraulic power steering systems to Honda of America Mfg. Inc. in Lincoln, AL, and Alliston, ON, Canada, for the Honda Odyssey and Acura MDX and to Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc. in Normal, IL, for the Eclipse and Galant.

JTEKT ITCC Applications
Company Models
Chrysler Jeep Compass, Patriot
Fiat Sedici
Ford Ford Edge, Escape, Flex, Fusion, Milan, Taurus, Taurus X; Lincoln MKZ, MKS
GM Chevrolet Silverado, Equinox, Traverse, Windstorm; GMC Acadia, Sierra, Terrain; Buick Enclave; Saturn Outlook, Vue; Pontiac Torrent
Mazda Atenza/Mazda6, Mazdaspeed Atenza, Premacy, Tribute
Mitsubishi Outlander
Nissan X-Trail
Suzuki SX4 & XL7
Toyota Estima, Ipsum, Isis, Noah, RAV4, Venza, Voxy, Wish

JTEKT supplies EPS to Nissan Mexicana SA de CV for the Sentra built in Aguascalientes, Mexico. It is scheduled to supply two more Nissan models in 2011.

JTEKT researchers claim that converting to EPS – and eliminating the hydraulic pump on conventional steering systems – improves fuel economy and reduces carbon-dioxide emissions. Moreover, they note, EPS is relatively easier to integrate with vehicle dynamic and active-chassis controls. It also can be assembled more quickly, because it has fewer parts.

At present, the biggest obstacle facing engineers is how to move column-mounted EPS into higher vehicle classes requiring more than 7,745 lb.-ft. (10,500 Nm) of steering-rack force.

They note that in the future the supplier must raise capacity to 11,064 lb.-ft. (15,000 Nm), the current levels of more robust rack-mounted EPS, and possibly 13,277 lb.-ft. (18,000 Nm), if column EPS technology is to be adopted for medium-duty trucks.

“At present, there are no fuel-efficiency standards for commercial-truck operators,” explains a senior engineering executive. “Once standards are in place, truck operators will look for new steering solutions.”

Until now, column EPS has been adopted mainly by A-, B- and C-class vehicles – Nissan Sentra and smaller – although the technology is being applied increasingly to vehicles in the C/D and E segments.

“Customer requests have become more challenging,” says the executive. “We are looking increasingly into higher-voltage and hybrid vehicles. Most of our focus is on column EPS. Customers like column EPS because of its lower cost.”

At the low end of the spectrum, column EPS is estimated to be 10%-15% more costly than hydraulic types.

JTEKT still is not doing basic steering system engineering in North America. That is being handled mainly in Japan.

Prior to the market downturn last autumn, management had planned to bring basic design and engineering to the U.S. within five years’ time. “Now, it’s anybody’s guess,” says the executive.

Meanwhile, JTEKT holds the dominant share of all-wheel-drive systems for front-wheel-drive vehicles built in North America.

The supplier’s Greenville, SC, plant was producing about 1.1 million electronic driveline systems per year prior to the market downturn, while its Torsen operation was making 72,000 mechanical types in Rochester, NY.

Toyoda Machine Works Ltd., which merged with Koyo Seiko Co. Ltd. in 2006 to form JTEKT, was the first supplier to introduce electronic driveline systems on mass-market vehicles.

The supplier’s electronic driveline technology goes by the name ITCC for Intelligent Torque Controlled Coupling. The first application was in 1997.