Sep 15, 2023CAREER & LIFE
Bringing a new breeze to car choices with hydrogen engines.
Hope for a “future that allows people to choose a car by power sources”.
By meeting outside of the workplace with ambitious, hard-working associates at DENSO—as well as those who just seem to be fascinating individuals—it’s possible to break down the barriers of formality and talk openly, listening to their heartfelt concerns along with their unfiltered dreams and goals.
In this “Interviews with Employees Who Get Results” series, we talk casually with a wide range of professionals at DENSO to learn what truly drives them in their work, as well as their ambitions and dreams.
Kenji Aoyagi who is involved in the development of systems related to hydrogen engine is joining us today.
Aoyagi has been researching diesel and natural gas engines since his student days. After joining DENSO, he has been involved in system development related to gasoline and hydrogen engines and working as a specialist in system development in various engines.
“Going forward, I would like to realize a future that allows people to choose a car by power sources. If we can choose not only the design and performance, but also the power sources such as engines and motors, I think it will make cars more enjoyable.”
Aoyagi says he has a dream that he wants to realize, beginning with engines, which is his area of expertise. With a smile on his face, he tells us that he wants to bring a new breeze to the future with a clear vision of the cars he wants to make.
Through this interview, let's take a look at what is important in being involved in new engine development, what is the driving force for overcoming difficulties, the future that Aoyagi envisions, and his thoughts.
Contents of this article
The profound nature of the hydrogen engine, which seems inorganic but alive
───First of all, Aoyagi-san, please tell us about the project you are working on.
Aoyagi：Hydrogen engines are attracting attention as one of the carbon neutral energy systems, and DENSO is responsible for the development of some of the products in this hydrogen engine. I am in charge of studying the system requirements for optimal control of each product together with vehicle manufacturers, who are our customers.
───Hydrogen engine, I see...! It seems a little difficult to me.
Aoyagi：I know many people are still unfamiliar with it. Let me explain briefly. Currently, gasoline and diesel engines are the most common types of engines used for driving cars.
But in recent years, due to the background of a growing worldwide movement toward carbon neutrality, hydrogen engines have been drawing attention as an alternative fuel with low CO₂ emissions.
───I see. So, you are saying that cars can be powered by hydrogen, which has less environmental impact.
Aoyagi：Yes, exactly. Hydrogen engines are made by applying existing technology, so their mechanism is not different from that of gasoline or diesel engines. It means that the mechanism remains same as that of conventional engines, and only the fuels are different. This is also the difficult but interesting point of hydrogen engines.
Aoyagi：The system development related to hydrogen engines is still in its infancy in many areas. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find cases where things do not go as expected. I feel that it has a profound nature, as if it is inorganic and yet alive.
I have ever been in trouble many times because of that, but this is why we are so happy when we succeed after working through trial and error with our customers. I really enjoy the process itself of exploring the questions, saying “What caused the failure?” or “How about trying this out next time?”
───We can see how you enjoy the challenge itself, even as you are tackling difficult tasks!
Aoyagi：There have been many tough times, but I have tried to look at them in positive ways, saying "I have solved some problems at their early stages that would happen someday". If we can identify the cause of the failure, we can try another way to avoid it next time. Our goal is to create cars that are safe and secure for everyone to drive. I try to think that we are one step closer to that future and keep moving forward without being discouraged with failures.
Strive to develop products that reflect “what the customer really needs”
───Please tell us about what you value in your work.
Aoyagi：The key word for the realization of a hydrogen society is “prompt spread of hydrogen energy”, and it is necessary to promote development with a sense of unity throughout society, both inside and outside the company. In order to achieve this, I try to listen to and understand the opinions and ideas about the issue not only in the company but also of our customers, vehicle manufacturers, as well as the background and objectives that led to their opinions and ideas.
Our customers are always focusing on the development of safe and secure vehicles, keeping in mind the end-users who will drive their vehicles. The development of hydrogen engines is not a goal, but rather a process. It is also one of our tasks to understand their needs that lie ahead of the process, such as “what our customers really hopes for and want to achieve through the development of hydrogen engines.”
We believe that we can provide our products that truly satisfy our customers by organizing and understanding their objectives and presenting proposals that are possible only by DENSO and holding discussions from the perspective of not only the engines but also the entire vehicles in order to respond as much as possible to requests of our customers such as “we want to create cars and engines like this.”
───I see. So, you are required to develop products with an outlook on how the vehicle will be used by end-users.
Aoyagi：That's right. Therefore, it is very important to communicate with customers rather than to do research and development alone. I value making adjustment of mutual understanding of what kind of vehicles we would like to create in order to avoid any discrepancies.
───When such efforts finally bear fruit, you and your customers must be very happy.
Aoyagi：Yes. We are very happy when we deliver our products that the customers have been looking for through our proposals. When we see them pleased, it makes us smile and feel glad that we have worked together with them. We take on challenges not only with our colleagues in the company, but also with our customers together. I believe that is why we can share success together.
Accept any opinions flexibly, thinking they are “hints for success“.
───I think there is a variety of opinions and ideas when you tackle the challenges to a new field of a hydrogen engine. What do you keep in mind there?
Aoyagi：I don't deny others’ opinions and ideas out of hand. This is my rule. A sense of speed is required for the system development of the hydrogen engines, and it is still in its infancy. That is why we learn from the opinions of not only our customers, but also our bosses and colleagues, and I think that any suggestion can be a hint for our success.
Although I am highly specialized in engines, there are professionals in other fields, and young members sometimes give me their opinions without any preconceptions.
If you reject their opinions because “They are different from mine." or " I think they are incorrect in my experience." - and if their opinions you rejected are correct, we suffer losses. I try to accept any opinions once, share my own opinion, and then discuss them with others.
───I think it is important to accept various opinions, but it can be surprisingly difficult to actually put it into practice.
Aoyagi：It may be difficult for me to do it only with a sense of duty of the job. But when I try to communicate with others with an interest in them, it is genuinely interesting to learn about differences in the way they think and perceive things, wondering how they came up with such ideas and why they perceive things the way they do. In that sense, it is also new and instructive to hear the perspectives and experiences of people of different industries.
The knowledge that I have developed through my interactions with others can be used as clues for overcoming obstacles when I encounter them. I always realize that it is important not only to hone my skills, but also to find ways to relate other people's ideas and knowledge to our own work. Receiving inspiration from various people is a motivation to look forward saying, “I have to keep up, too!”
Aiming for a future where people can enjoy their cars more freely.
───In closing, could you tell us about your “will" (dreams and aspirations) that you are currently embracing?
Aoyagi：I have had a dream that ”I want to create a future where people can choose the car they want by a variety of power sources”, which I had never changed and was the reason for application for DENSO. Each user has their own preference for design and performance of vehicles. I think there is still a lot of room for individuals to enjoy the fun of choosing a car, such as “I want to drive a car with low environmental impact,” “I want to have a cute interior with my car.” and “I want a durable car that doesn't require much maintenance.”
Some people may be interested in engine vehicles such as hydrogen engine vehicles and e-fuel engine vehicles, and electric vehicles such as fuel cell vehicles and battery electric vehicles. I think that's fine. If you could customize your cars to your taste with power sources with your own will, you could enjoy cars much more than ever. I am working hard on development with the thought that I am playing a part of that. I want people to enjoy cars more freely. I am happy if we can increase the number of people who are interested in cars even just a little by expanding their choices.
───It is a wonderful dream! We may be able to design our cars by our own just like we design our own houses in the future.
Aoyagi：Yes, I think so, too. I think I am still fascinated by the possibilities of cars. When I was a child, my parents took me to many places by car. I used to get excited seeing scenery through the window of the car that I could not see from trains. Now I would like to give a breath of fresh air in order to convey the joy of cars to the world.
───Thank you very much! Finally, could you give a message to those who want to find a “will" (dreams and aspirations) and take a step forward in the future?
Aoyagi：Whenever I jump into a new world, I always remember to “have confidence in myself when I take a new step forward”. You may be scared, anxious, and nervous. However, you are sure to have accumulated the experience up to now. Believe in what you have achieved so far and build self-confidence in yourself, and you will overcome the obstacles.
Changing your "Can'ts" into "Cans"
Where Knowledge and People Gather.