Toyota, SoftBank team up for self-driving cars

Toyota, SoftBank team up for self-driving cars 1

Toyota Motor Corp. and Japanese tech conglomerate Softbank Corp. will jointly make up a fund of a new mobility company that combines autonomous driving and ride-hailing with on-demand retail shopping delivered to people’s doorsteps by vehicles such as Toyota’s futuristic e-Palette.

The new company, to be called Monet Technologies Corp., will be 50.25 percent owned by Softbank and 49.75 percent held by Toyota, the companies announced at a Thursday joint news conference.

The partners will make an initial outlay of 2 billion yen ($17.54 million) and increase the investment to 10 billion yen ($87.72 million) over time, the companies said. The agreement teams two of Japan’s biggest and most globally-minded companies as they each seek a bigger profile in the coming world of self-driving cars and new mobility.

Toyota is bracing for a world in which people buy fewer personal cars, and the company is looking to new mobility and automated fleets for fresh revenue streams. Softbank, with its deep roots in telecommunications and microchips, sees autonomous driving as a next natural step.

Son, the richest man in Japan, shared the stage with Toyota President Akio Toyoda to announce the deal in a rare joint appearance by two of Japan’s top captains of industry. The move comes amid growing concerns in Japan that its automakers are falling behind in the global self-driving car race, as rivals pile in from new corners such as China and Silicon Valley.

A day before the Toyota-Softbank tie up, Japanese rival Honda Motor Co. said it would invest $750 million in General Motors’ autonomous vehicle business, GM Cruise LLC. Under that deal, Honda will also pay $2 billion for development and deployment of self-driving cars.

Monet will leverage Toyota’s e-Palette, which was unveiled at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It is a fully autonomous, pure electric boxcar-like rolling work and living space on eight wheels. Toyota develops the undercarriage and platform and lets others customize the shell. Think mobile field office, rolling pizza parlor or on-the-go shoe store. Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Tomoyama said Toyota wants to commercialize the e-Palette around 2023. Monet will not be a developer of autonomous driving cars, he said. The new joint venture will be a mobility as a service provider that leverages that technology.

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