Toyota Motor Corp. and Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank Corp. say they are setting up a joint venture to create mobility services, adding to a slew of deals aimed at sharing costs and securing expertise in technologies which promise to drastically change the way people use cars.
The new company, to be called Monet Technologies Corp. will start with 2 billion yen (£13.5 million) in the capital. The companies announced today at the joint news conference that 50.25 percent will be owned by SoftBank and 49.75 percent to be held by Toyota.
The partnership between Japan’s top automaker and tech firm shows that even the biggest, well-funded players fear being left behind in the race to develop self-driving and connected cars. The news comes a day after Honda Motor Co Ltd. said it would invest $2.75 billion and take a 5.7 percent stake in General Motors Co’s Cruise self-driving vehicle unit, in which SoftBank is also an investor.
The first phase of operation will run through 2020 and deploy a ride-hailing service around Japan. The second phase, to start after 2020 when regulatory hurdles are cleared, will focus on deploying the e-Palette vehicle to do things such as make meal deliveries, take retail shopping to remote areas and do things such as provide mobile medical clinics that visit people’s homes.
The initial phase will focus on Japan, but the Toyota Softbank mobility services are envisioned as eventually being extended overseas as well, a Toyota spokesman said. Monet will begin with about 30 employees from Toyota and SoftBank and be headed Junichi Miyakawa, SoftBank’s chief technology officer.
Toyota, one of the world’s prime automakers, has been developing automated driving and artificial intelligence technologies with its group suppliers. The automaker foresees the future of transportation services will include convoys of shuttle bus-sized, self-driving multi-purpose vehicles used, for instance, as pay-per-use mobile restaurants and hotels.
Moreover, both Toyota and SoftBank are separately developing technologies that are used in self-driving cars and related services. The two companies have also invested in major ride-hailing firms: Toyota is invested in Uber and Grab while SoftBank backs both firms as well as China’s Didi Chuxing.
However, SoftBank has its own autonomous vehicle unit, SB Drive, which has been developing self-driving technology for buses.