Toyota Motor Corp and SoftBank Group Corp are teaming up to develop self-driving car services, signaling deepening alliances between top automakers and tech firms as the global race to develop autonomous cars intensifies.
Japan’s biggest automaker and its most influential tech firm will jointly develop a platform to operate self-driving vehicles which can be used as mobile shops, hospitals and other services as they envision a future in which fewer people drive their own vehicles.
The tie-up shows that even big, well-funded firms want to share costs and expertise in pursuing promising but risky automotive technologies that have yet to gain widespread consumer acceptance.
The joint venture will start small with initial capital of 2 billion yen ($17.5 million). SoftBank will own just over half of the business, which will initially focus on Japan and eventually go global.
“SoftBank alone and automakers alone can’t do everything,” said Junichi Miyakawa, chief technology officer at SoftBank Corp who will be CEO of the new company. “We want to work to help people with limited access to transportation.”
The partnership will see Toyota and SoftBank work together to develop the automaker’s multi-purpose mobility service based on its “e-Palette” concept announced earlier this year, in which Toyota plans to produce the hardware and software for convoys of shuttle bus-sized, self-driving multi-purpose vehicles used, for instance, as pay-per-use mobile restaurants and hotels.
The joint company will be called MONET, short for mobility network, and will roll out an autonomous driving service using e-Palette by the second half of the 2020s, the companies said. SoftBank will provide technology to collect and analyze transportation data to ensure cars are efficiently dispatched when and where they’re needed, they said.
“Toyota is hoping to increase its revenues by combining its own data with the data and expertise which SoftBank has culled from its mobile phone operations,” said Koji Endo, senior analyst at SBI Securities.
“The new company will enable SoftBank to widen its partner network, and it could be hoping to take a lead in developing platforms (for new transport services).”
A slew of automotive technology-related deals and discussions have already resulted in myriad pairings between global automakers, ride-hailing companies and major tech firms.
Honda Motor said on Wednesday 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. On the same day, Daimler AG and Renault SA said they may expand their cooperation to batteries, self-driving vehicles and mobility services.
Nuts and bolts
The partnership between the two Japanese companies reflects SoftBank’s growing influence in the emerging fields of AI and autonomous driving, which has been accelerated by its investments via the almost $100 billion Vision Fund.
It is also a vote of confidence from SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, who has been critical of Japan for lagging overseas rivals, in Toyota’s vision for the future of cars.