Toyota and SoftBank to team up on automated driving, new mobility

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UPDATE: 10/4/18 2:04 am ET – new story

TOKYO – Toyota Motor Corp and the Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank Corp. will jointly finance a new mobility company that combines autonomous driving and driving with on-demand retail shopping that is delivered to people's door by people like the futuristic e-pallet of Toyota.

The new company, Monet Technologies Corp. is 50.25% owned by SoftBank and 49.75% owned by Toyota, the companies announced today at the joint press conference. The partners will make an initial investment of 2 billion yen ($ 17.54 million) and increase the investment to 10 billion yen ($ 87.72 million) in the long term, according to the companies.

The first exploitation phase runs until 2020 and uses a trip-dependent service around Japan. The second phase, to start after 2020, when legal obstacles are erased, will focus on the use of the e-Palette vehicle to do things such as delivering meals, shopping to remote areas and doing things like mobile medical clinics those people visit homes.

The first phase will focus on Japan, but the services are also expected to be extended overseas, according to a spokesperson for Toyota. Monet will start with about 30 Toyota and SoftBank employees and will be led by Junichi Miyakawa, SoftBank's chief technology officer.

The agreement is a team of two of the largest and most globally established companies in Japan, each looking for a larger profile in the coming world of self-driving cars and new mobility.

Toyota braces itself for a world where people buy fewer personal cars and are looking for new mobility and automated fleets for new revenue streams. SoftBank, with its deep roots in telecommunication and microchips, sees autonomous driving as a next natural step.

The movement comes amid growing concerns in Japan that car manufacturers are lagging behind in the global self-driving car race, while rivals make their entry into new corners such as China and Silicon Valley.

"Only SoftBank and an automaker alone can not do everything alone," Miyakawa said. "It's better to work together, we think we can catch up with more advanced players abroad."

A day before the Toyota-SoftBank tied, the Japanese rival Honda Motor Co. said. that it would invest $ 750 million in General Motors & # 39; autonomous vehicle operations, GM Cruise LLC. Under that deal, Honda will also pay $ 2 billion for the development and deployment of self-driving cars.

Monet uses Toyota's e-palette, which was unveiled in 2017 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It is a completely autonomous, purely electric boxcar-like rolling work and living space on eight wheels. Toyota develops the undercarriage and the platform and allows others to adjust the scale. Think of a mobile field office, a rolling pizzeria or a shoe store on the road.

Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Tomoyama said Toyota wants to commercialize the e-Palette around 2023. Monet will not be a developer of autonomous cars, he said. The new joint venture will be a mobility-as-a-service provider that makes use of that technology.

Toyota and SoftBank already have a shared focus on new mobility. Both are major investors in Uber Technologies Inc., the leading ride service.

Toyota said in August that it would invest $ 500 million in Uber. And earlier in the year SoftBank took an interest in Uber, making it the largest shareholder of the American company at that time.

Toyota and SoftBank also have large interests in Grab, the Southeast Asian company for travel.

The founder of SoftBank, Masayoshi Son, invested in the autonomous field last year, while the entrepreneur and the self-made billionaire strive to tap into growth sectors.

In May SoftBank invested $ 2.25 billion to take a 20 percent stake in Cruise.

The Japanese technology company also worked with the Chinese mobile giant Did Chuxing to start a trial service for a taxi-based call system in Japan, where laws limit freelance drivers.

In addition SoftBank has made a series of investments with its SoftBank Vision Fund in the car and self-driving car. It has invested in chip maker Nvidia Corp., an important supplier of autonomous technology, the European start-up Auto1 for used cars and in Mapbox, a map platform for developers of websites and mobile apps.

The fund is the long-term incubator arm of SoftBank Group Corp., a worldwide holding company with tentacles in everything from telecommunications to microprocessors.

The mission of the fund: Cherry-toppers in the high-tech world that & # 39; make possible the next era of innovation & # 39 ;. In addition to transport, the target sectors include such futuristic efforts as artificial intelligence, robotics, big data companies and financial technology.

Son is the richest man in Japan and SoftBank Mobile is one of the best mobile services in Japan. The overseas property includes a majority stake in the American mobile phone company Sprint Corp.

The group also serves the Yahoo! Japan web portal and owner of ARM Ltd., the designer of microchips and the internet software company. SoftBank has encouraged ARM to invest heavier in chips for use in the automotive industry. Last month, ARM unveiled a new line of autonomous vehicle processors that are responsible for hacking extra cybersecurity.