Toyota, SoftBank teamed up, target is self-driving car services

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Toyota Motor Corp and SoftBank Group Corp are teaming up to develop self-driving car services, signalling 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.

“We are trying to take traditional car making into new fields,” said Shigeki Tomoyama, Toyota Executive Vice President. “We realised that SoftBank shares the same vision when it comes to the future of cars, so it’s time that we partner together.”

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