The two Japanese giants Toyota Motor Corp and SoftBank Group Corp announced their cooperation in developing mobility services for self-driving cars.
The partnership will be called MONET, short for mobility network, combining the powers of Toyota's Mobility Services Platform, which serves as its information infrastructure for connected vehicles, and of SoftBank's Internet of Things platform, as it will be backed by $17.5 million in capital as a start.
Toyota and SoftBank will join forces to develop the automaker’s multi-purpose mobility service based on its “e-Palette” concept announced earlier this year, which serves as hospital shuttles, where medical professionals can perform medical examinations, as mobile hotels or as mobile offices. Toyota and Softbank are planning to roll out these companies in Japan by 2020, though they're hoping to bring them overseas, as well.
“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.”
“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)”, he added.
The partnership between the two Japanese represents 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.
“He has an image of the future,” Son told a media briefing, referring to Toyota President Akio Toyoda. “Automobiles are becoming a cluster of semiconductors, not screws, bolts and nuts.”
Nevertheless, every company on its own was interested in self-driving technologies, working on developing it, and investing in ride-hailing firms Uber Technologies, Grab and Didi Chuxing. But, this is the first time they have come together.
Toyota president, Akio Toyoda said that finally they realized that SoftBank and Toyota shared the same vision concerning the future of cars, and saw this time as ideal for their partnership. That way, they share costs and expertise in pursuing promising yet risky technologies that is still not very accepted by consumers.
SoftBank will own just over half of the business, which will initially focus on Japan and eventually go global.
Toyota and SoftBank have led the way for many other technology-related deals and discussions in the automotive industry between global automakers, ride-hailing companies and major tech firms.
Honda Motors for instance, 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.
At the same time, Daimler AG and Renault SA said they may expand their cooperation to batteries, self-driving vehicles and mobility services.