There is a significant change in the industry taking place at the moment which harks back to the beginning of the market when companies were investing in each other to try and get a lead in their desired sub-market.
Recently Motoring Weekly discussed the investment made by Honda in GM’s Cruise Automation division that followed a similar investment by SoftBank – who have a stake in most of the ride-sharing companies including Uber. Now we hear that Toyota has joined SoftBank by investing in Uber for a similar reason: they want Uber’s self driving cars to get to market and clearly they want these “robotaxis” to be based on Toyota cars. To start with, Toyota will fit out several of their Sienna minivans with the Uber technology for testing.
What is interesting is that the minivans are going to be managed by a third party to distance itself from both Uber and Toyota. I can understand Uber wanting distance because they have had a run of bad news this year with changes at the top and issues around their own testing. I feel that Toyota is quite conservative about this direction and therefore would like another name to complete the testing before they start delivering this type of vehicle to the market.
Toyota’s Research Institute has been developing a common stack of technologies that act in two ways: one they call “Guardian” which acts as a helper for the driver and another is called “Chauffeur” that acts as the driver (strange that). Guardian works quietly in the background and it is this version that will go into the minivans along with the Uber kit. The partners have created a new marketing name for the system: Autonomous mobility as a service or Autono-MaaS for short!
$500M has been earmarked for this next stage of testing and they have set a date for the introduction of the tech into the Uber eco-system to be in 2021. Toyota and Uber have had several tie-ups over the years with nothing concrete coming out of them, however I would consider each one to be a stepping stone to the main goal. One thing that is coming out of all these tie-ups is the fact that the major manufacturers have learned to live with their competition – in this case, Uber has an agreement with Volvo to use their cars – so having Toyota sign up to do a similar function must be an issue, certainly behind closed doors in Sweden!
Perhaps what we’ll see in the future is a common technology stack from one or two providers that everyone uses.