Toyota Motor and its partner SoftBank plan to begin operating a self-driving venture, originated by Monet, in Southeast Asia in 2020.
The move would mark a shift for Japan’s third biggest telco as it looks abroad for growth and potentially bring it into competition with portfolio companies of parent SoftBank Group Corp. and its $100 billion Vision Fund, which has invested in major ride-hailing firms around the world.
Monet, which is developing an on-demand self-driving service platform, is planning to export a basic version of the system, Chief Executive Junichi Miyakawa told Reuters.
“Our first step will likely be to Southeast Asia, as applications like transportation services in smart cities, or airport shuttle systems,” Miyakawa said, adding that Monet could begin introducing such services in 2020.
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It plans to roll out on-demand bus and car services in Japan in the next year, and a services platform for electric vehicles as early as 2023 based on Toyota’s boxy “e-palette” multi-purpose vehicle.
Honda Motor Co. and Toyota’s truck-making subsidiary Hino Motors took a roughly 10% stake each in the venture in March, and Miyakawa said that it would soon take more investment from the domestic auto industry.
Miyakawa, who is also SoftBank’s chief technology officer, began looking for projects outside of its core telco business, which faces a mature market and shrinking population, on his return from a stint at SoftBank’s struggling U.S. wireless unit Sprint.
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While Monet’s global ambitions will initially be limited to basic transport services, any expansion could eventually put it in competition with SoftBank portfolio companies, which include Uber Technologies, Didi Chuxing, Grab and Ola and the self-driving units of Uber and General Motors.
Miyakawa, a key lieutenant of SoftBank Group founder and CEO Masayoshi Son, said he has no qualms about competing with those companies, adding that the knowledge of ride-hailing firms gained by SoftBank’s investing helps Monet develop its own services.
“Monet is part of the SoftBank Corp. camp (and not the Vision Fund),” Miyakawa said. “As a company, we will go up against rivals which the Vision Fund invests in if it means we can provide the best services we can.”
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SoftBank and Toyota’s investments into those ride-hailing services could benefit Monet’s overseas expansion, one analyst said, as the companies could tap them for partnerships to help their entry into new markets.