Toyota Invests 500 Million in Uber to Roll out Self-Driving Cabs

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Japanese carmaker Toyota is to invest $500m (£387m) in Uber and expand a partnership to jointly develop self-driving cars. Under the agreement, Toyota Sienna minivans will be equipped with Uber’s self-driving technology and then deployed on the ride-hailing company’s network. The deal is unusual because a third and yet unnamed fleet operator would own and operate the mass-produced autonomous vehicles.

The firm said this would involve the “mass-production” of autonomous vehicles that would be deployed on Uber’s ride-sharing network. It is being viewed as a way for both firms to catch up with rivals in the competitive driver-less car market. Despite Uber’s mounting losses, the deal also values it at some $72bn. Self-driving technology from each company will be integrated into purpose-built Toyota vehicles.

Pilot-scale deployments will begin on the Uber ride-sharing network in 2021.  Uber, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in statement that, “Uber’s advanced technology and Toyota’s commitment to safety and its renowned manufacturing prowess make this partnership a natural fit” and further added, “I look forward to seeing what our teams accomplish together.”

Toyota (and its research arm the Toyota Research Institute) has a different deployment strategy for autonomous vehicles than its competitors. The company has previously said it plans to take a dual approach to autonomy that it calls “Guardian” and “Chauffeur,” both of which use the same technology stack. Both Toyota and Uber are seen as lagging behind in developing self-driving cars, as firms such as Waymo, owned by Alphabet, steam ahead.

Uber has also scaled back its self-driving trials after a fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, in March, when a self-driving Uber SUV killed a pedestrian. Since then, the ride-hailing giant has removed its autonomous cars from the road and closed its Arizona operations.

Shigeki Tomoyama, the executive vice-president of Toyota, said: “This agreement and investment marks an important milestone in our transformation to a mobility company as we help provide a path for safe and secure expansion of mobility services like ride-sharing that includes Toyota vehicles and technologies.”

Uber’s automated driving system and Toyota’s guardian system will independently monitor the vehicle environment and real-time situation, enhancing overall vehicle safety for both the automated driver and the vehicle. The firms said the ambition was to build the combined technology into Toyota’s Sienna minivans, to be used on Uber’s ride-hailing network from 2021.