Business

Toyota taps Amazon to join driverless alliance

Also onboard are Pizza Hut, Uber and Mazda

Reuters

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corporation, announces the e-Pallete, a new fully self-driving electric concept vehicle designed to be used for ride hailing, parcel delivery services and other uses, at CES in Las Vegas, on Monday.
Reuters Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corporation, announces the e-Pallete, a new fully self-driving electric concept vehicle designed to be used for ride hailing, parcel delivery services and other uses, at CES in Las Vegas, on Monday.

Toyota, trying to transform itself into a leader of the new driverless economy, unveiled both the concept vehicle and the big-name partners to make it a reality.

Amazon.com has signed on as a partner for Toyota’s new mobility alliance, which will develop fully autonomous electric vehicles to deliver packages, pizza and people to desired destinations.

Also joining the e-commerce giant as partners are Pizza Hut, Uber, Mazda and Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing.

“This announcement marks a major step forward in our evolution towards sustainable mobility, demonstrating our continued expansion beyond traditional cars and trucks to the creation of new values including services for customers,” Akio Toyoda, the automaker’s president, said in a statement Monday.

Toyota’s news comes as major car manufacturers and tech giants gather this week in Las Vegas at CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, to showcase whole suites of products meant to overhaul human mobility.

Auto companies from General Motors to Tesla as well as interlopers such as Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo are racing to bring fully self-driving cars to market, and the payoff will be massive for the ones who pull it off first.

Toyota’s vehicle unveiled at CES — called the e-Palette concept — will come in three sizes and sport open interior layouts with flat floors to allow users to outfit them according to their companies’ needs. The larger vehicles resemble small buses and allow adults to stand up inside.

The company suggested they could even be reconfigured as mobile hotel rooms.

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“We’re constantly looking for ways to innovate and help improve our logistics operations, and in this partnership with Toyota we’ll collaborate and explore new opportunities to improve the speed and quality of delivery for our customers,” Tim Collins, vice president of Amazon Logistics, said in an emailed statement.

In the near term, the alliance will focus on developing the battery-electric e-Palette, which will have an open-source control interface that allows partner companies to install their own automated driving systems instead of Toyota’s, if desired. In addition, Toyota will provide an array of services to help e-Palette customers use their vehicles, including leasing and insurance support and fleet management.

Users also will have access to its global communications network and a so-called Toyota Big Data Center.

“What’s unique about our system is we offer all the software, all the hardware and all the financial tools you would need to run mobility as a service, soup to nuts,” Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said.

The process is intended to be cashless, allowing users to make payments automatically once they’ve gained access to the vehicles with smart keys or a facial recognition system.

Pizza Hut, a Yum Brands Inc.-owned chain that built its reputation on sit-down pizza service, said its partnership with Toyota could help it deliver more pizza faster, with driverless cars potentially helping during particularly busy times, such as Super Bowl Sunday.

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