SoftBank, Toyota JV partners Honda, Hino for self-driving venture

A visitor is reflected in a logo of Toyota Motor Corp at the company's showroom in Tokyo February 4, 2015. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

Honda Motor Co and truck maker Hino Motors Ltd will join a joint venture of SoftBank Corp and Toyota Motor Corp that aims to develop self-driving car services, the venture said on Thursday.

Under an agreement, Honda and Hino, in which Toyota owns a majority stake, would each invest around 250 million yen (£1.7 million) in the joint venture, Monet Technologies, and take 10 percent stakes in the venture, Monet said.

Tech conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp’s domestic telco and Toyota formed the joint venture last year. It will foray in the ride-sharing sphere that is dominated by startups such as Uber, Didi Chuxing and Lyft, as car makers and tech companies battle for dominance in self-driving cars in anticipation of a future where people drive less.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda said that increased cooperation between automakers and companies in other sectors would help make the mobility services industry more transparent.

With the participation of Honda and Hino, “the auto world has taken a big step towards openness”, he said an event to promote the venture.

Honda’s investment in Monet will be its latest investment in new mobility services after it invested $2.75 billion for a 5.7 percent stake in General Motors Co’s Cruise self-driving vehicle unit last year.

The Japanese automaker, which has lagged many of its rivals in developing self-driving cars, is also an investor in Southeast Asian ride-hailing service Grab. SoftBank also invests in Cruise and Grab.

Monet plans to roll out on-demand bus and car services in the next year, and a platform to operate self-driving vehicles as early as 2023 based on Toyota’s “e-palette”, a boxy multi-purpose vehicle which can be used for on-demand mobile shops, offices and other services.

“The more automakers we can get to join the partnership, the smarter we can make our platform,” said Junichi Miyakawa, chief executive of Monet and chief technology officer of SoftBank Corp.

The new investment from Hino and Honda would leave SoftBank with a 40.2 percent stake in Monet, down from just over 50 percent when the venture was formed. Toyota will hold a 39.8 percent stake.

Monet also said it had formed a consortium of 88 Japanese companies including Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan, beverage maker Suntory Holdings Ltdand Yahoo Japan Corp to collaborate on projects, which could include product delivery or product-related services.

SoftBank Group and its $100 billion Vision Fund are already a major player in ride sharing. Founder and Chief Executive Masayoshi Son says his portfolio companies, which include Uber, Didi, Grab and Ola, control 90 percent of the industry.

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