Grab-backer Toyota banks on strategic deals to evolve from selling cars to selling mobility

Susumu Matsuda, President, Toyota Motor Asia Pacific

Carmakers can’t just sell cars anymore. The automotive business means selling something far more elusive. For Toyota, it’s about selling a concept – mobility.

“The world is evolving and we need to start thinking differently,” said Susumu Matsuda, President of Toyota Motor Asia Pacific. “Today, that means understanding how lifestyles are built around the vehicle so Toyota cars can add value to our customers’ lives.”

Somewhere in the not-so-distant future, Toyota figures that buying a car won’t be the same as buying the ability to be mobile. Ride-hailing platforms like Uber, Lyft and Grab all have a part to play in this, and the Japanese automaker is future-proofing itself by picking up stakes in the very companies putting its future business on the line.

In June, Toyota invested an eye-popping $1 billion in Singapore-based ride-hailing startup Grab, although it wasn’t the first time it made such an investment.

Toyota first invested an undisclosed sum in Uber in 2016 and followed that up with a $500-million cheque earlier this year. Uber exited the Southeast Asia market earlier this year by selling its operations in the region to Grab. 

Both Grab and Uber are backed by SoftBank’s $100-billion Vision Fund. SoftBank also has a joint venture with Toyota for mobility services. 

Last year, Toyota began installing its TransLog devices in 500 Tokyo-area taxis with an aim towards a nationwide rollout via JapanTaxi, a local taxi operator. The device would collect data that will analyse driving behaviour to direct driver demand.

On Tuesday, Toyota and Grab announced a similar project in Singapore – a ‘total-care service’ involving TransLogs to be installed in 1,500 of Grab’s vehicles in the country. The data collected will assist in fleet management, automotive insurance and vehicle maintenance packages. 

Through these strategic partnerships, Toyota hopes to sell something that’s much more than the piece of metal we still call a car.

“Take this glass of water I’m holding in my hand, for instance,” said Matsuda. “Until now, our mission was to provide this water while ensuring it is the highest quality water for our customers. Today we are discussing the surrounding elements associated with this water.”

“We are figuring out the right type of glass to serve to our customers, or the right temperature level this water should be in. Do we serve it with a cookie or not? It’s all about providing a total service,” added Matsuda.

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