- Toyota partnered with Uber, Amazon, Pizza Hut, Didi and Mazda on a self-driving concept car that aims to serve a number of purposes simultaneously, according to TechCrunch.
- The "e-Palette Alliance," as the group of companies is called, plans to design a fleet of flexible vehicles that can quickly switch from delivery truck or mobile store to ride-sharing car. The futuristic-looking truck was introduced this week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and Toyota plans to pilot the vehicle at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, per a statement from the carmaker. The e-Palette vehicle will have an open control interface to let partner companies install their own automated driving system to host a number of uses.
- The deal includes a $1 billion investment in self-driving technology, with tests in the U.S. and other areas possible in the next decade, according to CNN.
This concept vehicle by Toyota aims to serve as a "plug-and-play" open platform for businesses to build out their own mobility services, which they can then offer to consumers, without having to invest in a fleet of dedicated vehicles.
Beyond the innovative vehicle itself, the partnership of multiple major companies is significant. Amazon's participation in the e-Palette truck shows the e-commerce giant's willingness to experiment with bleeding-edge tech and flex its resources to enhance the heart of its business model: consumer convenience. The company has experimented with delivering packages by drone, and in 2016, it started rolling out "Treasure Trucks" that act as mobile pop-up stores in 25 U.S. cities. "Treasure hunters" have to sign up to receive notifications to access location and inventory of their local truck. After buying a product online, they can pick it up in person at the truck. It's not a stretch to imagine a driverless e-Palette truck providing a similar shopping experience in the years ahead.
Toyota is among the carmakers that recognize how communities, companies and consumers will rethink their transportation and shopping needs amid advances in self-driving technologies and greater efforts to reduce traffic and air pollution, especially in crowded urban areas. The millennial generation in the U.S. is less likely than older age groups to own a car, a trend that has developed alongside the greater popularity of smartphone devices as a platform for ride-hailing services like Uber and mobile commerce delivery services from companies like Postmates or Instacart. "Mobility as a Service," (Maas) which lets people order door-to-door transportation or services will increasingly become the business model for many car companies as consumers get more acquainted with the concept.
Meanwhile, Intel forecast in 2017 that the worldwide "passenger economy" will grow from $800 billion in 2023 to $7 trillion by 2050 as autonomous vehicles become more popular across the globe. MaaS is expected to generate $3 trillion in revenues, or 43% of the total passenger economy. Self-driving cars and trucks will free more than 250 million hours a year of consumer commuting time in the most congested cities. The technology also will mean that at least 585,000 people won't be killed in traffic-related accidents between 2035 and 2045, Intel says.