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Japanese companies Toyota Motor Corp. and SoftBank Group Corp. announced on Thursday plans to set up a joint venture by April 2019 that will utilize self-driving car technology to offer new services.

Visualizing a future in which fewer people are driving their own vehicles, Japan’s largest automaker and most influential tech firm will work hand in hand to create a platform to operate autonomous vehicles which can used as mobile shops, hospitals, and other services.

The news came as several automotive tech-related transactions and discussions has led to a number of pairings between global auto companies, ride-hailing firms, and major tech groups.

Toyota’s rival Honda Motor Co. Ltd. announced that it was buying stake in General Motors Co.’s (GM) autonomous vehicles division GM Cruise Holdings, as part of a plan for the Japanese and US carmakers to team up to build an self-driving vehicle.

The investment of $2.8 billion over the next 12 years includes Honda paying $750 million right away as it buys a 5.7 percent stake in Cruise Holdings.    

Following news of the partnership, shares of Toyota fell 0.07 percent to $122.62. SoftBank closed up with a 1.2 percent gain to ¥11,180.0 on Thursday.

Combining Expertise

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While both companies have been separately developing technologies for self-driving vehicles and car sharing, and each have investments in ride-hailing firms Uber Technologies Inc., GrabTaxi Holdings Pte. Ltd., and Didi Chuxing Technology Co., this is the first time Toyota and SoftBank will be working together.

The deal taps into SoftBank’s strength in tech and data, and Toyota’s car-making expertise. The arrangement also seeks to discover ways to tackle problems caused by Japan’s rapidly aging society and dwindling workforce.    

The new company will enable SoftBank to widen its partner network, and it could be hoping to take a lead in developing platforms for new transport services, according to senior analyst Koji Endo.

Toyota is hoping to increase its revenue by combining its own data with the data and expertise which SoftBank has culled from its mobile phone operations, Endo stated.

The joint venture will begin with an initial capital of ¥2 billion ($ 17.5 million). SoftBank will own just over half of the business, which will focus on Japan at the start and eventually go global, while Toyota will hold the rest.  

The deal aims to put up Toyota’s mobility service based on its e-Palette concept introduced earlier this year in which the carmaker plans to manufacture the hardware and software for convoys of shuttle bus-sized, driverless multi-purposed cars used, for example, as pay-per-use mobile restaurants and hotels.  

The two companies said the joint venture, which will be called MONET, short for mobility network, will coordinate between the Toyota’s information infrastructure for connected vehicles and SoftBank’s Internet of Things platform (IoT) that gathers and analyzes information from smartphones and sensors.

Toyota’s self-driving, battery-operated electric car e-Palette will be used for various purposes such as food deliveries, where the food can be prepared inside the vehicle, hospital shuttles that can perform medical examinations on board, and mobile offices.

The on-demand mobility service is expected to roll out by the second half of the 2020s.

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