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Automobile

Uber considers run at Japan's self-drive car market with Toyota

Chief of advanced technology unit plays down fears ride-hailer is lagging rivals

Uber is working with Sweeden-based Volvo Cars to develop its self-driving technology. It hopes to do the same with Japanese companies, including Toyota and Denso.

WASHINGTON -- Uber Technologies aims to put cars equipped with its self-driving technology on the road in Japan in a few years, as it looks to build on its recently announced partnership with Toyota Motor, its affiliated parts supplier Denso, and SoftBank Group.

"We are thinking through the best way to put the autonomous vehicle technology that ATG is building into the Japanese market," Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, said Wednesday at a media roundtable.

Uber operates a limousine service in Japan in partnership with local taxi operators. Ride-hailing has been banned in Japan due to safety and other concerns. Meyhofer said Uber is looking at other ways to roll out the technology in Japan. "We have alternative plans that we're discussing," Meyhofer told reporters.

Uber spun off ATG, which received $1 billion in investment from a trio of Japanese companies -- SoftBank's Vision Fund, Toyota and Denso -- in April ahead of its initial public offering the following month. Uber said it will put self-driving cars on the road for its ride-hailing service in 2021.

It is unclear whether such a service will be permitted in Japan, but Uber could sell the technology to local transport companies, such as taxi operators.

Uber is trying to put back its self-driving car project back on track after a test on a public road in Arizona resulted in a fatal accident last March. Some analysts have expressed concern that Uber has fallen behind rivals such as Google's Waymo or General Motors' Cruise in autonomous driving, but Meyhofer played down those worries.

"We're not just building an autonomous car. We're building an autonomous ride-sharing product at scale," Meyhofer said.

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