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Business deals

Honda joins Toyota-SoftBank mobility alliance

Carmakers and 88 other companies team up on new services

The Monet joint venture brings together three Japanese carmakers and technology investor SoftBank Corp. to promote new mobility services.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan's Toyota Motor and SoftBank Corp. are expanding their alliance to collect vast amounts of mobility data and create a platform they hope will become the foundation for new services, including autonomous driving.

Honda Motor and Hino Motors have signed on to the joint venture, the partners announced in a statement on Thursday.

Honda and Hino will invest 249.95 million yen ($2.26 million) each into the joint venture, Monet Technologies, by the end of May, taking stakes of 9.998%. SoftBank will remain the majority stakeholder in Monet, with a 40.2% share, while Toyota will own 39.8% when the transaction is complete.

Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo said he hoped the partnership would lead to "more efficient ... acquisition of users and social acceptance of mobility services, various experimental projects, and public relations activities for necessary regulatory changes."

SoftBank and Toyota last October announced plans to launch the joint venture, aiming to enhance mobility services through the use of data and artificial intelligence. It is working with local governments and property developers to create services such as on-demand buses.

Honda and SoftBank Group are also investors in GM Cruise, a subsidiary of U.S. carmaker General Motors that is developing self-driving technology.

"I would like to call for more Japanese car companies to participate," said Junichi Miyakawa, CEO of Monet Technologies and representative director of SoftBank Corp., in a conference on Thursday.

Miyakawa said that huge amounts of data are crucial to develop AI and autonomous driving technologies, adding that it would be desirable for "all cars in Japan to be on the same platform."

To create that platform, Monet aims to translate Japan's unique transport environment into data. For example, if cars are stopped for a long time in front of crosswalks in certain locations, it could be because there are more elderly people in the area. Having such information available would help with the implementation of autonomous driving systems.

Monet is collecting around 170 types of data from Toyota cars, including speed, frequency of braking and volume of air conditioning used. "The Monet platform will get smarter as we work with other carmakers," Miyakawa said.

Miyakawa also sees opportunities abroad. He said the joint venture could be a major global player in the new "mobility-as-a-service" business, just like internet giants such as Google and Amazon became prominent through new technologies.

Companies in a number of industries see opportunities with Monet's data platform. The joint venture also formed a consortium on Thursday comprising 88 companies, including medical equipment maker Philips Japan, Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan and SoftBank affiliate Yahoo Japan.

Philips Japan CEO Hiroyuki Tsutsumi spoke about the possibility of a "health care mobility service" in which health care providers visit patients. The company plans to start the new service by the end of this year in special economic zones with relaxed regulations.

Miyakawa said future collaborations with ride-hailing platforms and international automakers are possible. SoftBank has a number of investments in mobility-related companies, including ride-hailing service Uber Technologies and driverless delivery startup Nuro.

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