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Business deals

Toyota and SoftBank tie up to offer new mobility services

The move will heat up competition in self-driving and other technologies

Tie-ups between tech companies and automakers are becoming a shortcut that allows them to quickly offer new services to consumers. 

TOKYO -- Toyota Motor and SoftBank Group are set to launch a joint venture, Monet Technologies, to offer mobility services, including ride-hailing, by the end of March 2019. The two companies held a news conference in Tokyo today to announce the plan.

Monet will welcome SoftBank Vice President Junichi Miyakawa as CEO. SoftBank will take a 50.25% stake and Toyota 49.75%. The joint venture will be capitalized at 2 billion yen ($17.5 million) initially but will be increased to 10 billion yen in the future.

Monet will merge Toyota's connected car technology and data collected from SoftBank's smartphones and sensor devices. By the mid-2020s, they plan to develop an autonomous vehicle, the "e-Palette," which will be used for taxis, driverless delivery vehicles and services like ride-hailing. They will also launch a service, Autono-MaaS, which will use the e-Palette and will include, for example, vehicles that can cook while making deliveries. The two companies aim to expand globally in the future.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda said, "Toyota is transforming from an auto making company into a mobility-related services company. SoftBank is a necessity in that transformation."

SoftBank Group Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son said, "Partnering with the world's largest auto company makes me very excited. With Monet, we will take the first step together. I hope we can further our partnership and go to the second and third stage in the future."

SoftBank shares rose on the news, at one point reaching 11,415 yen, up 3.3% from yesterday's close, in morning trading in Tokyo.

Through its investment fund, SoftBank has made equity investments in ride-hailing companies such as Chinese market leader Didi Chuxing and Singapore's Grab to expand its mobility services offerings. SoftBank has also become the top shareholder of U.S. ride-sharing giant Uber Technologies, after investing more than $7 billion in the American company.

Toyota is also accelerating its alliance drive.

In June, the auto giant announced a decision to invest $1 billion in Grab, Southeast Asia's biggest ride-hailing company. The automaker has also strengthened its relations with Grab, including by dispatching executives to the company.

In August, Toyota also invested $500 million investment in Uber. The two companies have started collaborating in self-driving.

SoftBank is also rushing to cultivate businesses with an eye on the era of autonomous cars in partnership with its group companies such as SB Drive, based in Minato, Tokyo.

The auto industry's shift to services like ride-sharing is a new trend known as Mobility-as-a-Service, or MaaS.

Toyota and SoftBank have until now promoted their MaaS strategies separately. They will be able to reap numerous benefits from the tie-up as their efforts largely overlap.

Tie-ups between automakers and tech companies are becoming a shortcut to quickly offer new services to consumers. Honda Motor announced yesterday that it will invest some $2.8 billion in a partnership with General Motors for autonomous-driving technology, aiming to parlay the U.S. automaker's massive amount of driving data into innovations that can challenge Google and Apple.

Nikkei staff writer Akihide Anzai and Jada Nagumo contributed to this report.

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