NAGOYA, Japan -- Toyota Motor is testing a car-sharing app in the U.S. state of Hawaii under a service announced Thursday, laying the groundwork for a new earnings source amid a shift away from vehicle ownership.
Car sharing lets people drive autos that are not theirs, taking turns with others. The service is growing in popularity because it requires no parking fees or maintenance costs and is more convenient than rentals.
From their smartphones, drivers see available cars on a map, make reservations, and lock and unlock doors, for example. The app allows dealerships to monitor the cars and manage payments.
The automaker has teamed up with Hawaii distributor Servco Pacific to test the new service. Employees-only trials have already begun, and service for ordinary drivers in Honolulu will launch this year. Toyota will identify issues as customers, tourists and others use the app. It will consider expanding operations to other areas, including Japan, in the future.
The pilot program in Hawaii marks Toyota's first time handling the car-sharing process from vehicle management to payments on its own. The company also launched car-sharing trials in California this January with Getaround, a U.S. startup into which Toyota put money last year via an investment fund.
Toyota intends to nurture so-called connected cars equipped with communications technologies into a new source of earnings. It plans to outfit virtually all vehicles sold in the U.S. and Japan with such features.
The automaker is also researching ride sharing, where individual vehicle owners pick up users in need of transportation, and testing car sharing with electric vehicles inside and outside Japan. Toyota is partnering with Uber Technologies.