Toyota to invest Ksh.50B in Uber for self-driving cars

Toyota Motor Corp will invest $500 million (Ksh.50 billion) in Uber Technologies Inc to jointly work on developing self-driving cars.

The move is expected to boost the two companies catch up with their rivals in the hotly competitive autonomous driving business.

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Toyota, one of the world’s largest carmakers, and Uber, the leading ride-hailing service, are widely seen as lagging the competition in developing self-driving cars.

Their deal deepens an existing relationship and reflects CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s strategy of Uber developing autonomous vehicles through partnerships, rather than on its own.

The deal also breathes new life into Uber’s self-driving business.

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Since a self-driving Uber SUV killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, in March, Uber has removed its robot cars from the road, laid off hundreds of test drivers and shuttered operations in Arizona, its autonomous testing hub.

The investment values Uber at $72 billion, matching the valuation Uber received in a deal with Alphabet Inc self-driving unit Waymo this year.

Uber will combine its autonomous driving system with Toyota’s Guardian technology, which offers automated safety features such as lane-keeping but does not enable a vehicle to drive completely autonomously.

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The combined technology will be built into Toyota’s Sienna minivans, to be deployed on Uber’s ride-hailing network starting in 2021, Uber said.

The companies’ aim is to solve the enormously challenging problem of how to mass produce self-driving cars for shared fleets, including ride-hailing services.

Jeff Miller, Uber’s head of business development for strategic initiatives, said the partnership “really paints the picture of how we envision deploying autonomous technology in the long term.”

That includes licensing its autonomous technology to carmakers and enlisting a third party to own and maintain the fleet.

The third party that will operate the Toyota autonomous fleet has not yet been chosen, Miller said.

For the Japanese automaker, the “agreement and investment marks an important milestone in our transformation to a mobility company as we help provide a path for safe and secure expansion of mobility services like ride-sharing that includes Toyota vehicles and technologies,” its executive vice president Shigeki Tomoyama said in a statement.

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