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CES 2018: Toyota Unveils Customizable Self-Driving E-Palette; Amazon, Uber, Pizza Hut Sign Up

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Toyota Motor ( TM ), trying to transform itself into a leader of the new driverless economy, unveiled both the concept vehicle and the big-name partners to make it a reality.

[ibd-display-video id=3070790 width=50 float=left autostart=true] Amazon.com ( AMZN ) has signed on as a partner for Toyota's new mobility alliance, which will develop fully autonomous electric vehicles to deliver packages, pizza and people to desired destinations. Also joining the e-commerce giant as partners are Yum Brands ( YUM ) chain Pizza Hut, Uber Technologies, Mazda and Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing.

"This announcement marks a major step forward in our evolution towards sustainable mobility, demonstrating our continued expansion beyond traditional cars and trucks to the creation of new values including services for customers," Akio Toyoda, the automaker's president, said in a statement Monday.

Toyota's news comes as major car manufacturers and tech giants gather this week in Las Vegas at CES , formerly the Consumer Electronics Show, to showcase whole suites of products meant to overhaul human mobility. Auto companies from General Motors ( GM ) to Tesla ( TSLA ) as well as interlopers like Alphabet (GOOGL)-unit Waymo are racing to bring fully self-driving cars to market, and the payoff will be massive for the ones who pull it off first.

Toyota's vehicle unveiled at CES - called the e‐Palette concept - will come in three sizes and sport open interior layouts with flat floors to allow users to outfit them according to their companies' needs. The larger vehicles resemble small buses and allow adults to stand up inside. The company suggested they could even be reconfigured as mobile hotel rooms.

Speedier Delivery

"We're constantly looking for ways to innovate and help improve our logistics operations, and in this partnership with Toyota we'll collaborate and explore new opportunities to improve the speed and quality of delivery for our customers," Tim Collins, vice president of Amazon Logistics, said in an emailed statement.

In the near term, the alliance will focus on developing the battery-electric e-Palette, which will have an open‐source control interface that allows partner companies to install their own automated driving systems instead of Toyota's, if desired. In addition, Toyota will provide an array of services to help e-Palette customers use their vehicles, including leasing and insurance support and fleet management. Users will also have access to its global communications network and a so-called Toyota Big Data Center.

"What's unique about our system is we offer all the software, all the hardware and all the financial tools you would need to run mobility as a service, soup to nuts," Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said. The process is intended to be cashless, allowing users to make payments automatically once they've gained access to the vehicles with smart keys or a facial recognition system.

Pizza Pies

Pizza Hut, which built its reputation on sit-down pizza service, said its partnership with Toyota could help it deliver more pizza faster, with driverless cars potentially helping during particularly busy times, like Super Bowl Sunday.

Even though driverless delivery is still a few years off, the tie-up with Toyota could make the company's delivery system safer and more efficient by analyzing driver data, according to Artie Starrs, who runs Pizza Hut's U.S. operation.

The largest of the three major pizza chains in the U.S., Pizza Hut has lagged behind its rivals on technology and struggled to shed its roots as a sit-down dining destination in an industry where delivery is king.

"It's an incredibly symbiotic relationship," Starrs said. "This reinforces Pizza Hut as a delivery-centric brand."

Toyota is not alone in exploring such concepts. Ford Motor (F) conducted a test this past fall with Domino's Pizza (DPZ) to gauge consumer appetite for driverless-pizza delivery. Nissan Motor (NSANY) plans to unveil at the Hanover Motor Show in Germany in September a driverless van that can transfer packages from central warehouses to surrounding homes. GM plans to have its self-driving cars ready for a ride-share service next year.

Dramatic Change

Toyota has small stakes in launch partners Uber and Mazda and is already seeking additional partners to either utilize the self-driving vehicles or help develop the technology. Didi, the only China-based company joining the alliance, will cooperate globally with Toyota, according to an emailed statement.

Toyoda, 61, is a scion of Toyota's founding family who's served as president of the carmaker since 2009. He's said frequently the company needs to accelerate the pace of its technological innovations. He's also said that since Toyota can't create the future of mobility all by itself, it needs to get better at creating partnerships, even with companies like Amazon, which he cited in August as a potential competitor.

"The automobile industry is clearly amidst its most dramatic period of change as technologies like electrification, connected and automated driving are making significant progress," Toyoda said.

The automaker plans to have the self-driving fleets available at Tokyo's 2020 Olympic Games. Additional testing, including in the U.S., will begin in the early 2020s.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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