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Toyota climbs into bed with Uber

Drive on: Toyota is preparing to make a pitch to dominate the Uber vehicle fleet by making a global strategic investment in the ride sharing operation.

Uber drivers to be offered Toyota vehicle leases under global ride-share alliance

25 May 2016

TOYOTA Motor Corporation is set to take a financial stake in Uber as part of a global strategic alliance that places the Japanese giant on pole position for the lion’s share of vehicle leases to drivers of the ride sharing company.

The move also appears to hedge Toyota’s bets against a slump in the conventional taxi business in which the company has a large slice of vehicle sales worldwide, especially in Japan, the United States and Australia.

In an announcement overnight in Japan, Toyota said it and Uber had entered into a memorandum of understanding to explore collaboration, starting with trials in countries where ridesharing is expanding. It did not name those markets.

It said that as part of the partnership, its financial and investment arm, Toyota Financial Services Corporation and Mirai Creation Investment Limited Partnership, were making a strategic investment in Uber.

Announcing the move, Toyota senior managing officer Shigeki Tomoyama said: “Ridesharing has huge potential in terms of shaping the future of mobility. Through this collaboration with Uber, we would like to explore new ways of delivering secure, convenient and attractive mobility services to customers.” Mr Tomoyama is also president of a newly created Toyota branch, the Connected Company, that has been formed to pursue modern transport developments.

Uber chief business officer Emil Michael said Uber was excited that Toyota, the world’s largest motor manufacturer, was making a strategic investment in Uber as part of a broader global partnership.

“Toyota vehicles are among the most popular cars on the Uber platform worldwide and we look forward to collaborating with Toyota in multiple ways going forward, starting with the expansion of our vehicle financing efforts,” he said.

Under the arrangements, Toyota Financial Services will create new leasing arrangements for Uber drivers who can then cover their payments through their earnings.

“The leasing period will be flexible and based on driver needs,” the company said. “This initiative builds on Uber’s current vehicle solutions program.” Toyota and Uber also said they would explore collaboration in a variety of other areas, such as developing in-car apps that support Uber drivers, sharing knowledge and accelerating their respective research efforts, and establishing a special fleet program to sell Toyota and Lexus vehicles to Uber drivers.

According to Japanese news reports, the new leasing options will become available in some markets by the second half of this year.

Toyota’s main rivals, General Motors and Volkswagen, have recently announced investments in ride- and car-sharing companies, with GM spending $US500 million ($A695m) in a slice of Lyft while also creating car-sharing company Maven to be rolled out in the US. VW has invested $US300 million ($A417m) in small ride sharing outfit Gett.

The Uber move by Toyota is bound to rattle traditional taxi companies that spend big sums on Toyota vehicles around the world and which are already up in arms over the Uber incursion.

In Japan, the taxi of choice is the ancient Toyota Crown that is purpose built for the taxi trade. In the US, the hybrid Toyota Prius has taken over from big-iron Detroit cars on taxi fleets in large markets such as Los Angeles.

In Australia, the locally built Toyota Camry Hybrid and Japanese-made Prius have ousted the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore as the main taxi workhorses.

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