Toyota, citing a desire for autonomous-car technology, has made a heavy investment in embattled American phone-based-taxi service Uber.
Uber itself has a history of worker abuse and fraud, which resulted in changes at the executive level. It’s also been responsible for self-driving-car casualties, as one of the two outfits testing with relatively unsafe and imprecise sensors (the other is Tesla, which excused itself by claiming that drivers were not supposed to give up control — after posting videos of people “driving” with blindfolds on).
Toyota’s $500 million is ostensibly to gain a handle of self-driving technologies, though the company has been first with features such as self-parking, and has its own internal expertise. Toyota may also be trying to use Uber to sell more cars and spread its technology: the Japanese automaker also invested $1 billion into Grab, an Asian phone-based taxi service similar to Uber. The Grab deal, which puts a Toyota representative onto the smaller company’s board, puts pressure onto Grab to make Toyota the only choice for drivers who rent vehicles from the company.
There’s another possible advantage, which is gathering data from all of Grab’s cars—7,000 of them in Singapore alone; and selling customized insurance and maintenance to Grab drivers. Swap in Uber for Grab, and you can see some method to Toyota’s apparent madness; the company can profit from selling services and insurance to Uber drivers, while making Uber’s rent/lease program rely on Toyota cars.
While Uber may not have the high corporate-behavior standards Toyota espouses, they do represent a fine opportunity to make money from a fleet of American drivers, while possibly boosting its own autonomous-car efforts.
The author of books on the Dodge Viper, Jeep pickups and wagons, and Chrysler minivans (as well as a kid’s book about early Jeeps), David Zatz has been writing about cars and trucks since the early 1990s; he also writes on organizational development and business at toolpack.com and covers Mac statistics software at macstats.org. His latest book, for kids, is Meet the Jeep.
David has been quoted by the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Detroit News, and USA Today. You can reach him by using our contact form.