June 28, 2019 / 4:32 AM / 22 days ago

Five Japanese automakers sign on to SoftBank-Toyota self-drive venture

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Toyota is seen on a car during the Prague Autoshow in Prague, Czech Republic, April 13, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Five Japanese automakers including Suzuki Motor Corp and Mazda Motor Corp on Friday said they would each invest 2% in the on-demand, self-driving car service venture set up by SoftBank Corp and Toyota Motor Corp.

Suzuki, Mazda, Subaru Corp, Isuzu Motors Ltd and Toyota’s compact car unit Daihatsu will each invest 57.1 million yen ($530,620) in the venture - dubbed Monet - in return for a 2% stake, the companies said in a statement.

SoftBank and Toyota will each retain their 35% stakes in the company, which is now capitalised at $26.6 million. The latest investors join Honda Motor Co Ltd and Hino Motors Ltd, Toyota’s truck-making operations, which each own 10% stakes.

Launched in October, the venture plans to roll out on-demand bus and car services in Japan in the next year, and a services platform for electric vehicles in the country as early as 2023 based on Toyota’s boxy “e-palette” multi-purpose vehicle.

Monet is building up members as it joins the ride-sharing sphere which is dominated by startups such as Uber Technologies Inc, Didi Chuxing and Lyft Inc, as traditional automakers band together to compete in an industry which is placing growing emphasis on offering vehicle services rather than selling cars to individual drivers.

Automakers are increasingly joining forces with technology companies as well as each other as they grapple with the massive investment and software expertise required to develop these new services for which demand has yet to be tested.

The new investment will see Suzuki, Mazda and Subaru deepen their partnership with Toyota, as they have already agreed to tap the R&D firepower of Japan’s biggest automaker for electric cars and other future vehicle technologies.

Friday’s announcement comes after Monet’s chief executive told Reuters earlier this month it was planning to expand its investor base and start operating in Southeast Asia next year.

($1 = 107.6100 yen)

Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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