One year after Toyota’s autonomous vehicle research arm expressed interest in buying Uber’s autonomous vehicle unit, the companies are set to announce a partnership to integrate Uber’s hardware and software to try to automate Toyota Sienna minivans, said a person familiar with the matter. Toyota will own and operate the vehicles, the company told employees, but they will be made available to Uber’s customers, and Toyota separately will invest $500 million in Uber.
The Wall Street Journal earlier reported about a forthcoming partnership and investment.
Both companies have something to gain. Uber could give Toyota a way into city and suburban robotaxis. To date, Toyota primarily has been working on autonomous features for privately owned vehicles. It’s worth noting that Toyota’s autonomous vehicle chief Gill Pratt has cautioned about self-driving cars, saying they are much further away from reality than most people think.
Uber had to do something about its autonomous vehicle unit, which has been losing talent and costing Uber $1 million to $2 million a day, causing some investors to fret. The Toyota deal “will dramatically reduce the costs associated with owning and maintaining a massive fleet,” Uber told its employees today. Bloomberg reported that a third party may end up operating the fleet.
The Uber autonomous vehicle unit has had trouble recovering from an incident in March in which one of its prototypes struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz. Uber is expected to continue working on its existing robotaxi prototypes using Volvo SUVs that it buys from the automaker.