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SoftBank, Toyota autonomous car venture to launch in SE Asia next year

By Sam Nussey and Naomi Tajitsu
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SoftBank, Toyota autonomous car venture to launch in SE Asia next year

FILE PHOTO : A mock of self-driving car e-Palette is displayed at a news conference by Monet Technologies Inc., a joint venture of SoftBank Corp and Toyota Motor Corp that will develop self-driving car services, in Tokyo

By Sam Nussey and Naomi Tajitsu

TOKYO (Reuters) - The self-driving car joint venture of SoftBank Corp and Toyota Motor plans to begin operating in Southeast Asia next year, in its first overseas foray, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

Monet, which is developing an on-demand self-driving service platform, is planning to export a basic version of the system, Chief Executive Junichi Miyakawa told Reuters.

"Our first step will likely be to Southeast Asia, as applications like transportation services in smart cities, or airport shuttle systems," Miyakawa said, adding that Monet could begin introducing such services in 2020.

Monet is the first-ever alliance between Japan's No. 3 telco and its largest automaker. SoftBank Corp, a unit of investment behemoth SoftBank Group Corp, is the largest shareholder in the venture, which was announced last October, with a 40.2% share, while Toyota owns 39.8%.

It plans to roll out on-demand bus and car services in Japan in the next year, and a platform to operate self-driving vehicles as early as 2023 based on Toyota's boxy "e-palette" multi-purpose vehicle.

Honda Motor Co and Toyota's truck making subsidiary Hino Motors took a roughly 10% stake each in the venture in March, and Miyakawa said that it would soon take more investment from the domestic auto industry.

"We're planning to announce an expansion in our stakeholders sometime this month," he said.


(Reporting by Sam Nussey and Naomi Tajitsu; Additional reporting by Maki Shiraki; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)