Toyota to accelerate autonomous driving development

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A man sits in the driver’s seat with his hands away from the wheel of Mirai, a fuel cell vehicle developed by Toyota Motor Corp. that is equipped with autonomous driving technology.

As the race to develop autonomous driving intensifies not only among automakers but also among tech giants, Toyota Motor Corp. is trying to strengthen its competitiveness by acquiring businesses from rivals.

Woven Planet Holdings, a subsidiary of Toyota that is in charge of autonomous driving technology, has announced that it will acquire the self-driving division of Lyft Inc., a major U.S. online ridesharing company, for about $550 million (about ¥60 billion).

Woven will take in Lyft’s autonomous driving systems and driving data to improve the safety of the technology and accelerate its commercialization. The acquisition will take place after this summer. Woven will have bases in San Francisco and London, in addition to its existing base in Tokyo, with a staff of about 1,200 people.

Lyft has also been working on the development of autonomous driving technology. However, the novel coronavirus crisis has worsened the profitability of its core business, and development costs have become a major burden.

In April, Toyota launched Mirai, a fuel cell vehicle equipped with Level 2 autonomous driving technology that can automatically control multiple actions such as accelerating and braking.

In February, Toyota entered into a partnership with U.S. self-driving startup Aurora Innovation Inc. It plans to install an autonomous driving system in a modified prototype of a Toyota car and conduct tests by the end of this year.

Google, Microsoft and other companies are aiming for the practical application of autonomous driving, making it a competition that transcends industries.

By joining forces with former rival Lyft, Toyota hopes to strengthen its human resources and technology, and accelerate the speed of development. The company plans to use the know-how of Lyft and Aurora at Woven City, a demonstration city for advanced technology that is being constructed in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Woven Planet CEO James Kuffner said in a written statement that bringing world-class engineers and experts together “will allow us to have even greater speed and impact.”