Toyota is accelerating its transition from a traditional carmaker to one with a broader focus on mobility, with the announcement Thursday of a new $800 million global investment fund designed to back growth-stage companies that are developing innovative technologies and business models in autonomous mobility, automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data and analytics, connectivity, and smart cities.
Through backing new technologies — from those that improve the use and reliability of driverless cars to developing “partner robots focused on support for people unable to move on their own, including the aging population,” — the company aims to move beyond its traditional automaker roots.
The fund is one of the first major steps following Toyota’s late July announcement that it was forming a new holding company called Woven Planet Holdings, Inc., which will begin operations in January 2021 and will take the place of Toyota Research Institute – Advanced Development, Inc., which is located in Tokyo.
The new investment fund, Woven Capital, L.P., will be part of the new holding company and will work with Toyota AI Ventures, Toyota’s early-stage venture capital fund.
The announcement came from the company’s research institute which was founded in March 2018 to develop products that back Toyota’s stated goal of “mobility for all.”
The institute oversees Toyota’s Woven City, a project, announced in January, that will serve as an incubator for smart city design, connected mobility, and robotics technology.
In June, Toyota announced plans to invest in a joint venture to promote the widespread use of fuel cell electric vehicles powered by hydrogen.
“Moving forward, Toyota will provide a diverse range of mobility services and transportation solutions to people around the world as we transform Toyota into a mobility company … bringing the joy and freedom of movement to all,” Toyota said in a statement.
A key component of Toyota’s marketing strategy is a broad focus on assisting human movement which includes backing new technologies that push advances in autonomous and automated driving, connectivity, and robots that work closely with people and “support the movement of people.” Globally, for its fiscal year that ended March 31 — near the beginning of the global coronavirus pandemic — the automaker said it sold 8.96 million vehicles, off 0.2 percent from the previous year. With Covid-19 impacting sales throughout much of 2020, the company predicted it would sell 7 million vehicles this fiscal year.
This week, Toyota became the first major Japanese automaker to launch an online used vehicle “store,” in conjunction with Japanese auto dealers. The service allows Japanese consumers to view vehicles, get a quote and handle contracts for about 200 used vehicles purchased through select Toyota dealers, the company said. The move was in part a response to concerns about the spread of Covid-19. The service will operate 24 hours a day, all year.