Working with such diverse partners as Amazon.com, Didi Chuxing Technology, Mazda Motor, Uber Technologies and Pizza Hut, Toyota may produce vehicles in various sizes, ranging from 4 to 7 meters in length, and different configurations to be used not only for transporting people, but also delivering goods and even serving as movable shops and hotels. Plus, the automaker also has plans for testing the viability of the e-Palette concept in various regions, including the United States, in the early 2020s.
On Sunday, it became the first Chinese automaker to hold a large-scale unveiling at CES in Las Vegas - a $45,000 electric SUV using facial recognition to unlock doors, Amazon's Alexa to entertain and a 49-inch screen across the dashboard. The concept vehicle looks like a futuristic caravan, or as Toyota puts it "Multi-purpose moving space". For example, the automaker imagines the concept vehicle as a package delivery van, a ride-sharing vehicle, and a mobile e-commerce vehicle.
In theory, partners would be able to buy the autonomous e-Palette vehicle with the complete chauffeur technology, or they could opt to use their own automated driving system. At one time, the vehicle could deliver parcels, but it could just as easily begin picking up riders for Uber. Other mobility technologies may be available as well.
In addition, Toyota will provide an array of services to help e-Palette customers use their vehicles, including leasing and insurance support and fleet management.
Toyota is calling them "e-Palettes" and describes them as "fully-automated, next generation battery electric vehicle [s] created to be scalable and customizable for a range of Mobility as a Service businesses". "Today", said Toyota CEO Toyoda, "you have to travel to the store".
Toyota e-Palette vehicle control interface. As a key sponsor Toyota is planning to show off not only its conventional vehicles but futuristic concepts that include a drone-like flying auto.
The carmaker hopes to demonstrate the capabilities of the e-Palette concept during the 2020 Olympics. If that's the case, it's hard to see how Toyota's mobility concept will have much application outside self-contained environments like college campuses or retirement communities.
"E-Palette will be fully electric and will be controlled by Toyota's autonomous chauffeuring technologies", said Toyota President Akio Toyoda.
Toyota's CEO said he doesn't downplay the potential threat posed by such newcomers.