Toyota Motor Corp is betting big on car-sharing services as it announces a pilot to test its new Smart Key Box technology in cars next year.
The technology, which will be tested by San Francisco-based car-sharing service Getaround, supposedly removes the need for traditional keys to power and access vehicles, as users will be able to open doors and operate the engine simply by using a smartphone application and the Bluetooth-enabled Smart Key Box.
The announcement follows Toyota’s investment in Getaround last week, which adds to the partnership Toyota already has with Uber Technologies to lease vehicles to the taxi firm and accelerate mobile technology research, according to Reuters.
Making car-sharing more accessible
The Smart Key Box is a product that can supposedly be placed in a vehicle without any significant modifications being made. So you can fix it to your dashboard, if you like, or simply store it in the glove compartment or boot. Drivers should then be able to lock and unlock doors and start the engine just by using their phone.
Through Toyota’s app, car renters will receive codes to access the Smart Key Box. The software will automatically unlock the vehicle when in close proximity, transmitting a signal through Bluetooth Low Energy. The company believes that by modernizing access, it makes the process of lending and renting cars safer and more secure, it told VentureBeat.
If the pilot is successful, Toyota said it plans to roll the software out to all of its newly sold vehicles in Japan and the United States by 2020. However, Toyota wants the Smart Key Box to be accessible to owners of any car model in order to make car-sharing more viable.
Signs of a sharing economy
“We don’t consider these new services [car-sharing] to be negative for us,” Shigeki Tomoyama, who heads Toyota’s Connected Car company, said in comments to Reuters.
“If increased vehicle usage increases the rate at which cars are replaced, this could increase car sales … and if more ride-hailing companies use cars from our fleets, then our customers will increase.”
“While we’re a company that makes and sells cars, at the same time we’re a developer of mobility services,” Tomoyama said.
The car-sharing market is becoming increasingly competitive, with General Motors, Daimler, Ford and Tesla among those looking for a slice of the action as the auto market moves towards a sharing economy.