Toyota ploughs $1bn into ride-hailer Grab, while Uber goes Lite

Toyota ploughs $1bn into ride-hailer Grab, while Uber goes Lite

Toyota has agreed to buy a $1 billion stake in South East Asia’s Grab, in a deal that is thought to be the biggest ever investment by a carmaker in a ride-hailing provider.

Toyota is lead investor in a financing round that values six-year-old Grab at $10 billion. It follows an earlier investment by the carmaker last year, for an undisclosed amount.

Other Grab investors in recent years have included Honda, Hyundai, and Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing.

Earlier this year, Uber sold its ride-share and delivery business in South East Asia to Grab, which is the most popular service in the region with 100 million downloads of its app and a reported six million rides a day ordered via the service.

The financial terms of that deal were not disclosed, but Uber took a 27.5 percent stake in its rival rather than try to compete with it locally, while Uber CEO Khosrowshahi joined the company’s board. However, the deal has not gone smoothly and is causing problems for drivers, passengers, and regulators in the region, according to TechCrunch.

Delivering value

Alongside ride-hailing, Grab offers services such as food delivery and digital payments, which it aims to expand deeper into the region using funds from this investment round, according to Reuters.

“We will work with partners like Toyota to continue to transform transportation in South East Asia,” said Grab. “We want to be the one-stop mobility platform for users.”

This echoes Uber’s statement earlier this year that its new strategy is to be an Amazon-style hub for all forms of connected transport, from ride-hailing to flying taxis, autonomous vehicles, electric bike hire, and public transport ticketing.

For its part, Toyota said it plans to offer financing, insurance, and maintenance services to Grab drivers, based on data collected through monitoring devices that are already installed in some vehicles.

“Going forward, together with Grab, we will develop services that are more attractive, safe, and secure for our customers in South East Asia,” said Toyota spokesman Shigeki Tomoyama.

The data could also help Toyota develop its own next-generation transport services, including a self-driving electric vehicle.

Plus: Uber goes Lite, wants AI for drunks

In related news, Uber has unveiled a ‘Lite’ version of its app, in a bid to appeal more to customers in emerging markets – especially territories that have slow internet speeds and/or users with limited mobile data plans.

At present, Uber Lite is only available in India, but the company said it plans to roll out the app to more countries later this year. In India, local competitor Ola is backed by China’s Tencent and Japan’s SoftBank, which are both serial investors in mobility, autonomy, AI, and robotics.

Uber is also seeking a patent for an AI application to tell if customers are drunk. This would be a controversial and even brand-damaging application, given that many people hail rides to get home safely from a night out, and to avoid driving while under the influence of alcohol. The attachment of alcohol consumption to passenger data would itself be controversial.

In the interests of passenger safety and protecting vulnerable people, a more useful application would surely be to test if the driver is inebriated.

Internet of Business says

The recent exchange of value between technology and automotive companies has worked in both directions. For example, General Motors is an investor in US ride-share firm Lyft, while Uber is backed by Toyota. Meanwhile Japan’s SoftBank – also an investor in Grab and Uber – said last month that it would invest $2.25 billion in GM’s autonomous vehicle unit, Cruise, which has the most driverless test vehicles on the road in the US.

Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is the editor of Internet of Business, and specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, and technology strategy. He is former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, and The Inquirer, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools.