Honda Motor has agreed to establish a joint venture with General Motors and Cruise to provide driverless taxi services in Japan.

The JV was scheduled to be operating in the first half of 2024 to prepare for the launch of commercial operations in early 2026, pending regulatory approvals.

The fully automated driverless taxi service will use the Cruise Origin, a Level 4 autonomous battery powered minibus purpose developed by GM, Cruise and Honda, to pick up customers at specific locations and drive them to their destination. Customers will use a smartphone app for the entire process from hailing to payment.

Honda said the Cruise Origin, on display for the first time at the Japan Mobility Show later this month, will offer an entirely new kind of mobility experience to a wide range of targeted customers. The vehicle has a spacious cabin without the obstruction of a driver’s seat and steering wheel, with capacity to carry up to six passengers.

The driverless service will start in central Tokyo with a few dozen vehicles but the fleet will be expanded later to 500 vehicles operating outside the city centre in coordination with local authorities.

Honda said the driverless service will also help alleviate personnel shortages in Japan’s transport sector with bus and train operators having already cut back their services, particular in rural areas, while taxi operators are also struggling to recruit drivers.

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