A self-driving car joint venture between SoftBank and Toyota Motor plans to begin operating in southeast Asia next year, in its first foray overseas, its chief executive said on Tuesday.
Reuters noted the move would mark a shift for Japan's third biggest telecoms company as it looks abroad for growth and potentially bring it into competition with portfolio companies of parent SoftBank Group and its US$100bn Vision Fund which has invested in major ride-hailing firms around the world.
Monet, which is developing an on-demand self-driving service platform, is planning to export a basic version of the system, chief executive Junichi Miyakawa told Reuters.
"Our first step will likely be to southeast Asia, as applications like transportation services in smart cities, or airport shuttle systems," Miyakawa said, adding that Monet could begin introducing such services in 2020.
Monet is the first-ever alliance between Softbank and Toyota. SoftBank is the largest shareholder in the venture which was announced last October, with a 40.2% share, while Toyota owns 39.8%.
It plans to roll out on-demand bus and car services in Japan in the next year, and a services platform for electric vehicles as early as 2023 based on Toyota's boxy e-palette multi-purpose vehicle.
Honda and Toyota's truck making subsidiary Hino Motors took a roughly 10% stake each in the venture in March, and Miyakawa told Reuters it would soon take more investment from the domestic auto industry.
"We're planning to announce an expansion in our stakeholders sometime this month," he said.
While Monet's global ambitions will initially be limited to basic transport services, any expansion could eventually put it in competition with SoftBank portfolio companies, which include Uber Technologies , Didi Chuxing, Grab and Ola and the self-driving units of Uber and General Motors.
Miyakawa told Reuters he had no qualms about competing with those companies, adding that the knowledge of ride-hailing firms gained by SoftBank's investing helps Monet develop its own services.
"Monet is part of the SoftBank camp (and not the Vision Fund)," Miyakawa said.
"As a company, we will go up against rivals which the Vision Fund invests in if it means we can provide the best services we can."
SoftBank and Toyota's investments into those ride-hailing services could benefit Monet's overseas expansion, one analyst told Reuters, as the companies could tap them for partnerships to help their entry into new markets.
"If Monet were to enter the Chinese market, it could approach Didi; for the US market it could partner with Uber, and collaborate with Grab in southeast Asia," Takeshi Miyao, managing director of consultancy Carnorama, told the news agency.