One car maker is investing especially aggressively in ride-hailing

On demand, in demand.
On demand, in demand.
Image: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
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Toyota, the 80-year-old Japanese car maker, is betting big on the future of transportation—and staring to resemble another Japanese company that has spent heavily on stakes in rival ride-hailing firms.

Toyota has invested in $1 billion in Singapore-based ride-hailing company Grab, the Southeast Asian firm announced today (June 13), calling it the largest investment yet by an auto maker in the ride-hailing sector. The move comes soon after Grab purchased Uber’s regional operations in March, making it the the biggest ride-hailing company in Southeast Asia, and deepens Toyota’s status as one of the sector’s more active investors, along with Japan’s SoftBank.

Toyota will work with Grab on developing services that include insurance, financing, and predictive maintenance, Grab said. A Toyota executive will also join Grab’s board.

Toyota had previously invested in Grab in August 2017, as part of a separate $2.5 billion fundraising round. That investment came even though Grab was competing in Southeast Asia with Uber, a company in which Toyota had taken a stake of an undisclosed size in May 2016. And that’s not the full extent of its involvement in ride-hailing and transportation.

In February, the company announced it had invested 7.5 billion yen ($69 million) in JapanTaxi, an Uber-esque app affiliated with the country’s taxi federation. It’s also one of dozens of car companies to partner with China’s Didi to develop cars specifically built for ride-hailing, and has committed $2.8 billion with its top suppliers to create a company that makes software for self-driving cars.

Toyota’s involvement in ride-hailing and self-driving vehicles bears some resemblance to investments from SoftBank, the Japanese telco-turned-mega-investor. The company has long held stakes in all the world’s major Uber rivals—Grab, Didi, and India’s Ola—and as of January, it owns some of Uber as well. Through its Vision Fund, it put up $2.25 billion for Cruise Automotive, GM’s self-driving car unit. And with Didi and Google’s venture capital arm, it contributed to a $1.9 billion round for Manbang, a Chinese “Uber for trucks” company.

Other traditional car makers have funded transportation tech companies too. Volkswagon has invested twice in Uber rival Gett, first in 2016 and then in 2018. GM also invested $500 million in Lyft, though it’s no longer working on self-driving car technology with the company. Honda, a Toyota rival in Japan, has backed Grab, as has Korea’s Hyundai.

Still, Toyota ranks among those car makers as a company with some of the broadest range of bets, including rival companies—and the largest investments to date. If SoftBank ends up being the ultimate winner in the ride-hailing wars, Toyota might reap some of its spoils.