Toyota, Uber Want to Put the Gig Economy on Steroids

Ride-sharing giant Uber and Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) announced an agreement Tuesday morning to collaborate further on building and selling “autonomous ride-sharing as a mobility service at scale.” The two firms said that means that technology from both companies will be integrated into “purpose-built” self-driving vehicles for Uber’s ride-sharing network.

It does not appear that either company wants to be on the hook for owning and managing a fleet of self-driving Uber vehicles. The two also said that once mass-production begins, “vehicles will be owned and operated by mutually agreed upon third party autonomous fleet operators.” Think of it as the gig economy on steroids.

The plan takes a page from Amazon’s June announcement of a last-mile delivery service that will be farmed out to independent operators who will get marketing help from the company but will have to invest their own cash in building up a fleet.

Toyota also noted that it is investing $500 million in Uber. The investment represents a stake of approximately 0.7% in Uber at a valuation of $71.5 billion for the startup. Including the Toyota investment, Uber has raised $22.2 billion in 22 funding rounds that began with a seed round of $200,000 in August 2009.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO, said:

The deal is the first of its kind for Uber, and signals our commitment to bringing world-class technologies to the Uber network. Our goal is to deploy the world’s safest self-driving cars on the Uber network, and this agreement is another significant step towards making that a reality. Uber’s advanced technology and Toyota’s commitment to safety and its renowned manufacturing prowess make this partnership a natural fit.

The first vehicles in what Toyota and Uber call the “Autono-MaaS” (Mobility-as-a-Service) fleet will be based on Toyota’s Sienna minivan. Uber’s autonomous driving system and Toyota’s Guardian automated safety support system will be integrated into the Sienna fleet. Pilot-scale programs are expected to begin in 2021.