Toyota’s Answer to the Self-Driving Era

Toyota aims to provide users with two modes of self-driving assistance – chauffeur and guardian. These two concepts complement each other by providing the convenience of automated mobility and the joy of driving. The development concept of self-driving technology by Toyota advocates that human and cars support each other as if they have an equal relationship. Toyota calls this concept as Mobility Teammate Concept.

Elon Musk aims Mars; Toyota aims MaaS

Three types of models by different body length, all of them with low flat floors. The concept car unveiled at CES in January 2018 came out with length 4,800mm x width 2,000mm x height 2,250mm. Interior and equipment to be customized according to the usage of service partners.

Toyota Motor Corporation (Toyota) announced “e-Palette Concept”, the automated driving vehicle aimed to realize MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service that utilize self-driving vehicles as service). The e-Palette Concept car was an electric van designed for various usage such as ride sharing, goods delivery and mobile vending (Exhibit 1). Toyota aims to mobilize the concept e-Palette vehicles at the Tokyo Olympic/Paralympic in 2020 [1].

[Movie: Toyota e-Palette Concept at CES 2018]


The progress of self-driving technologies have been enhanced by the improvement of censors, computers’ data processing power, and the artificial intelligence softwares (Exhibit 2). R&D of autonomous driving cars entails gathering the enormous amount of visual datasets and the massive computing power to analyze driving patters through machine learning. In 2015, Toyota established the Toyota Research Institute in Los Altos, California to develop self-driving technologies, aiming to transform the firm to a mobility service provider on top of being a car manufacturer [2].

Nevertheless, Toyota advocates that the concept of MaaS does not prevent you from the freedom to drive. Self-driving car can drive instead of you, or support you to drive. To apply Toyota’s self-driving technology to society in the future, Toyota invested $500 million in Uber and $1 billion in Grab, a Southeast Asian ride-hailing giant, in 2018 [3].

Exhibit 2: Things a car needs to be autonomous [4] 

Toyota’s Approach to Your New Driving Experience: Mobility Teammate Concept

Toyota aims to combine two modes of driving assistance methods – ‘chauffeur’ and ‘guardian’. These two concepts complement each other by providing the convenience of automated mobility and the joy of driving. Toyota’s development concept of self-driving technology advocates that human and cars support each other as if they have an equal relationship. Toyota call this concept as “Mobility Teammate Concept” [5].

(1) Chauffeur Model

Chauffeur approach is identical to the idea that most people have on self-driving – cars move automatically and you do not need to do anything.

(2) Guardian Model

Guardian is an advanced safety driver-assistance system that monitors the vehicle interior and external environment to intervene or take control of the vehicle in the event of an emergency. Simply put, the guardian mode has different levels of control as you drive [6];
Level 0: Human drives
Level 1: Feet off
Level 2: Hands off
Level 3: Eyes off
Level 4: Brain off
Level 5: Human off

In the guardian approach, your car protects you from the traffic accidents while you drive. Of course, you can switch between chauffeur and guardian mode while driving [7].

Beyond these planned initiatives, I would argue there is space where Toyota can leverage its capability. Some considerations below:

  • Increasing the availability of mobility service for lower income segments in the world: More than half of the world population has too little income to own a car. The car automation initiative has a potential to reduce the car manufacturing cost, because the automated cars will utilize different types of parts compared to the conventional cars. In addition, through MaaS, the mobility service would become available at reasonable cost for a wide range of people.
  • New ideas of space utilization through MaaS: As vehicles are shared among people, MaaS provider can utilize the space in the vehicle to share the information. People spend their time in a vehicle with others. In other words, proliferation of MaaS is equal to creating new, small communities everywhere. As a result of MaaS, new types of business may flourish.
  • Collaboration with players in different industries: Although Toyota has already announced a partnership with Softbank, a Japanese tech giant that has invested a huge amount in IoT, the MaaS is compatible with various tech initiatives as MaaS enables Toyota to collect a wide range of data. For example, the passenger data collected through MaaS may be used to predict the demand for local restaurants as MaaS can provide the human traffic data.

In light of the ideas suggested so far, the following questions merit more thought:

  • How will we answer the ethical or legal controversy if Toyota’s self-driving car injured someone? Will Toyota as a developer of the self-driving system be responsible and need  to compensate for the accident?
  • From the more macro perspective, will automobile industry be able to engage and retain enough number of qualified data scientists? Data scientists are already in shortage. Moreover, the demand for data scientists is expected to rise 28% by 2020. Because various industries are competing to hire data scientists, the shortage of data scientist may hinder the R&D speed of autonomous vehicles [8].


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[1] Saito, Yuki. “The era people do not own the car”, MONOist, January 10, 2018., accessed November 2018.

[2] Toyota Research Institute website.

[3] Bensinger, Greg., Dawson, Chester. “Toyota Investing $500 Million in Uber in Driverless-Car Pact”, Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2018., accessed November 2018.

[4] Tan, Christopher. “Concept of self-driving vehicles gains pace”, The Straits Times, December 11, 2015., accessed November 2018.

[5] Naughton, Nora. “Toyota unveils custom mobility concept at CES”,  The Detroit News, January 8, 2018., accessed November 2018.

[6] Kanzaki, Yoji. “Two modes of self-driving softwares by Toyota Research Institute”, Robosta, March 12, 2018., accessed November 2018.

[7] Toyota Motor Corporation Website., accessed November 2018.

[8] Catlin, Jeff. “Bridge The Data Scientist Talent Gap Starts With Defining The Current Role”, Forbes, July 13, 2018., accessed November 2018.


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Student comments on Toyota’s Answer to the Self-Driving Era

  1. Hey, great post! I have worked in Toyota and I can insure that the company is heavily investing in Machine Learning and its application on self-driving cars. As you pointed out, Toyota Research Institute at Los Alamos is playing a critical role to help the company lead the self-driving car development in the world.
    I just wanted to build on your post and clarify which role self-driving technology is playing in the greater company’s long-term goal: to create smart cities connected through a centralized data warehouse to outsmart traffic and improve people’s lives. In Toyota City, the automaker is working in Ha:mo (Harmonious Mobility Network), which is aimed to support solutions for local transportation issues through optimal connection between personal transportation modes and public transportation for seamless and enjoyable local mobility. Hopefully, soon Toyota will create this mobility network and improve life quality in big cities, leveraging technologies such as MaaS and the Mobility Teammate Concept.

  2. Very interesting article. The competition between automakers is fierce when it comes to self-driving cars so some question came to my mind while I was reading your article:
    – What is Toyota value added compare to some other concept cars providing similar services? (example, “Rinspeed”
    – While the concept is interesting, it seems to particularly be effective in connected cities. This last point has been a barrier for many automakers so far as the initial investment and regulations have been huge barriers to entry. Toyota wants to use Tokyo Olympic/Paralympic in 2020 but do you think the concept is viable?
    – When do you think such concept cars will invade our streets and what main steps need to be taken to ensure safety and adoption by customers?

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