Sony Corp said on Tuesday it would become the latest blue-chip firm to jockey for position in Japan's taxi and ride-hailing market, with plans for a joint venture to develop an artificial intelligence-based hailing system.
Sony's alliance is with Checker Cab Group, Daiwa Motor Transportation Co., Hinomaru Kotsu Co., Kokusai Motorcars Co., Kotobuki Taxi Co. and Green Cab Co., which have a combined fleet of more than 10,000 cars in the greater Tokyo area, according to the statement.
Sony said it was planning a joint venture to offer artificial intelligence technology to six taxi operators, which now own a total of 10,000 vehicles in Tokyo. Companies such as Uber are largely prevented from operating in the country due to Japan's "in-principle ban" on the use of privately owned vehicles for such services, Nikkei said.
Japan's taxi market can become more efficient, even though its services are already of a high quality, he said at an event with former US ambassador to Japan John Roos.
Uber has already halted services in Norway and Finland as it waits for the regulatory framework to change in those countries, a sign of the less pugnacious approach the company is taking toward local authorities. The goal is to launch the new ride-hailing company this spring.
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At an investor conference in Tokyo the same day, Khosrowshahi said he expects that its flying taxi, which it is developing with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, could come into use in five years, earlier than initial plans.
While Uber has been providing ride-sharing services via private vehicles in limited locations in rural Japan, it now has no major taxi service partner in metropolitan areas, it said.
Taxi-hailing apps have found it challenging to crack the Japanese market, where risk-averse passengers prefer to stick to their high-quality traditional taxi service. Uber's Chinese rival Didi Chuxing a year ago began partnership talks with taxi operator Daiichi Koutsu Sangyo Co., with the discussions facilitated by Uber shareholder SoftBank Group Corp., a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg in October. By combining Uber's brand, technology, along with demand from tourists and partnerships with the taxi industry, he said the result would be a "win-win" for Uber and the taxi industry.
Japan somewhat surprisingly trails other developed nations when it comes to ride-hailing services. Toyota has also recently secured a stake in domestic ride-hailing service JapanTaxi.