Las Vegas, Nevada - It’s telling that Toyota president Akio Toyoda chose the Consumer Electronics Show, rather than a motor show, to present the e-Palette concept.
Because it’s not just a vehicle - it’s the basis of a new mobility service alliance.
“The automobile industry is in the middle of its most dramatic period of change,” Toyoda said in his presentation. “We are developing mobility solutions to help everyone enjoy their lives, demonstrating our continued expansion beyond traditional cars and trucks to the creation of new values, including services for customers.”
The new e-Palette Alliance he said, will include Amazon, DiDi, Mazda, Pizza Hut and Uber, who will collaborate on designing and testing the vehicle and its applications. The concept itself is a fully automated battery electric vehicle, designed to be scalable and customisable for a variety of mobility or business services.
More importantly, its open vehicle control interface and software tools to allow partner companies to install their own automated driving system - including over-the-air updates - with Toyota’s Guardian firmware to act as a safety net.
And although it sounds a bit Big Brother-ish, a data communication module in each e-Palette vehicle will relay information through a global communication platform to a Toyota data centre, to support a range of finance options, as well as coordinating maintenance with Toyota dealers.
Toyota envisions a modular construction, allowing it to be offered in three sizes - short-wheelbase with four wheels, medium-wheelbase with eight wheels and long-wheelbase with eight wheels. The show car is 4.8 metres long, two metres long and 2.25 metres high - but the design is scalable from four to seven metres long.
The inside of the e-Palette concept is basically an empty rectangular box, so you can install a purpose-built interior to suit your business, from parcel delivery to ride sharing or on-the-road e-commerce. It can even be shared - for example, it could be used for ride-sharing by a transport company in the mornings and evenings, and for automated sales and deliveries by an online shopping network in between.
Toyota is planning to test the e-Palette Concept in various regions, including the United States, in the early 2020s, as well as providing mobility solutions for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.