March 22, 2018

Uber CEO's Asia trip underscores its persistent global ambitions

20 February 2018, 08:09 | Lionel James

Uber CEO sees commercialisation of air taxis soon

Sony takes on ride-hailing in Japan as Uber looks for partners

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is visiting the country to underscore the importance of its ¥1.7 trillion ($16 billion) taxi market.

The ride-hailing service industry faces fierce competition from taxis as well as new entrants offering similar services. In a report from Nikkei (paywall; via Engadget), it seems that Sony could be looking to launch an AI taxi hailing system in Japan while teaming up with a bunch of different taxi companies.

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.

Toyota Motor has said it will take a stake in taxi-hailing service JapanTaxi, set up by Japan's largest taxi firm, Nihon Kotsu. SoftBank is an investor in Uber.

Uber says it has 300 drivers using its app in the market and "nearly 19,000 regular users".

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Pictured here is a taxi driving through an underground tunnel in Tokyo, Japan.

"It's clear to me that we need to come in with partnership in mind, and in particular a partnership with the taxi industry here, which actually has a very, very strong product", Khosrowshahi said on his first trip to Asia as Uber CEO, according to comments reported by Bloomberg. But Uber saw four listless years in Japan, achieving less than 1 percent of monthly rides in Tokyo, the world's largest single cab market.

Taxi companies hope apps could be a way to win back customers.

Sony, however, plans to push things even further as its service would be powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). Last November the ride-sharing company announced a partnership with NASA in their efforts to take their app to the skies. "We're very early in our relationship, but we're already having very good dialog, both about the Japanese market and the ecosystem that SoftBank has created".

The Uber CEO also said that he hopes to expand businesses aggressively under tie-ups with SoftBank Group Corp., which has become the company's largest shareholder after acquiring a roughly 15 percent stake in the US ride-hailing giant for $9.3 billion last month.

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