TOKYO • By pumping US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) into ride-hailing firm Grab, Toyota Motor Corp stands to gain a passenger-side view of tens of thousands of cars across Southeast Asia, tracking how fast they drive, how far they travel and the time they spend stuck in traffic.
The Japanese carmaker said it aims to install its TransLog driving recorder devices into Grab's fleet of lease cars to access the data on driving patterns that will be crucial to its push into the nascent mobility-as-a-service industry.
"Only ride-hailing companies have good, extensive data on usage, so automakers want to be connected with that," said Mr Egil Juliussen, director of research for automotive infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems at IHS Markit.
Grab already monitors driving behaviour through its app to increase ride safety, sending e-mail about speed and braking, for instance, to its drivers, such as Singapore's Rennu Mahajan.
"With this system, it keeps me in check," said Mr Mahajan, 57.
It will get even more vehicle data with Toyota, which has been harvesting data through TransLog since 2016 in sales and trials with taxi firms and car-hailing operators including Grab. The data gives Toyota insight into fleet management as it develops services, such as pay-per-use mobile restaurants.
The latest deal, announced last week, gives Toyota access to a single pool of vehicles which potentially eclipses all others. That will allow it to capture a volume of data that would be difficult to collect from private cars which are used for only under 5 per cent of any given day, often on routine commutes.
In return, Grab will be able to expand services such as food delivery and digital payments using Toyota's investment - the biggest by a traditional carmaker in a ride-sharing app maker. The deal reflects how carmakers are clamouring for access to ride-hailing firms' extensive user bases through a spate of partnerships, as they compete with technology companies to develop autonomous cars and next-generation transport services.
Toyota's vision of such services includes convoys of shuttle bus-sized, self-driving multi-purpose vehicles used, for instance, as pay-per-use mobile restaurants and hotels, which the carmaker plans to develop and customise for retail customers.
"There's data about the car... there's also data about the service - how many customers drivers have, what's the average mileage, where the rides are concentrated," said Mr Juliussen. "Having that picture in all the major (South-east Asian) cities, that becomes very valuable."
Toyota and Grab will be able to use the data for possible collaboration on data-driven services such as vehicle diagnostics and customised insurance plans based on driver usage. The data will also help Grab maintain efficiency in fleet maintenance as it expands deeper into South-east Asia where it operates in over 200 cities. It has said it wants to build the region's largest car rental fleet by the fourth quarter of this year.
"Vehicle maintenance costs, insurance costs, these are bread-and-butter issues for ride-hailing drivers," said Mr Chua Kee Lock, chief executive of Vertex Venture Holdings in Singapore, an early Grab investor.
Industry experts said Toyota could expand its data service to more mobility firms, such as Didi Chuxing, Uber Technologies and Amazon.com, with which it has separate partnerships. "This partnership with Toyota will keep Grab's platform 'sticky' and give drivers less incentive to switch to competitors," said Mr Chua. "This is Grab's edge over the long-run."