Sony Corp. is jumping into the ride-hailing fray.
The Tokyo-based electronics giant plans to form a joint venture with six taxi operators in Japan this spring, according to a statement Tuesday.
The alliance comes as Uber Technologies Inc., the world’s biggest ride-hailing startup, is in talks with another cab company as it tries to build its presence in the country.
After years of little action, Japan’s lackluster ride-hailing industry is suddenly seeing a lot of activity. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is visiting the country to underscore the importance of its ¥1.7 trillion ($16 billion) taxi market.
The San Francisco-based company, which has failed to gain much ground since launching in 2013 amid stringent regulations, is in talks for a venture with taxi operator Daiichi Koutsu Sangyo Co.
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 wants to develop a ride-hailing app powered by artificial intelligence and provide a payment service. Taxi operators beyond the initial group will also be able to join the platform, it said.
Having emerged from years of restructuring its consumer electronics businesses, is forecasting record earnings. While the company doesn’t have any experience in the ride-hailing area, it has long used machine learning for internal projects, such as its Aibo robot dog.
The company last year opened access to its deep-learning software tools in a bid to attract artificial-intelligence developers. Sony also has a financial services division that includes car insurance.
Daiichi Koutsu Sangyo said Monday it plans to link up with Uber to provide its app users rides in major Japanese cities with international airports, including Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka, as well as Okinawa.
While Uber has been providing ride-sharing services via private vehicles in limited locations in rural Japan, it currently has no major taxi service partner in metropolitan areas, it said.
Daiichi Koutsu said it is hoping the expansion of Uber’s service in Japan will help the country address the rising number of unlicensed taxis in big cities.
Japan is seen as a potentially lucrative ride-hailing market, with regulators under pressure to ease stringent rules.
Currently, nonprofessional drivers are barred from offering taxi services on safety grounds, and ride-hailing companies are limited to services that “match” users to existing taxi fleets via mobile platforms.
Earlier this month, SoftBank Group Corp. announced a partnership with China’s Didi Chuxing and plans to begin trial services this year. Toyota Motor Corp. has teamed up with Nihon Kotsu Co.
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