Business / Corporate

Toyota and Panasonic to merge housing units and team up on 'smart town' business

Kyodo/reuters

Toyota Motor Corp. and Panasonic Corp. said Thursday they will integrate their housing businesses in an expansion of an existing tie-up, as they seek to collaborate on “town development” for next-generation lifestyles where homes and vehicles are connected to the internet.

The companies plan to set up a joint venture on Jan. 7, 2020. Toyota will focus on new mobility services using self-driving technology, while Panasonic brings strengths in developing smart homes equipped with appliances supported by internet and other digital technologies.

The venture, Prime Life Technologies Corp., will bring housing units of both companies under its wing, including Toyota Housing Corp., Misawa Homes Co. and Panasonic Homes Co.

The move by the leading carmaker and electronics manufacturer comes amid shrinking demand in the domestic housing market due to Japan’s declining population. The tie-up also deepens the partnership between the companies. In January they announced a joint venture to build electric vehicle (EV) batteries that would pool the R&D and manufacturing strengths of one of the world’s largest automakers and battery makers, to compete in the fast-growing EV market. They also announced they would expand their existing tie-up on developing and manufacturing batteries for EVs.

Prime Life Technologies will be equally owned by Toyota and Panasonic and headed by Makoto Kitano, senior managing executive officer of Panasonic.

Trading house Mitsui & Co. is also considering investing in the company, Toyota and Panasonic said.

“From here on out, information will link all items and services that support people’s daily lives,” Toyota President Akio Toyoda said in a statement. “I want to take on the challenge of providing a new kind of lifestyle.”

Panasonic President Kazuhiro Tsuga said in the same statement, “Through this collaboration, Panasonic will further challenge itself to continue advancement in the town development business, aiming to deliver the ‘ideal lifestyle’ for each customer.”

Toyota has been stepping up efforts to develop autonomous cars and offer various services, especially for elderly people living in rural areas, including transportation, food and package delivery and ride-hailing.

It is planning to conduct testing for potential market feasibility in various regions in the early 2020s using the e-Palette concept vehicle — a box-shaped, battery-powered vehicle with no driver’s seat that was unveiled by Toyota last year.

Panasonic has been developing homes equipped with appliances that can be remotely controlled through the internet, including air conditioners, lighting and refrigerators.

Toyota has been proceeding with connected cars that can share information on usage — data that could be leveraged for on-demand ride-sharing, insurance and maintenance.

The automaker has said it will tap into its partner’s network and operations, which range from building and selling cars to homes and companion robots, to expand into new transportation and home energy services.

“If we are able to use this network going forward not only to manufacture and sell vehicles but to also provide new services, our future possibilities will greatly expand,” President Akio Toyota told reporters on Wednesday.

“In addition to cars, I think that having our own housing business and connected business will be a big advantage for us.”

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