Toyota launched its boxy “e-palette” multi-purpose concept vehicle last fall with a somewhat unorthodox business partner working to help them develop it. I say “unorthodox” because Toyota didn’t partner another automaker on this one. No, for this project, Toyota partnered up with SoftBank. In hindsight, that was probably a smart move– because five more automakers have decided to invest in the joint venture, as well.

In a rare joint statement, Japanese automakers Suzuki, Mazda, Subaru, Isuzu, and Daihatsu will each invest 57.1 million yen ($530,620) in the venture– called “Monet”– in exchange for 2% of the Toyota/SoftBank company. SoftBank and Toyota will each retain their 35% stakes in the company, which is now capitalized at $26.6 million, while Honda retains its own 10% stake after another investment earlier in the year.

The idea behind the Monet platform is pretty novel. It’s an autonomous van-like vehicle that can be outfitted by businesses to serve as mobile retail locations, which means that your favorite taco truck, pizzeria, shoe store, tailor, or bookstore could, one day, come to you– maybe even on demand. You could easily imagine a service like that displacing Best Buy as Amazon’s de-facto showroom by bringing products like shoes that still usually require evaluations of fitment and comfort before purchase directly to clients’ homes or businesses. They could even collect payment right there, in the same way self-checkout stands at big box stores already do.

That’s how I’m seeing this thing, anyway– what about you? Are these little mobile transport and retail pods something you’d welcome out on the road and in your neighborhood, or this a step too towards a future that’s all about selling you stuff? Let us know your take on Toyota’s Monet in the comments section at the bottom of the page.


Monet Technologies Autonomous Car Platform

Source | Images: Monet, via Engadget, Reuters.