Toyota’s driverless vehicles to function as ‘moving office’ too

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Toyota e-Palette Image
Toyota's e-Palette autonomous vehicle that can function as multiple service providers

Within a few years, Japanese automotive manufacturer Toyota Motor Corp aims to market an autonomous shipping-container-like vehicle that it says could also function as a mobile store or roving office.

The e-Palette from Toyota is a mostly transparent, driverless, oblong wheeled carriage powered by a battery. It can accommodate up to 20 passengers, with seats that fold up and allow the space to be repurposed.

The e-Palette started as a concept car, revealed by Toyota President Akio Toyoda at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show. Mr. Toyoda said it is a demonstration of how he is trying to turn the second-largest automaker in the world into a mobility firm. Now, Toyota says it plans to make the e-Palette commercially viable within a few years.

The Japanese carmaker had sought to showcase the e-Palette at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic games, where over a dozen of the vehicles, running on automated loops, were to be used to transport staff and athletes around the Olympic village.

“We received a lot of inquiries from people wondering about the fate of the e-Palettes after the Olympics were postponed,” Toyota Connected Company President Keiji Yamamoto said. “We’re receiving a lot of interest in the potential of e-Palette vehicles for delivery and shuttle services and beyond that there’s a tremendous amount of interest in actually using them as mobile stores and roving offices,” he said.

Toyota has said in the past it will work with companies including eCommerce giant Amazon, restaurant chain Pizza Hut and ride hailing service provider Uber Technologies to launch the vehicles.

One of the first places the general public will be able to see the e-Palettes in action is in the 175-acre hydrogen-powered city that’s planned at the base of Mountain Fuji. The vehicles will transport the so-called Woven City’s initial 360 residents around, as well as provide mobile retail and delivery services.