The Toyota-backed U.S. self-driving startup May Mobility has gained a nearly $67 million investment from Japanese firm NTT Communications, according to a new report.
On Monday, Nikkei Asia reported that NTT is investing around 10 billion yen ($66.9 million) into the Michigan-based May Mobility. The company plans to make self-driving buses and taxis by 2025, and Bridgestone has also joined Toyota in investing in the company, along with several others.
May Mobility says it has technology that’s the equivalent of Level 4 automated driving, which means that the vehicles won’t be required to have a driver at certain points and in regions where it’s designated as legal, according to Society Automotive Engineers (SAE) autonomy designations. You can see the five levels of autonomy from the SAE below, courtesy of a May Mobility blog post.
Toyota is expected to produce the self-driving vehicles, after the automaker created a capital and business alliance with NTT in 2020. Japanese insurer Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance is also an investor in May Mobility, and it says it has already begun developing insurance policies for self-driving vehicles.
The deal gives NTT Communications the exclusive rights to sell May Mobility’s product in Japan, with an ambitious plan to outfit government and operator vehicles with the company’s sensors and software starting in 2025. The vehicles are expected to include buses to start, before later including taxis and other automobiles.
May Mobility plans to begin demonstration tests in 2024 using self-driving vehicles based on the Sienna minivan, according to the report. The company says it has already been testing the self-driving tech in 12 cities, primarily in North America, and that it has been used over 350,000 times thus far.
The news comes after Japan lifted a ban on Level 4 autonomy in April and as continued self-driving efforts from EV maker Tesla and others are scrutinized by state and federal regulators in the U.S. It also comes after General Motors-backed (GM-backed) self-driving company Cruise was ordered to cease driverless operations following multiple incidents in California — including one in which one of its vehicles pinned a pedestrian.
Toyota has recently begun changing its tune on electric vehicles (EVs), and in September, the Japanese automaker boosted its target of battery-electric vehicle (BEV) production target to 600,000 in 2025. However, the automaker has partnered with several companies on driverless operations, and it even purchased Lyft’s self-driving unit in 2021 for $550 million.
Still, Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta remains the only partially automated system available to individual buyers in North America, considered to be at a Level 3 autonomy, and it is by far the most widely tested today.