Dara Khosrowshahi, on his first trip to Asia as chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., spent some quality time with his counterpart at the world’s largest carmaker.
On Thursday, Khosrowshahi posted a photo on Twitter of him and Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, along with Executive Vice President Shigeki Tomoyama at the automaker’s headquarters. The Uber CEO is smiling and holding a black baseball bat, while Toyoda laughs at his side.
“Having fun with Akio-San and Tomoyama-San @ToyotaMotorCorpHQ,” he wrote. “Great discussions about growing our #autonomous partnership and lessons 4 me in building a great culture. And yep, those are Ichiro’s bats.”
Khosrowshahi is looking to move past an embarrassing legal battle with Alphabet Inc., which alleged that Uber stole autonomous driving secrets from it. Having settled that case this month for about $245 million, Khosrowshahi’s meeting with Toyoda shows his commitment to continue developing the technology with partners. For Toyota, closer ties could help it keep up with rivals like Nissan Motor Corp., which is working on its own autonomous solution.
“We have a very budding partnership with Toyota,” Khosrowshahi told investors at an event on Tuesday. “We have to make sure we have access to leading autonomous technology. And that means having access to it in a timely manner. I do believe we can develop our own autonomous technology that we’re doing, and at the same time partner with other players in autonomous technology.”
Khosrowshahi made it clear during his Japan trip that the ride-hailing company isn’t about to scale back its business to just countries where it already has a strong market position. During his first stop on the Asia tour, he said he’s willing to forge partnerships with Japanese taxi companies in order to succeed, even though Uber has less 1 percent market share and only offers limited services there.
“It’s clear to me that we need to come in with partnership in mind, and in particular a partnership with the taxi industry here,” he said.
It’s the clearest sign yet that ride-hailing giant will redouble efforts to take a piece of Japan’s $16 billion taxi market, even amid signs of pressure from its biggest shareholder, SoftBank Group Corp., to focus on core markets. Amid heavy operating losses, Uber has retreated from some markets, including China and Russia. It’s also said to be considering a sale of its Southeast Asian business. After Japan, Khosrowshahi is visiting India, where Uber is competing against local ride-hailing startup Ola.
Uber still faces an uphill battle in Japan. Local rivals such as Nihon Kotsu Co., Tokyo’s largest cab company, have already released popular taxi-hailing apps. Uber’s Chinese rival Didi Chuxing last year began partnership talks with taxi operator Daiichi Koutsu Sangyo Co., with the discussions facilitated by SoftBank, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg in October. Uber is also said to be in talks for a venture with Daiichi Koutsu.
And on Tuesday, just an hour before Khosrowshahi spoke, Sony Corp. unveiled an alliance with six taxi operators in Japan, which have a combined fleet of more than 10,000 cabs in the greater Tokyo area. Sony is aiming to develop a ride-hailing app powered by artificial intelligence and also provide payment services.