By Jeremy C. Owens, MarketWatch
Toyota Motor Corp. is trying to combine autonomous vehicles and retail into futuristic pop-up shops, and has convinced Amazon.com Inc. to help out.
At a news conference Monday at CES Media Days, Toyota /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM -1.94% showed off a new concept called e-Palette, a vehicle similar to a food truck that is highly customizable—examples shown included a rolling restaurant, retail shop and donation-pickups vehicle. Partners in the company’s new e-Palette Alliance—which will “collaborate on vehicle planning, application concepts and vehicle verification activities,” according to an official announcement—include Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -0.74% , ride-sharing titans Uber and Didi Chuxing, Pizza Hut and Mazda Motor Corp. /zigman2/quotes/204777714/delayed JP:7261 +5.23%
“Imagine how great e-Palette would be at Burning Man,” Toyota President Akio Toyoda said at Monday’s event, where he claimed that Toyota must now challenge tech companies like Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -1.37% , Alphabet Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -0.19% /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG -0.23% and Facebook Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +2.33%
Toyota and its partners will concentrate on firming up the concept, which is all-electric and built for autonomy. Partners will be able to install their own self-driving technology in e-Palette, Toyoda said, as part of the infinite theoretical customizations for the vehicle.
Users can completely customize the interior and exterior of the large, boxy vehicle, which Toyota hopes to offer in three sizes. The company hopes to conduct feasibility testing of the concept in the U.S. and elsewhere in the early 2020s, the company announced.
Toyota stock gained 0.7% in U.S. trading Monday, after gaining about 12% in the past year. The S&P 500 index /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -0.72% has gained more than 20% in the same period.