The Japan Times


Inspired by racing, Toyota roars ahead with GR sports car brand

The Japan Times

Amid heated global competition over developing next-generation cars such as self-driving automobiles and electric vehicles, Toyota Motor Corp. unveiled Tuesday a new sports car brand inspired by its expertise in motor sports. Under the brand name GR, which comes from Toyota's motor sports brand Toyota Gazoo Racing, the auto giant unveiled seven cars remodeled as sports editions, including the Vitz compact, Voxy and Noah minivans, and the Prius and Mark X sedans. The main target of the new brand is younger customers, who are often said to have lost their passion for driving their own cars, Gazoo Racing President Shigeki Tomoyama said. Toyota's launch of the sports car brand apparently runs counter to the global focus on next-generation vehicles such as EVs.


Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi bets on spike in electric cars with 12 new models

The Japan Times

The carmakers -- who collectively sold more vehicles than any other company in the world in the first half of this year -- also announced plans to make "robo-taxis," driverless public transport vehicles and autonomous cars aimed at middle-class consumers. It wants 15 minutes of charging time to provide 230 km (140 miles) of range, up from 90 km (55 miles) of range now. Ghosn said electric car sales are growing by more than 50 percent annually in some European markets, and that his alliance is watching China's emissions policies closely. He said the carmakers aim to boost annual sales to $240 billion and to sell 14 million cars a year by 2022, up from 10 million in 2016.


Long in the works, self-driving boats may make a splash before autonomous cars

The Japan Times

Spurred in part by the car industry's race to build driverless vehicles, marine innovators are building automated ferry boats for Amsterdam canals, cargo ships that can steer themselves through Norwegian fjords and remote-controlled ships to carry containers across the Atlantic and Pacific. "We're in full autonomy now," said Jeff Gawrys, a marine technician for Boston start-up Sea Machines Robotics, sitting at the helm as the boat floated through a harbor channel. The start-up has signed a deal with an undisclosed company to install the "world's first autonomy system on a commercial containership," Johnson said this week. In Norway, fertilizer company Yara International is working with engineering firm Kongsberg Maritime on a project to replace big-rig trucks with an electric-powered ship connecting three nearby ports.


Trump camp updates U.S. self-driving car guidelines as more hit the road, paring safety assessment points

The Japan Times

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – The Trump administration on Tuesday unveiled updated safety guidelines for self-driving cars aimed at clearing barriers for automakers and tech companies wanting to get test vehicles on the road. The guidelines also make clear that the federal government -- not states -- determines whether autonomous vehicles are safe. There is nothing to prohibit California, for instance, from requiring human backup drivers on highly automated vehicles, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would discourage that. California, which is the only state that requires automakers to publicly report crashes of autonomous test vehicles, said Tuesday it was reviewing the new guidelines.


Honda seeks to shed bunker mentality, get its risk-taking mojo back

The Japan Times

"There's no doubt we lost our mojo -- our way as an engineering company that made Honda Honda," says Chief Executive Takahiro Hachigo. He did this, the sources added, by moving several senior posts in the tech division to corporate headquarters in Tokyo from the research and development unit, whose main automotive center is near Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture. To that end the global automotive business unit, headed at the time by future CEO Ito, and the tech division decided that the redesigned Civic would use many of the same components and systems as the previous model, including the front and rear suspension systems and the front section of the car. To meet Ito's specifications, Horikoshi used cheaper materials and made the car smaller, cutting its length by 45 mm and its width by 25 mm.


As electric vehicles gain momentum worldwide, Horiba CEO maintains emissions-reliant business is sound

The Japan Times

Horiba, whose company makes about 80 percent of the automotive emission measurement systems sold worldwide, sees no need to rush and change tack. At the same time, electrification, autonomous driving and other advanced technologies should create additional opportunities for measuring equipment, he said. Horiba also began a foray into autonomous driving technology in 2015 when it acquired U.K.-based MIRA Ltd., which in addition to offering engineering consulting and testing services, had been developing autonomous vehicles for the British military. And, it has taken some early steps to position itself to exploit opportunities in testing batteries, motors and control systems for electric vehicles, Horiba said.


DeNA to test taxi dispatch app using AI in Yokohama

The Japan Times

The AI will then forecast demand to enable taxi drivers to find customers more easily. DeNA hopes to introduce the app for practical use as early as January. DeNA will cooperate with the Yokohama municipal office and the Kanagawa Taxi Association to conduct the test in parts of the city. The app will also allow those hoping to use taxis to find free vehicles.


Japan Post mulling plan to transport parcels between post offices in mountainous areas, to remote islands, by drone

The Japan Times

The envisioned project by the mail and package delivery unit of state-owned Japan Post Holdings Co. comes in the wake of e-commerce operator Rakuten Inc. and major parcel delivery provider Yamato Holdings Co. testing drone deliveries, but safety concerns remain about the new delivery method. "We are aiming to fly drones between post offices in mountainous areas and remote islands," Japan Post Executive Vice President Seiki Fukuda said at a news conference Monday. Japan Post is planning drone delivery in rural areas because there is a smaller risk of the machine falling on people on the ground and because at post offices, workers will be able to receive packages directly. In fiscal 2016, Japan Post carried out experimental drone deliveries, aiming to deliver packages to doorsteps at some point in the future.


Autonomous bus test starts at Tochigi Prefecture roadside rest area

The Japan Times

The ministry hopes to launch the autonomous bus services in fiscal 2020, aiming to provide a means of transportation for elderly people living in hilly and mountainous areas with dwindling populations. According to the ministry, 80 percent of michi no eki rest areas in Japan are in hilly and mountainous areas. The ministry hopes that self-driving public transport services will aid elderly people facing difficulties going to hospitals or for shopping due to such reasons as having given up driving because of their age or the scrapping of bus services. In Saturday's test three bus stops were set up along a 2-km route linking the Nishikata michi no eki rest area, a city government branch with a clinic and a nearby community.


Line looks beyond smartphones to AI voice agents

The Japan Times

Line launched its first AI speaker recently but no major U.S. firms are selling smart speakers in Japan yet. Leveraging the messaging app's huge user base, Line has been luring users to other services, including digital comics, live videos, shopping, games and payments. Idezawa thinks people will be sending more video messages and watching more video content through Line, providing another chance to boost ad revenue. Line operates a live streaming video service called Line Live but has yet to sell ads on it.