Sony takes on ride-hailing in Japan as Uber looks for partners

Uber's new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, is now in Tokyo and is expected to meet with regulators. Khosrowshahi noted that Japan's traditional taxi firms have failed to keep up with the technological advances.

The CEO said he sees the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo as a good opportunity to boost the company's business, noting that Japan is a huge taxi market.

In response to Uber's plans to expand to Japan, Sony announced a partnership with multiple taxi companies to help it enter the ride-hailing business. The new approach might hold more promise, but Sony will likely pose some serious competition. Didi plans to stick to taxi-hailing in Japan for now as well.

Uber says it has 300 drivers using its app in the market and "nearly 19,000 regular users". App developer JapanTaxi announced a partnership with Toyota on February 8 that will see the automaker invest 7.5 billion yen ($70 million) in the unit of Nihon Kotsu, one of the country's largest taxi operators.

Earlier in the year, Patrick Moulay, executive vice president for commercial helicopter sales, Bell Helicopter, said in an interview with Bloomberg, "Air taxi is the next way for our industry, and it's very important for us to make sure we are among the disrupters to think about what should be transportation in the next 10-20 years". Uber is also said to be in talks for a venture with Daiichi Koutsu.

Sony said it was planning a joint venture to offer artificial intelligence technology to six taxi operators, which now own a total of 10,000 vehicles in Tokyo.

The major obstacle is the tough regulation in Japan for companies like Uber. That's a turnaround from previous boss Travis Kalanick who largely left the country in the hands of a country manager.

The alliance comes as Uber Technologies Inc., the world's biggest ride-hailing startup, is in talks with another cab company as it tries to build its presence in the country.

Khosrowshahi said he wasn't bothered by SoftBank's announcement this month that it's partnering with Didi to target ride-hailing in Japan.

  • Wendy Palmer