Boxy Toyota e-Palette concept is designed to transport both people and pizzas

At CES 2018, Toyota is trying to turn the entire concept of the auto industry on its head. The Japanese automaker unveiled a radical new concept vehicle that will be the basis for an equally unorthodox mobility service. It all sounds very exciting, until you lay eyes on the vehicle itself.

The Toyota e-Palette concept is a depressingly basic box on wheels, but that’s what Toyota thinks will work best in the future mobility-service economy. The automaker is assembling a diverse group of companies — including Amazon, Pizza Hut, Uber, Mazda, and DiDi Chuxing — to form the e-Palette Alliance. Toyota hopes the Alliance will eventually blend ridesharing with other businesses.

The e-Palette concept’s boxy design allows its interior to be reconfigured for a variety of uses, according to Toyota. It can be used to carry passengers in a ridesharing capacity or as a delivery vehicle. That’s exactly what Toyota’s partners want. Uber is developing its own self-driving cars, Pizza Hut tested an autonomous delivery vehicle with Ford, and Amazon seems hell bent on automating home delivery. An eventual production version will be available in three sizes, from 4 meters to 7 meters (13 feet to 22 feet), Toyota said.

The concept is capable of autonomous driving and over-the-air software updates, Toyota said. A Toyota-operated data center will help manage the vehicles, influencing everything from financing to maintenance, the company said. That should make it easier for fleet operators to keep track of their vehicles. Toyota’s approach seems aimed more at large corporate fleets than individual ownership.

Toyota plans to conduct feasibility testing of the e-Palette in multiple regions, including the United States, beginning in the early 2020s. The vehicles may also make an appearance at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Toyota’s head of autonomous driving previously said self-driving cars would be demonstrated on Tokyo’s Odaiba waterfront during the games.

It may be a nightmare for car enthusiasts, but the Toyota e-Palette concept represents the dream of the mobility-service economy. The involvement of companies like Amazon and Uber shows that there is considerable interest in replacing today’s privately owned cars with fleets of shared autonomous runabouts. But autonomous-driving technology will have to make some major leaps before that business model can be tested.

Product Review

Ford’s reincarnated Ranger feels like a car that does everything a truck can do

The 2019 Ford Ranger aims to be a tool for weekend adventures, and goes head-to-head with midsize pickup trucks from Chevrolet, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. Ford hasn’t sold the Ranger in the United States since 2011, so it has to make up…

Ex-Uber engineer drove coast-to-coast in a Prius without touching the wheel

The engineer at the heart of the recent Waymo vs. Uber lawsuit has founded a company named Pronto that aims to build the best self-driving stack in the world. It drove a Toyota Prius from San Francisco to New York without any human input.
Smart Home

Starbucks teams with Uber Eats for delivery from 2,000 of its U.S. stores

Starbucks has teamed up with Uber Eats to offer customers deliveries from almost a quarter of its stores in the U.S. The major expansion launches early next year, making life even easier for fans of the coffee giant.
Product Review

Boring takes a back seat as 2019 Corolla Hatchback mixes fun with practicality

We drive the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback, the latest hatchback to bear the Corolla name. As the best-selling nameplate in automotive history, Toyota has high expectations to meet. This model mostly lives up to the legacy.

California wants all-electric public bus fleet on its roads by 2040

California approved a regulation that targets an all-electric public bus fleet for the whole state by 2040. The effect of the full implementation of the regulation is equivalent to taking 4 million cars off the road.

1,000-mph Bloodhound supersonic car project finds a last-minute savior

The Bloodhound supersonic car (SSC) project has found a buyer. The project was going to be disbanded after running out of funds, but its assets were purchased by British businessman Ian Warhurst.

Car-branded phones need to make a U-turn if they ever want to impress

Your car and your smartphone are becoming one, yet smartphones branded or co-created by car companies are a problem. We look at the history, some examples of the best and worst, then share hopes for the future.

Ford’s prototype Quiet Kennel uses noise-canceling tech to keep dogs stress-free

Ford is ending 2018 by venturing into the doghouse market. The company's European division has built a kennel equipped with active noise-canceling technology and soundproof walls that help dogs sleep through fireworks.
Emerging Tech

Self-driving dirt rally vehicle offers crash course in autonomous car safety

Georgia Tech's AutoRally initiative pushes self-driving cars to their limit by getting scaled-down autonomous vehicles to drive really, really fast and aggressively on dirt roads. Here's why.

The best compact cars pack full-size features in fun-size packages

The best compact cars on the market rival their counterparts in many ways, proving that bigger isn’t always better. Here, we've rounded up some of the better options available, including an SUV and an electric alternative.

Lincoln revives its coolest-ever design feature for limited-edition Continental

The 1961 Lincoln Continental became a design icon thanks to center-opening "coach doors" (also known as "suicide doors"). Lincoln is bringing those doors back for a special edition of the 2019 Continental.

Audi’s self-driving car unit teams up with Luminar to go driverless in 2021

Audi's self-driving car unit has teamed up with Luminar to develop and test autonomous technology. Luminar provides its lidar technology, which sees farther than the sensors offered by rivals, while Audi brings its own software.

Land Rover’s upcoming high-tech Defender will leave last-gen model in the dust

Land Rover is giving the Defender a full reboot. The original SUV was a rugged machine built to go anywhere. Its replacement will tick those boxes, too, but it will add a dose of technology and luxury.

Mercedes-Benz will give the 2020 CLA a star-studded introduction at CES

Mercedes-Benz will introduce the new, second-generation CLA during CES 2019. The design-led member of Mercedes' compact car family will stand out with a fastback-like roof line reminiscent of the CLS and frameless doors.