Toyota will test a new car-sharing system next year that lets users unlock doors and start cars with their smartphones.
The Smart Key Box system eliminates the need for a metal key. Toyota will test the system in San Francisco with the Getaround car-sharing service starting in January. Toyota is investing about $10 million in Getaround through a fund it created with a group of venture capital firms and the Japanese asset management firm Sparx Group.
Getaround differs from fleet-owned car-sharing companies such as Zipcar and General Motors' Maven. It is a so-called peer-to-peer car-sharing service, meaning that lets renters use other people's cars, for as low as $5 an hour. In exchange, owners receive a portion of that fee. Getaround's service has attracted more than 300,000 users around the U.S.
Toyota says a user's phone will get codes to access the smart key box inside car-sharing vehicles. When the phone gets close to the vehicle, the codes are verified through the Bluetooth system.
Initially, the system will be functional only on all Lexus models and Toyota Priuses, according to Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons.
If the experiment is successful, Toyota may use the system in Japan for an unmanned car rental business.
Keyless car-sharing is not totally new. GM's Maven system uses a mobile app to unlock cars and allow them to be started with the push-button ignition. Maven is currently in nine U.S. cities, including Ann Arbor. ZipCar lets users access cars with a card, then use keys that are inside.
Toyota also is developing a system that lets an owner send car-sharing income to Toyota Financial Services to make lease payments.
Toyota also has invested in Uber, the U.S. start-up that has driven much of the growth in ride-sharing services globally.
Frost & Sullivan, a research firm, estimates that 9.8 million people will use car-share services in the U.S. and Europe by 2025, up from 1.3 million in 2014.