Uncovered: Toyota e-Palette Concept

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Toyota has always been at the forefront of the motor industry, paving the way for innovation. The Prius was the world’s first mass-produced petrol-electric hybrid vehicle and the Mirai entered the market in a similar fashion but fuelled by hydrogen cells. But now there’s a new kid on the block – a fully autonomous transportation vehicle known as the e-Palette.

The fact that you won’t need to drive it already indicates how it will shape the future of society, but what more does it offer? Read on to find out everything you need to know about Toyota’s latest concept vehicle.

What is the e-Palette?

Designed to meet the demands of future multi-mode transportation and business applications, the e-Palette is a fully autonomous battery-electric vehicle (BEV) with an open control interface to allow partner companies to install their own automated driving systems.

The concept vehicle comes as part of Toyota’s shift from traditional manufacturer to mobility service provider and will support the company’s mobility as a service (MaaS) endeavours, such as its sub-brand Kinto.

Uses of the Toyota e-Palette
Credit: Toyota Motor Corporation

Uses

Having already partnered with companies like Amazon, DiDi, Pizza Hut and Uber, in order to offer a variety of services and use cases for the e-Palette, Toyota has essentially created a multipurpose container on wheels.

The fact that it’s both scalable (lengths vary from approximately four to seven metres) and customisable (thanks to a long wheelbase and flat floor), means the e-Palette could be used for a multitude of possibilities. Here’s a list of potential uses as suggested by the vehicle’s announcement video:

  • Show room
  • Mobile hotel
  • Fab Lab (mobile fabrication laboratory)
  • Restaurant
  • Lounge
  • Casino
  • Mobile shops
  • Coffee shop
  • Shuttle bus
  • Robo-taxi
  • Ride-sharing
  • Co-working space
  • Logistics
  • Food delivery

As you can see from the list above, the potential for the Toyota e-Palette is large. From logistics services to mobile co-working spaces and practically everything in between, there’s very little the vehicle can’t do. But perhaps the most interesting use comes about when you combine a whole fleet of them together in a sort of futuristic transportation network.

Coined the “On-Demand City”, the announcement video highlights the true potential of the e-Palette by using multiple vehicles to create a pop-up city. Modern day drivers will look in awe at the video of showing hundreds of e-Palettes converging on a mass gathering and dispersing into restaurants, shops, lounges, entertainment and accommodation to provide all the services you could need at a festival or outdoor event.

However, while its fun to marvel at what the e-Palette can potentially do, it’s better to recognise what it can do. The first use of the vehicle is expected at the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games, where a fleet of around 20 vehicles will be used to support athlete and staff mobility through automated loop-line transportation.

Unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic has put a halt to these proceedings, so we won’t be able to see it in action until 23 July 2021, the new start date for the Olympics.

On Demand City
Credit: Toyota Motor Corporation

How will it impact society?

With such a long and varied list of possible uses, the arrival of the Toyota e-Palette is sure to cause a stir not just in the mobility industry, but also the delivery, property and retail industries.

Mobility

The mobility industry as we know it is already under a fairly drastic change, with traditional manufacturers transitioning into mobility companies. Smart city initiatives and mobility as a service ventures are also emphasising the need for efficient public and shared transport, putting a strain on the personal vehicle market.

As a result, the arrival of the e-Palette could be one of the catalysts that help shift the swing away from personal vehicle ownership. With services including shuttle buses and ride-sharing expected from the get-go, its timely introduction could help popularise public transport. Mobility as a service ventures also aim to keep fees below ownership costs, meaning the e-Palette could be a serious rival to the car sitting on your drive or in your garage.

Delivery

The delivery industry has changed extensively over recent years, with an almost overnight transformation from employed delivery drivers to a gig economy, where almost anyone can become a delivery driver given they have access to transport and a smartphone.

However, this could be short-lived with the arrival of autonomous last mile delivery vehicles that are likely to be more profitable in the long term. As well as delivery services, logistics are also likely to be affected, with the e-Palette being advertised as a fit-all distribution solution.

Toyota e-Palette logistics
Credit: Toyota Motor Corporation

Property

While perhaps not as substantial as the potential effects to the mobility and delivery industries, the e-Palette is likely to affect the property industry, if it is adopted by small and micro businesses to house their independent restaurants, coffee shops and retail outlets.

Every traditional brick and mortar business that moves to the e-Palette model will leave a potential existing unit empty, which could lead to retail units converting to housing projects as businesses become mobile.

Retail

Retail has already been greatly impacted by technology, with the arrival of internet shopping upsetting the traditional high street market in a big way. The e-Palette could be the second wave of change that supports this new online-dominated retail industry, by supporting digitised retail and further reducing the number of traditional stores.

Positioned as a perfect medium between an e-commerce venture and a physical store, the e-Palette has the potential to support existing e-commerce companies with a mobile show room allowing customers to try before they buy. The mobile shop model may also provide an alternative to a static physical premise, making shopping more personal while simultaneously lowering the barrier for entry.

While the future is uncertain, the Toyota e-Palette presents a utopia only limited by your imagination. We may soon rely on modular cuboids roaming our streets for our groceries, transportation and entertainment. However, that said, this fantasy is a long way from fruition and personal vehicles are still the best means of transportation.

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