Automakers are staking their claims in the ride-sharing world -- and fast.
Last week alone, Toyota Motor Corp. invested in and partnered with ride-share giant Uber, Volkswagen Group invested in Gett, a ride-hailing company popular in Europe, and BMW AG invested in Scoop Technologies Inc., of San Francisco, maker of a mobile carpooling app.
Toyota's captive finance arm will invest an undisclosed amount in Uber and will offer flexible leasing options to drivers by the end of 2016.
Toyota will begin the partnership on a trial basis in countries where ride-sharing is expanding. A spokesman could not specify whether the partnership will launch in the U.S.
In March, Chris Ballinger, Toyota Financial Services CFO and global chief officer of strategic innovation, said at the American Financial Services Association's vehicle finance conference that the ride-share business model creates "a lot of opportunities for financial services companies." And there will be even more opportunities when lenders launch fleet programs with ride-sharing companies, he added.
Toyota hopes to do just that through its alliance with Uber. The automaker is exploring collaboration opportunities with Uber to establish a fleet program to sell Toyota and Lexus vehicles to drivers.
Until now, few automotive finance companies have been willing to lend to buyers who declare Uber as their primary source of income, say dealership finance and insurance managers. "They don't care if it's secondary income" as long as the primary income is enough to afford that car, said Melissa Cole, finance director at Sullivan Automotive Group of Santa Monica, Calif.
But Toyota's primary motivation in linking with Uber lies beyond selling cars. It plans to explore with Uber ways to develop in-car apps to support Uber drivers and to share knowledge to accelerate the two companies' respective research processes.