For the first time in the leasing industry, we will offer self-driving vehicles that we own for limited period field tests Yosuke Horiuchi, Manager, Mobility Business Promotion Div.
Toshiki Nakamura, Manager, Mobility Business Promotion Div.
* Seconded from Sompo Japan Insurance Inc. (at the time of the interview)
Satoshi Kurihara, Manager, EV Business Div., Fuyo Auto Lease Co., Ltd.

Not a few local governments, local banks, and companies are taking effective measures against the problem of the increasing number of “people with limited mobility.” However, the plan to utilize self-driving vehicles is said to require expertise and technology, and the high cost of equipment is holding back progress.
In order to eliminate these problems, Fuyo General Lease (hereinafter referred to as “Fuyo Lease”) has developed the “Self-Driving Vehicle Field Test Support Service Program” jointly with its group company, Fuyo Auto Lease Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “FAL”) and MACNICA, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as “Macnica”).

Self-driving vehicle mobility services are held back by the need for advanced technology and high costs

With the aging of the population, population decline, and marginalization, the number of cases in which railway and bus routes are discontinued due to the deterioration of profitability in rural areas of Japan is constantly increasing, and the number of “people with limited mobility” who cannot secure the transportation they need for daily life is increasing, mainly among the elderly. The number of people with limited mobility will continue to grow in the future. There are high hopes that mobility services utilizing self-driving vehicles are one way to solve this problem.

However, it is not easy to do field tests for self-driving vehicles. Advanced technology and expertise are required to operate a self-driving vehicle. It is difficult to set up systems to maintain special vehicles, and if an accident occurs, liability is a complex issue. Above all, the high cost of capital investment is slowing down research in various locations.

“With the emergence of the social problem of people with limited mobility, we have been exchanging opinions with various partners jointly with FAL on whether we can contribute to deploying mobility services that utilize self-driving vehicles in society, and what we can do to solve the problems. In the process, we were able to build a relationship with Macnica, which possesses self-driving operation technology. From there, we started developing this service program.” (Nakamura)

Typically, when trying to develop services in new areas, many companies will consider whether to move forward based on future potential and profitability. In the development of this service, although we didn’t know how much revenue we could gain due to the advanced and unknown nature of the field, management appreciated the great significance of contributing to solving social problems and supported us. Fuyo Lease’s positive attitude can be seen from this example too.

Supporting customer field tests by offering self-driving vehicles that we own for short periods

After gaining the support of management, the development team worked with FAL and Macnica to develop the service. Since self-driving vehicles is a state-of-the art field, the team focused on identifying risks more carefully and solving them in advance. The three companies completed the “Self-Driving Vehicle Field Test Support Service Program” in June 2021.

With its knowledge of self-driving technology and proven track record in consulting, Macnica supports the planning of field tests, implementation work for self-driving, and operations. Fuyo Lease and FAL provide customers with a self-driving vehicle manufactured by NAVYA of France called NAVYA ARMA, which Fuyo Lease has purchased and owns, utilizing Fuyo Lease’s business infrastructure of automobile asset management and vehicle leasing, for as long as the customer needs the vehicle. It is the industry’s first initiative to develop services based on owning self-driving vehicles.

Some customers have already started using the program. The “Self-Driving Vehicle Field Test Support Service Program” was used for a field test of “Healthcare MaaS” utilizing self-driving vehicles conducted by Shonan Health Innovation Park (hereinafter referred to as “Shonan iPark”) in Fujisawa City, Kanagawa Prefecture.

“We supported a field test at a medical facility. Self-driving buses travel around the grounds of Shonan iPark, and staff can measure the patient’s heart rate, oxygen saturation, and stress level while on the bus. In addition, medical examinations can be conducted before the arrival of the patient at the hospital. This should help to shorten the time needed for medical examinations and increase the productivity of the hospital. We also believe that the scheme can be used to change the route and arrival point for patients who test positive or negative for COVID-19.” (Kurihara)

In addition, in December 2021, Sompo Japan Insurance (hereinafter referred to as Sompo Japan”“) joined the project, and the four companies jointly released the “One-Stop Service for Implementation of Self-Driving Vehicles,” which is a top-ranked service. As a result, we have been able to provide services that are indispensable for the operation of self-driving risk assessments, self-driving dedicated insurance plans (automobile insurance), and road assistance services for the implementation areas and driving routes.

Expanding usage variations and developing services with higher added value

The “Self-Driving Vehicle Field Test Support Service Program” has made a good start, but there is still more work to be done. The issue is maintenance. Maintenance of self-driving vehicles requires special skills. In the end, Fuyo Lease believes that it is necessary to consider a path toward doing this ourselves in-house, such as by increasing the number of personnel we have who can maintain self-driving vehicles and building a network that can provide support across Japan.

“Self-driving vehicles are not the same as ordinary cars, so conventional maintenance companies cannot handle them. We are also committed to building the required maintenance system. And I think it would make sense from a social perspective if we could eventually provide that special know-how to maintenance companies. In addition, the scope of application of this service is wide, and we are also thinking about cooperating with companies in the fields of tourism and logistics. I believe that if we can increase the number of self-driving vehicles we own in the future, we can expand usage variations and provide higher value-added services.” (Horiuchi)

A world of mobility in which technological innovation is advancing rapidly, including the keywords CASE and MaaS. Fuyo Lease wants to actively continue research and eventually participate in the field of self-driving vehicles in “Super City Projects” that are going on in various parts of Japan.

  • *
    Affiliation, title at the time of interview