Plenty of companies are going to CES this year with big and flashy announcements of how they will “disrupt” things. Toyota is one of them, aiming to change up shopping with its new e-Palette concept. It’s an intriguing idea, but one that I could only see working out in places where street-side real estate isn’t terribly precious.
The e-Palette concept is the boxy pod thing you see above, which Toyota envisions to be an automated space that’s suited for all kinds of needs: ride sharing, parcel delivery or mobile e-commerce. In essence, it’s a bus, a delivery truck and a mobile store all in one.
That last bit is the most interesting to me. In Toyota’s press conference, it showed various clips of people looking at different kinds of merchandise brought to them in an e-Palette. Potentially, you could order something online and have the store come to you. It’s true that people still like thumbing through items when they shop. It’s why Amazon is opening brick and mortar stores.
While online shopping is contributing to the death of retail in this country, the e-Palette could strike a happy medium between the two. You just couldn’t fit as much product in one of the pods as you could a traditional store (maybe if you make a train of them you could). But if you live in an area that doesn’t have a particular store or item, then having it come to you would be pretty neat. What that would do to the cost of the item is unclear.
Yet, I can’t see how these pods would help ease up traffic congestion. If the pods become stand-ins for stores, then wouldn’t that add additional traffic to streets? Double-parked pods all over the place while people use them as offices or shops?
At any rate, the e-Palette has the potential to backfire because it’s rather redundant. On the other hand, it’s got some very serious launch partners. Toyota’s press release states that Amazon, DiDi, Mazda, Pizza Hut and Uber will all collaborate with Toyota on vehicle planning, concepts and testing.
The e-Palette will launch at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. We’ll see how it fares there.