Japan-based Willer begins driverless bus operations in Singapore

26, Oct. 2019

Willer Inc. CEO Shigetaka Murase (R) and other senior company officials pose in front of an “Auto Rider” autonomous driving bus at a seaside park in Singapore on Oct. 23, 2019.
Willer Inc. CEO Shigetaka Murase (R) and other senior company officials pose in front of an “Auto Rider” autonomous driving bus at a seaside park in Singapore on Oct. 23, 2019.

SINGAPORE, NNA - Japanese highway bus operator Willer Inc. is launching autonomous driving services on a commercial basis in Singapore, part of a plan to expand around Southeast Asia.

Willer is also starting ride-hailing services and intercity bus operations in Vietnam. It plans to launch a suite of ride booking apps within next year in other Southeast Asian markets as well as Taiwan, Willer Inc. CEO Shigetaka Murase told NNA at a launch event in Singapore on Wednesday.

The company aims to raise revenue from overseas business to 20 billion yen ($184 million) by 2023, the CEO said.

Demos and park rides in Singapore

In Singapore, Willers owns vehicles and manages their operations and provides booking apps. Its local unit Willers Pte. Ltd. is preparing to launch on-demand driverless bus services, commercially, with Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd., Murase said. The engineering firm chips in technical support for Willer’s driverless bus operations.

Willers and Singapore Technologies Engineering have received orders from the seaside park Gardens by the Bay to run buses between two spots inside the park from Saturday.

The autonomous bus partners have also done experiments with two on-demand vehicles on the tourist island of Sentosa, attracting more users than expected, Murase said. Similar demos are planned at the Jurong Lake Gardens park in Singapore.

Willer is using two Navya Arma-model driverless buses made by French electric vehicle producer Navya. Rides will cost 5 Singapore dollars ($3.7) per adult and SG$3 per child. Each vehicle can accommodate 15 people. One person will operate each bus, too. The price of each bus is 20-30 million yen ($184,000-$276,000).

Taiwan, Vietnam and more

Elsewhere in the region, MaiLinh-Willer Co., a joint venture between Willer and Vietnamese taxi company MaiLinh Group, is providing ride-hailing services in Vietnam. On Oct. 15, Willer also started intercity bus operations between Hanoi and the northern province of Thanh Hóa.

Willer aims to expand into Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand by 2023. The company has already established subsidiary in Taiwan.

In Japan, the firm started providing its “WILLERS Apps” in parts of Hokkaido Island and Kyoto Prefecture in August. The apps let users search means of transportation based on where they are and where they want to go. The apps also let users reserve vehicles and pay for the ride.

Willer will start providing the apps in Singapore, Vietnam and Taiwan in January, Murase said. They are set to become available in the Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar and Cambodia next year, initially Chinese, English and Japanese.

Murase forecasts growth in travel abroad from Southeast Asia between 2030 and 2040 following increases in population sizes and personal incomes. Autonomous driving, he said, can help reduce traffic accidents keep the air clean, he said.

“Travelers to the region will also increase, greatly expanding the movement of people there,” Murase added.