May 23, 2011

Your Next Toyota Wants To ‘Friend’ You

Japanese automaker Toyota and San Francisco-based Salesforce.com have announced a private social network for Toyota drivers called Toyota Friend.

This program is designed to enable Toyota owners to become "friends" with their cars and get friendly, tweet-like reminders for maintenance checks and other notices.

"Social networking services are transforming human interaction and modes of communication," Toyota President Akio Toyoda told a joint news conference with Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff in Tokyo on Monday.

"The automobile needs to evolve in step with that transformation," Toyoda said.

The next breakthrough in automobiles is expected to be social connectivity, not just between drivers but between cars and owners. Toyota has already developed its own telematics service to connect it with drivers and dealers.

Last month, Toyota and Microsoft announced plans to bring internet services to Toyota cars across the world, Reuters reports.

Your car would have its own "profile" and might send a message to the driver's phone,  reminding him to recharge its depleted battery. The owner would be able to carry out a simple, two-way conversation with the car. Customers will be able to extend the private "Toyota Friend" network by adding family and friends through public social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

In a Tokyo showroom demonstration, an owner of a plug-in Prius hybrid found out through a cell phone message from his Prius that he should remember to recharge his car overnight. When the owner plugged in his car to recharge it, the car replied, "The charge will be completed by 2:15 a.m. Is that OK? See you tomorrow."

Another use for this dialog for example, is if your car is up for an inspection, the owner will be notified through a phone message, which will automatically link to a dealer to set up an appointment.

Toyota is investing $5.5 million, Microsoft Corp. is investing $4.1 million and Salesforce.com $2.8 million in the project.

Built on open-source cloud platforms that are the specialty of Salesforce.com, as well as on Microsoft's platform, Toyota's service will start in Japan in 2012, and will be offered later worldwide, initially with electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, according to Toyota.

Next-generation electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles cars need to be recharged and so drivers may need real-time information, such as the battery level of their cars and locations of charging stations, more than regular gas-engine cars.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda, a racing fan, said he always "talks" with his car when he is zipping around on the track. With the popularity of social networking, cars and their makers should become part of that online interaction, he said. "I hope cars can become friends with their users, and customers will see Toyota as a friend," he said.


On the Net: