The exchanges can be kept private, or be shared with other "Toyota Friend" users, as well as made public on Facebook, Twitter and other services, the company said. The companies did not give details of how the technology, such as the content of the talking car's dialogues, will be managed. But officials said the answers will be automated through sensors in the car.
If your car is up for an inspection, for example, the owner will be notified through "Toyota Friend," which will in turn automatically link to a dealer to set up an appointment. Toyota is investing 442 million yen ($5.5 million), Microsoft Corp. is investing 335 million yen ($4.1 million) and Salesforce.com 223 million yen ($2.8 million) in the project. Many cars are already equipped with navigation and other network-linking capabilities, and can function as a mobile device just like an iPhone or a Blackberry.
Such next-generation 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 hi car when he is zipping around on the circuit. 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. Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff said social networks can add value to products and companies.
Partnerships with dot.com types have been a bright spot in Toyoda's bumpy career as president. He has faced growing doubts about reliability and transparency because of the massive global recalls that began two years ago, shortly after he took office, and which now affect more than 14 million vehicles. Toyota is also battling parts shortages after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan destroyed key suppliers, hampering production. (Idaho Statesman)