Toyota, Set up Vehicle Owner Social Network

Toyota Motor will partner to offer owners of its electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles a private social network, Toyota Friend, for sharing maintenance tips, the companies announced Monday.

Toyota Friend will let the automaker reach buyers of the vehicles to pass on up-to-date information and remind them of maintenance timelines, the two companies said.

For example, with the Salesforce Chatter service Toyota could alert a customer whose vehicle was low on battery power and needed recharging.

The automaker will launch Toyota Friend next year in Japan, followed by the U.S. and Europe, initially with owners of electric vehicles, followed by buyers of plug-in hybrids.

Toyota, which sells vehicles in 170 countries, will know from chips installed in each electric-powered vehicle what advice to give owners from its automated response system, said company spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto .

It is easiest to program the electric and hybrid vehicles for the service, she said. Toyota has not said whether it will later add gasoline-powered vehicles to the social network.

The network can also loop in Toyota dealerships, and vehicle owners can choose to invite others, such as friends or family members, by using the network's invite functions. Toyota Friend applications will be available for smartphones and tablets, while traditional PCs can access it on the Web.

Toyota will put up 442 million yen (US$5.4 million) for the service, and will invest 223 million yen, the companies said.

Microsoft will invest 335 million yen for promotional reasons to build the cloud-based Toyota Friend network itself. Last month it announced a partnership with Toyota to build a telematics services platform.

Toyota seeks to work with other world IT companies to advance its "future mobility," the automaker said.

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