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Toyota & Social Networking

Have you ever talked to your car, or given it a name? Most people have probably known someone who nicknamed their Beetle “Daisy” or call their old beater by a funny nickname. Most of us have some sort of presence in social networking too, with accounts on Facebook and Twitter or other platforms of the social networking diaspora. Toyota has taken the initiative to introduce social networking for Toyota owners in a project called “Toyota Friend.”In a strategic alliance with San Francisco-based Salesforce.com and computing giant Microsoft, Toyota intends to build a private social network for Toyota customers and their cars. Intended to roll out in Japan, the network will be built around the latest Prius Plug-in hybrids and the upcoming pure electric Toyotas scheduled for 2012 release.

 

Similar to a tweet on Twitter, Toyota Friend will keep owners and cars connected with exchanges about the status of an electric charge or other critical conditions. The messages would be sent to owners phones, and could expand to their Twitter, Facebook or email accounts as well – thereby bringing family and friends and other Toyota cars into the fold. Toyota has said the exchanges could be kept private as well.

The Toyota Friend social network will be available as an app for smartphones, tablets as well as in browser windows on computers. A demonstration in a Tokyo showroom in this past May had an owner of a Prius Plug-in being tweeted by his car about the status of charging. 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.” Other features Toyota has discussed include your car telling you when it is due for service, and linking up to a dealer to schedule an appointment automatically.

Toyota president Akio Toyoda has been talking up his personal connection with the cars he races around the track, and wants the dialog familiar to enthusiasts to grow and become an important part of the brand “I hope cars can become friends with their users, and customers will see Toyota as a friend,” he said.

Bolstering the discussion, Salesforce.com Chief Executive Marc Benioff said: “I want a relationship with my car in the same way we have a relationship with our friends on social networks.” The information gathered from cars adds to the social networking dialog fast becoming an integral part of our lives.

In the quest for loyal customers, manufacturers have jumped head first into the new world of telematics – the use of internet-related technologies in cars. Chevrolet and Nissan have both rolled out apps that work with their EVs to better educate the driver about the needs of their vehicle’s batteries and help locating charging stations. Toyota’s Friend network takes the strategy one step further by personalizing the experience.

What could be next? Certainly more companies could introduce their own networks. Indeed the early Web 2.0 was littered with social media sites that have since quietly folded or have given up to the ubiquity of Facebook and Twitter. It is possible that separate manufacturer’s networks might merge into one more cohesive automotive community, but of course that would depend on all automaker’s willingness to collaborate more closely with each other. Considering the amount of energy and affection people put into their cars, having them finally be able to communicate back to us will likely burnish their indelible impact into our lives.

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