Danny Titolo is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Toyota, Microsoft and Salesforce.com recently announced a partnership to build a social network for Toyota customers. The network is called “Toyota Friend” and aims to create an instant messaging quartet between the owner, car, dealer and factory. Users can gain access through cellphones, tablets or computers creating networks similar to Facebook or Twitter.
This new social network is being set up with the help of Microsoft and Salesforce.com, which will allow the service to be built on open-source cloud platforms. The service will first launch in Japan in 2012 with electric vehicles and hybrids, then later worldwide.
Toyota feels that a car that is more social media-friendly will appeal to potential drivers. One of the features these vehicles will have is real-time announcements. An example is drivers will be informed when their battery is not sufficiently charged.
In a Tokyo showroom, a Prius hybrid had sent a text message to a cell phone as a reminder to recharge the vehicle overnight. The Prius was also able to inform the owner at what point the charge would be completed. Toyota sees this as innovative since they feel that battery-powered cars are where the automobile industry is headed.
Entering the social media world does not come cheap. The project is costing over $12 million; with Toyota investing $5.5 million, Microsoft Corporation investing $4.1 million and Salesforce.com investing $2.8 million.
The instant messaging between owner and vehicle can be maintained privately through a cell phone or made public on Facebook and Twitter. Exchanges can also be shared with other Toyota Friend users. The dialoguing between the owner and vehicle will most likely be maintained by sensors situated throughout the car. Sensors are very common in modern vehicles; drivers can activate various applications through voice commands and also have access to sensor-assisted parking. The main unique feature of Toyota’s idea is the back-and-forth dialogue between the driver and vehicle.
One issue that has not been specifically addressed at this early stage is when vehicles will issue their “tweet-like” messages to owners. It can be argued that this type of instant messaging may encourage cell phone use in cars. Over the past several years many nations, particularly Canada, have cracked down on cellphone use while driving. A potential solution could be that messages will only be sent if the vehicle is parked or the ignition is turned off. This will reduce the danger associated with reading messages while driving. The drawback may be that it reduces the dialogue between the vehicle and driver as well as limits the ability for the vehicle to send potentially important messages in real-time.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda said that he “hope[s] cars can become friends with their users, and customers will see Toyota as a friend.” Marc Benioff, Chief Executive Officer of Salesforce.com, feels that social networks are helpful to companies in many ways. They can provide valuable information to Toyota about the users of their vehicles as well as whether or not the vehicles are functioning effectively.
There was some speculation that Toyota has been battling with productivity issues and parts availability since the tsunami hit Japan over two months ago. Regardless of this set back, Toyota is still moving full speed ahead.