Toyota Teams With Microsoft for Cloud-Based Driver Services

Say your Toyota Prius Prime’s software knows you’re a Dallas Cowboy fan, driving home from work, and the Microsoft Azure cloud tells your car that AT&T Stadium hasn’t yet sold out for Monday Night Football. Under a new partnership between Toyota and Microsoft, your car will alert you to ticket availability, and can direct you to the stadium and pre-pay for parking.

That’s an example Toyota and Microsoft executives gave — more or less — in describing the type of services that their newly launched company, Toyota Connected Inc., can provide to owners of the automaker’s latest models. The new company is based in Plano, Texas, which explains why CEO Zack Hicks (who also is chief information officer for Toyota Motor North America) chose the Cowboys for his example (we added the model name and Monday Night Football to embellish his example).

The joint venture, in which Microsoft will hold a 5 percent stake, will “significantly expand the company’s capabilities in the fields of data management and data services development” and provide telematics, data analysis and network security services to Toyota Motor Company car and truck owners. In other words, Toyota is keeping up with the Ford Motor Company and General Motors and other rivals in offering connectivity services as you drive.

Rather than simply get you from point A to point B, data on your tastes and preferences stored in Microsoft’s Azure cloud can suggest retail and entertainment attractions, and restaurants you might like that are located between points A and B.

Toyota says its owners will be given the chance to “opt out” — just as your smartphone’s apps ask for permission to use your “current location” ahead of offering the information you’re seeking from the app. Of course, the system will also offer real-time traffic information, as well.

“From telematics services that learn from your habits and preferences, to use-based insurance pricing models that respond to actual driving patterns, to connected vehicle networks that can share road condition and traffic information, our goal is to deliver services that make life easier,” Hicks said in prepared remarks.

Hicks told reporters in a phone conference that the system will “leverage data and give a great experience” rather than bombard drivers with too many apps. By storing each customer’s preferences, Toyota dashboards won’t distract drivers and passengers with too much information, he said. The dashboard screens in future Toyotas may go dark when not in use, he suggested.

“We’re doing a lot of human interface testing,” Hicks said.

The deal does not give Toyota exclusive use of Microsoft technology.

“We’re working with a number of automotive partners,” Kurt DelBene, Microsoft’s executive vice president of Corporate Strategy and Planning conceded. “The depth of our partnerships is different. Each one is unique.”

Neither Toyota nor Microsoft offered any insight into how this would be priced, and how both intend to make money on the partnership, other than that it won’t be bundled like cable television. You’ll receive only the apps you want or need.

It remains to be seen whether Toyota customers want to share their personal information with their cars the way they already share so much information with their smartphones and computers. It could come down to the same question many consumers have about navigation systems built into their cars: why not just use Google maps on their phones?

“Ultimately, the customer owns the data,” Hicks said, responding to a question on data ownership. “If they opt out, they have that right. If they opt in, they would have a wonderful experience.”

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