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Toyota Tries Proprietary Telematics

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. announces it will venture into the world of telematics when it begins offering proprietary systems for its Toyota and Lexus brands in late summer. The Toyota system is dubbed Safety Connect, while Lexus Enform is the name for the luxury brand's version, which includes extra features. Both are the result of several years of research and development, the auto maker says

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. announces it will venture into the world of telematics when it begins offering proprietary systems for its Toyota and Lexus brands in late summer.

The Toyota system is dubbed “Safety Connect,” while “Lexus Enform” is the name for the luxury brand's version, which includes extra features. Both are the result of “several years” of research and development, the auto maker says in a statement.

“Our primary focus while developing our services was on three key traits: choice, convenience and control,” says Jon Bucci, vice president-Advanced Technology Dept. for TMSUSA.

Before jumping into the telematics field in the U.S., which most prominently includes General Motors Corp.'s OnStar, TMSUSA looked to Toyota Motor Corp., he says. Since 2002, the parent company in Japan has offered telematics services, dubbed G-Book, for its own models as well as rivals such as Mazda Motor Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (Subaru).

Although handheld wireless devices are gaining favor in the U.S. as a means of getting information while driving, Bucci says experience and research showed Toyota's core safety and security technology work best when embedded in the vehicle for better reliability.

Safety Connect has four main features: Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Location, Emergency Assistance Button and Roadside Assistance.

Automatic Collision Notification enables embedded cellular technology and a Global Positioning Satellite system to automatically notify a dedicated response center when a vehicle's airbag deploys or a “severe rear-end collision” occurs, Toyota says.

An agent at the response center receives the vehicle's identification and location and either communicates with the driver or contacts the nearest public safety answering point using GPS location.

GPS also is relied on to track the location of a stolen vehicle, Toyota says, with call-center agents able to assist the police in recovery.

An Emergency Assistance, or “SOS,” button will be featured in every model equipped with Safety Connect. A push of the button notifies 24-hour emergency assistance personnel that a driver needs help. By using cellular technology and GPS, an agent can dispatch appropriate personnel after judging the severity of the situation.

Roadside Assistance will be available 24 hours a day via the SOS button for such things as a flat tire, towing, fuel or dead battery.

All Safety Connect requests for assistance will be fielded by a telematics response center operated by ATX Group, “a leading provider of global automotive telematics services for over a decade,” Toyota says.

The Lexus Enform system adds to Safety Connect's various information and convenience services.

Says Bucci: “We specifically steered away from a one-size-fits-all approach, recognizing that we have two distinct markets for telematics products and services and catering our offerings to each of our valued customer sets.”

Toyota calls Destination Assist and eDestination the “cornerstones” of the Lexus telematics service.

With Destination Assist, a driver can chat live with an operator, who will help find the nearest restaurant, gas station, dry cleaner or museum.

The operator can be specific about location or provide choices of restaurants with a specific type of cuisine, for instance. When the driver makes a selection, destination information is wirelessly transmitted to the vehicle's navigation system.

The eDestination is a self-service feature, allowing drivers to formulate destination lists via the Lexus owners' website and then send the information wirelessly to their vehicles.

Twenty customized folders are available for users in their personal library on the website, with a maximum of 10 destinations allowed per folder, Toyota says. The folders can be accessed any time to view or change.

Three additional features of Lexus Enform include Flexible Voice Interface, Mobile Audio Casts with Lexus Insider and XM NavTraffic and NavWeather services.

Flexible Voice Interface includes the casual-speech voice-recognition system currently available on the '10 Lexus RX. Now any Lexus model equipped with a navigation system will feature the voice-command technology.

The software, developed by VoiceBox Technology, allows for less regimented, more free-flowing speech commands, such as, “Where's the nearest gas station along my route?”

All Lexus Enform navigation-equipped models receive complimentary Lexus-related news updates with Mobile Audio Casts.

The audio programs, which cover vehicle technology, specific Lexus models and regional events sponsored by Lexus, will be sent to vehicles to be listened to at the driver's convenience, Toyota says. Customers who don't want to receive the broadcasts can opt out.

Additionally, vehicles featuring Lexus Enform will be factory-equipped to receive XM Satellite Radio content, including NavTraffic and NavWeather services. Each service will be offered as 3-month trials.

Safety Connect and Lexus Enform will begin rolling out on select models in late summer, with further details to arrive closer to launch. Dealers will activate the telematics service once the customer subscribes.

Toyota will offer a 1-year trial subscription for each service when a customer purchases a new vehicle, and TMSUSA spokeswoman Audra Ruzich tells Ward's pricing will be “very competitive” once the free trial ends. GM's OnStar starts at $18.95 per month.

At least for now, Toyota's Scion models will not offer telematics systems, but Ruzich says the brand may have “some things to announce in the future.”

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