Toyota Prius Plug-In

By now, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter have become universally known as social networks that connect you to your friends. But what about a social network that connects you to your car? Toyota is developing just that – and it might be here sooner than you think.

Dubbed "Toyota Friend," the program uses technology from cloud computing company teamed with data from Toyota vehicles. The result is a private social network linking customers to their cars, their dealer and Toyota – although users can also utilize the program to communicate with family and friends via traditional social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

"Toyota and share a vision to take the auto industry into the future," said chief executive Marc Benioff. "Social and mobile technologies will transform the car ownership experience, and we are excited to be Toyota's partner in this transformation."

While Toyota Friend will make its debut in Japan, its arrival stateside is virtually assured by social media's popularity among Americans, combined with the Japanese automaker's decision to form a partnership with San Francisco-based According to Toyota, the system will go live in 2012, initially on the automaker's electric and plug-in hybrid cars like the Prius – and for good reason.

One of the system's main features will be to provide product information, as well as service and maintenance tips. For electric cars and plug-in hybrids, that means Toyota Friend will take care of notifying drivers with a "tweet-like" alert when the car is low on battery power. And for added convenience, the system will be accessible through smart phones, tablet PCs, and other advanced mobile devices.

"Social networking services are transforming human interaction and modes of communication," said Toyota's president Akio Toyoda. "The automobile needs to evolve in step with that transformation. I am always calling for Toyota to make even better cars, [and] the alliance that we announce here today is an important step forward in achieving that goal."

Although heavily affected by the recent Japanese earthquake, Toyota sales have continued to grow in the US. The automaker's sales were up 1.3 percent in April, with the Scion tC and Toyota Highlander enjoying the strongest gains.

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Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on

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