Toyota, Microsoft sign $12-million telematics deal image

Toyota (TM) and Microsoft (MSFT) said Wednesday late they will team up to build a global platform for Toyota’s next-generation telematics services.

The pair are comitting to invest $12 million in Toyota Media Service Co., the Toyota subsidiary that provides digital information systems to Toyota automotive. Along with plans for telematics services including data, navigation and in-car entertainment, and multimedia using Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform, the system may manage energy use in vehicles, the companies said.

The first application of the system — which will be based on the Windows Azure cloud computing platform — will be to manage energy use for the plug-in version of the Prius due in the first half next year.

Referring to the pilot program with Toyota, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the investment

“further validates the power of the cloud, as the Windows Azure platform will provide the enterprise-grade, scalable platform that TMC needs to deliver telematics in its automobiles worldwide.”

Starting in 2012, customers who purchase one of Toyota’s electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles will be able to connect via the cloud to control and monitor their car from anywhere – safely and conveniently.

For example, customers will be able to turn on the heat or AC in their car while their vehicle is plugged into the grid or dynamically monitor miles until the next charging station right from their GPS system. Or a customer could use a smart phone to check battery power or maintenance information remotely.

Additionally, customers can use these applications and services for power management as cars connect into the smart power grid. Imagine being able to tell a car to charge at the time of day when energy demand is low and therefore, the least expensive.

Telematics is a crowded space, and most competitors offer similar services and options. The best-known telematics service is OnStar, a General Motors subsidiary, which allows customers to make calls, remotely unlock their vehicles and receive turn-by-turn navigation.

Ford previously tapped Microsoft to power its Sync system, which has helped Ford burnish its image as a technology leader.