Sat, Apr 27, 2013 - Page 15 News List

Toyota, Microsoft beef up Gazoo.com online service

AP, TOKYO

Toyota Motor Corp is teaming up with Microsoft Corp for an Internet service that links cars, home computers and smartphones so users can find nearby tourist spots, connect on social networks and learn about new models.

The beefed up version of Toyota’s Internet site Gazoo.com starts on May 30 in Japan and will be based on “cloud” computing from Microsoft called Windows Azure. Overseas plans are still undecided.

According to the US software giant, it is the first time the technology, which also uses Sharepoint software, is being used for a company site. Gazoo.com users tripled over the last five years to 1.65 million. Toyota yesterday said it wanted to raise that to 2 million over the next year.

All the world’s major automakers are working on similar technology to bring autos up-to-date with the Internet age, from finding restaurants to helping ensure safe driving.

However, a major motive for Toyota is appealing to younger Japanese, who are rapidly losing interest in buying cars and are spending their money on smartphones and video games. The trend is so widespread there is a coined phrase, kuruma banare, or “departure from cars.”

Among the Internet content in the works are video games, shopping-site links, virtual events and a special social network to chat about cars, Toyota said. A smartphone application will guide drivers with an electronic voice to 30,000 destinations from 250 routes.

The site will also offer information on more than 3,000 new and used models, including interviews with engineers.

Switching to Microsoft’s cloud computing will cut costs for operating the services, although Toyota plans to invest more money in new content for Gazoo.com.

Toyota reached an agreement with Microsoft in April 2011 to work together on telematics, or network technology for cars.

It is unclear whether the site will really lead to car sales, but Toyota will be able to tap into data on consumer behavior, as well as try to revive Japanese people’s fading interest in cars, said Hiroyuki Yamada, an executive at e-Toyota, which looks over such technology.

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