Toyota to launch Facebook-style social network

Japanese car maker Toyota today announced plans to launch a Facebook-style social network, exclusively for owners of its automobiles.

According to press release fired at Thinq_ Towers, the motoring giant is teaming up with cloud-based customer relations software maker Salesforce.com to create Toyota Friend - "a private social network for Toyota customers and their cars".

Powered by the software company's Salesforce Chatter network, Toyota Friend will be accessible via PCs, smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. The service will roll out in Japan by 2012, initially to owners of Toyota's electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

This drive into social notworking by the world's number one car maker will, it seems, provide owners of models such as eco-celeb favourite the Prius with "essential maintenance tips", as well as providing services such as reminders to drivers to recharge their vehicle in the form of a "tweet-like alert". Customers will apparently be able to "extend their communication to family, friends, and others" through publicly-accessible networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

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

And that determination to deliver "ever better" cars might just betray another motive behind the launch - a desire to avoid any repeat of the tsunami of criticism that followed the deaths of up to 89 people as a result of faulty accelerators in Toyota cars. The company was criticised for its poor communication after failing to react to early reports of the defect in 2009, which eventually led to the recall of more than two million vehicles.

Toyota blamed the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan for a decline in sales of 52 per cent for the first quarter of 2011 - even though the disaster occurred only three weeks before the end of the financial period. Further difficulties are expected for the company in the next three months, as Toyota warned that it did not expect to return to full, pre-quake production levels until the end of 2011.