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New 'Friend' is Facebook for Toyota owners

Toyota has become a Facebook wannabe, on a small scale, with "Toyota Friend." "Friend" is the fledgling interactive Internet gated community birthed today by Toyota and partners Microsoft and

Today the trio jointly created "Friend" as a private social network that initially will only be offered to Japanese customers. It will be built in to Toyota's electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2012 for drivers in Japan only before expanding to customers in the United States and beyond.

Toyota Friend cost $12.4 million to start up and will be a private club for Toyota owners and their cars. It will be operated by Salesforce Chatter, a San Francisco-based company that has built private social networks for at least 100,000 businesses in the past 12 years.

The network will link the customer and his or her car with the dealership and with Toyota executives. The service also will do things like tweet when a car battery is low, using sensors inside the car to make that realization.

“Toyota and share a vision to take the auto industry into the future,” Marc Benioff, chief executive officer of, said at a news conference today. “Social and mobile technologies will transform the car ownership experience, and we are excited to be Toyota’s partner in this transformation.”

Car owners may extend their communication to family, friends, and others through Twitter and Facebook and can access materials as well through BlackBerrys, PCs, laptops and other mobile gadgets.

The Japanese car company expects Toyota Friend to bolster the ownership experience by providing product and service information and maintenance tips through the social network.

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

You can reach's Hawke Fracassa at [email protected].