The launch of a U.S. Telematics service will allow Toyota Motor Corp. to “leverage its investment” in its now Japan-only technology, a U.S. Toyota official says.

“Telematics is something that is going to spread to the entire world,” Jason Schulz, marketing and communications manager-Lexus Advanced Technology Dept., says in Newport Beach, CA, during a media preview for the new '10 Lexus HS 250h. “We've got a pretty large investment in Japan already, so why not try to leverage that across the (globe)?”

In August, the HS with optional navigation system will become the first model in the U.S. to offer a full version of Toyota's proprietary telematics service, dubbed Lexus Enform.

In addition to the U.S., the auto maker soon will begin offering telematics services in Brazil and China, Schulz says.

Lexus Enform is based on Toyota's G-Book service available in Japan since 2002 and founded by new Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda. Prior to G-Book, the auto maker offered a less sophisticated telematics service in Japan called Monet.

Despite the decade-plus presence of General Motors Corp.'s OnStar, Toyota only has dabbled in telematics in the U.S. thus far, having relied on OnStar to provide service for select Lexus models under the “LexusLink” brand.

“We don't want to make it seem like we weren't happy with the OnStar relationship,” Schulz says. “We got in the business leveraging OnStar in the U.S., and now we're really taking a much more thorough approach in bringing (telematics) to the U.S. using G-Book,” he says.

Customers who have LexusLink still will be supported by OnStar for as long as they own their vehicles.

After a year of testing, Toyota is ready to roll out the new Enform system, which has three main features:

  • Safety Connect, which includes automatic collision notification, stolen-vehicle location, emergency assistance SOS button and roadside assistance.
  • Destination Assist, wherein an operator fields requests for points of interest and transmits information wirelessly to the car.
  • eDestination, allowing a driver to create destination lists on Lexus.com and send them directly to the vehicle.

Included is an improved voice-recognition system, initially introduced on the '10 RX cross/utility vehicle. Also part of the package is “Mobile Audio Casts with Lexus Insider,” which update owners on all things Lexus. Services such as Sirius XM Satellite Radio's NavTraffic and NavWeather are included.

Of the three core Enform features, Safety Connect is the only one offered in Toyota-brand models, having been introduced in the new '10 Prius. HS vehicles without the optional navigation system still get Safety Connect as standard, but do not include the rest of Lexus Enform.

Toyota has hired Dallas-based auto-telematics provider ATX Group to oversee a 24-hour Lexus Enform call center. ATX provides similar service to Chrysler LLC and other auto makers.

Schulz acknowledges most Enform capabilities are common with other telematics services. However, Schulz says one feature Lexus Enform doesn't have is remote door unlocking, because a Lexus automatically will remain unlocked if a driver leaves his keys in the car.

In a demo, Schulz communicates with an ATX call-center operator, asking her to determine the location of the HS demo car (Pelican Hill resort, Newport Beach) and then send directions to the nearest Banana Republic clothing store. The entire process takes only a few seconds.

The voice-recognition system continues to have some flaws, getting tripped up when Schulz asks for the current price of Google stock. But after repeating “Google,” the system delivers the desired results.

Lexus Enform pricing has not been announced. Lexus will offer a 1-year free trial of Lexus Enform to HS buyers.


Toyota Jumping Into Telematics With Proprietary Systems
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