Toyota has announced that it will be introducing Toyota Friend, a private social network for Toyota customers and their cars. Essentially, the in-car system will offer Toyota users the means to connect with their cars, their dealership, and with Toyota itself, through Salesforce Chatter, a private social network thus far used by businesses.

The service, which is jointly developed by Toyota and San Francisco-based cloud computing provider Salesforce, will first be offered in Japan, initially with the company’s range of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles – which includes the new Prius PHV – due out next year. At some point in the future, the company will consider deploying the system in other global markets.

Aside from being a private social network, where customers can choose to extend their communication to family, friends, and others through public social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, the onboard telematics system will be able to provide a variety of product and vehicle maintenance-related information.

For example, if an EV or PHV is running low on battery power, Toyota Friend will be able to notify the driver to recharge the vehicle in the form of a “tweet”-like instant message alert. The service can also help plan suitable off-peak vehicle charging times to ease demands on the electricity grid, with users able to carry out the recharging remotely via phone or PC, the company added.

Likewise for vehicle maintenance – the system can send automatic messages from the car to the driver to alert on possible problems or anomalies, and the driver can schedule a service appointment remotely via a link to the service centre. Users will be able to access the real-time service via smart phones, tablet PCs and other advanced mobile gadgets.