Toyota and Microsoft Team Up on Azure

The heads of Toyota and Microsoft announced Wednesday that they are pooling a billion yen — roughly $12 million — to invest in using the software giant’s Windows Azure cloud computing platform to provide information to the car maker’s next generation electric and pluggable hybrid vehicles.

The target date for the first fruits of the collaboration showing up on showroom floors in the U.S. and Japan is sometime in 2012. However, the development is not directly related to the in-car technologies that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) already provides to Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), for one, as Microsoft Sync.

Instead, whereas Sync provides a selection of features, from control of the entertainment system to GPS directions, provided within the car, Microsoft characterizes the use of Windows Azure as a platform move — something beyond its existing deals with other auto makers.

The two companies webcast the news of the deal from Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash. campus, and featured Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp (NYSE: TM).

Toyota’s goal is to establish a complete global cloud platform by 2015 that will provide affordable and advanced telematics services to Toyota automotive customers around the world, Toyoda said in the webcast.

Highlighting a partnership that goes back more than a decade, Ballmer made it clear that this investment will be very different than Sync.

“Sync has been about in-car devices, but this deal with Toyota is a chance to deliver information through the cloud platform,” Ballmer said.

With Sync, information moves around the car, but the use of Windows Azure provides connectivity to applications and information out in the cloud, among other features.

“This is about information going into the car, a platform that will be outside the car,” Ballmer added, referring, for example, to plug-in stations that could provide information about the car to the driver even when not in the car.

Ballmer also raised the point that the automobile will become more of a mobile workplace, one where mobile phones and data feeds are seamlessly incorporated into the car.

What precisely either executive meant, however, remains somewhat of a mystery. The new deal, after all, only began in January, the two said.

Among some of the scenarios that were tossed around, however, were the ability of the cloud to know the user’s schedule, as well as being able to recharge at the lowest price of electricity for the day.

The joint investment will be managed by Toyota Media Service, a subsidiary of Toyota. Microsoft began charging for use of Windows Azure in February 2010.

“[The deal] further validates the power of the cloud, as the Windows Azure platform will provide the enterprise-grade, scalable platform that TMC needs to deliver in its automobiles,” Ballmer said.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

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