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ATX Brings Telematics to Toyota

New luxury car offering for Lexus features a voice interface.
By Eric Felipe-Barkin - Posted Jan 9, 2009
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Yesterday, ATX Group announced a new partnership with Toyota Motor Sales USA. The partnership takes aim at General Motors’ OnStar in-car system. ATX will be deploying its new platform, Safety Connect, in U.S. Toyota models and the luxury version, Enform with Safety Connect, in U.S. Lexus models.

ATX is set to provide a trunkload of services through Safety Connect, including traditional location-based crash and in-vehicle emergency button response, maintenance reminders, and stolen vehicle location. The service makes use of embedded GPS and cellular technology to automatically notify emergency services if an airbag has been deployed or locate a car if a police report has been filed.

The Lexus version of the service, Enform with Safety Connect, will come with all the same features and then some. The Enform part offers Destination Assist and eDestination, which collectively provide directions as well as concierge-like recommendations for restaurants, night spots, and other such locales. When the destinations are selected, they’re downloaded to the car so that they can easily be found.

Destinations don’t have to be planned from inside the car, either. According to a Toyota press release, they can also be selected from a home PC with the eDestination feature. A user can look up everywhere they might want to go and send the information to their car. Any of these features can be voice-activated using the Lexus Flexible Voice Interface, a natural language recognition system built by VoiceVox and expected to debut in the 2010 RX models.

ATX will be handling all of the live-calling generated from both Safety Connect and Enform. The company has also been very involved with developing the back-end technologies that will serve the system.

For Toyota, the deal represents the first proprietary telematics system built into its fleet. Expanding its telematics, Toyota feels, will be important in developing a relationship with consumers.

Competing in almost every segment, Toyota has “to look for different ways to broaden [its] cache and add value,” says Jon Bucci, vice president of advanced technology at Toyota. “We see telematics as a means to do that without having to continue to introduce new products to new segments. If we’re fully penetrated like we are, we have to look for new ways to expand and this is one of them,” he adds.

In an economic landscape of slumping auto sales, particularly among American makes, the partnership with Toyota is welcome news for ATX. Toyota has come to dominate the U.S. consumer auto market and is poised to overtake GM in global production, making it the largest car manufacturer in the world. The partnership is a more or less guaranteed seat at the big kids telematics table for ATX.

“This is our entrée into the mass market vehicle sector. It’s a very important move for our company,” Gary Wallace, vice president of corporate relations at ATX, says.

For the last 10 years the company has been involved in the customization of programs, particularly in luxury vehicles, but not at as large a scale as Toyota would offer them. With Toyota’s stringent standards and the newness of working on so big a system, the new partnership will doubtlessly be a challenge, but one ATX feels it is more than prepared to handle. Wallace, for one, is excited by the prospect of taking the company another big step forward.

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