After years of licensing a version of GM's OnStar service, as well as a similar product produced by a third party, Toyota has announced definitive roll-out plans for its own vehicle telematics system. The version installed in Lexus cars and trucks will be branded as Enform, while Toyota's will be named Safety Connect.
Although made public earlier in the year, until today the automaker had been unable to provide concrete information as to when the feature would make its debut in an actual production vehicle. That mystery was dispelled with the revelation that the very first systems will be installed on a number of different Lexus automobiles and sport-utility vehicles starting August 1st. Slated to make use of this feature are the Lexus IS and RX lines, the LX 570 and the Lexus HS 250h hybrid sedan. Later on in the year the Toyota Prius will lead the charge for the Toyota brand in terms of hooking drivers up with the company's new eye in the sky.
Both Safety Connect and Enform do not stray very far from the blueprint provided by OnStar. The focus of the Toyota system is geared mainly towards improving driver safety, with features such as automatic collision notification which alerts a centrally monitored location in the event of an accident causing airbag deployment or a hard hit to the rear of the vehicle, an emergency assistance button which can put drivers in contact with emergency services, and standard roadside assistance which is meant to link stranded drivers with repair or recovery crews. The vehicle is tracked at all times via GPS, which means that not only can the car or truck be easily located by Safety Connect and emergency personnel, but stolen vehicles can also be tracked by police officers - although only after a police report has been filed.
The Lexus Enform system adds a few goodies to the overall list of features. Unlike the Toyota Safety Connect system, Enform will be navigable via voice commands through Lexus' speech recognition software. EDestination enables drivers to plan out itineraries and routes on their home PC and then have that information automatically uploaded to their automobile through its satellite navigation system. This is exactly the kind of high-tech wizardry that many drivers crave from their luxury automobiles. Enform also provides a more pedestrian navigation and concierge system called Destination Assist, which connects drivers with an operator who is able to locate any points of interest, restaurants, or service facilities in their immediate area. This is very similar to the service that OnStar currently makes available across the entire GM lineup.
It has taken Toyota a very long time to come up with a competitor to OnStar, although how much of a difference maker the feature was in overall automobile sales is very much up for debate. There is no question that a large number of drivers will welcome this type of service with open arms, especially those who frequently find themselves taking long highway road trips. However, some will see the encroachment of telematics as yet another extension of Big Brother's watchful eye over private individuals, especially with regards to law enforcement tracking through GPS locators.