Toyota Motor North America has formed a new ‘Connected Technologies’ group focused on delivering enhanced user experiences and new technologies for its Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

The group will have approximately 100 positions and will include members from Toyota’s existing teams working on connected vehicles, information systems, and research and development.

Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor North America, said: “In-car, connected vehicle technology is a high priority for us because its impact on the customer experience is becoming an increasingly important factor in their purchase decisions.”

Connected Technologies will be based in Plano and report to Zack Hicks. Hicks will continue in his two current roles, as both CIO of Toyota Motor North America and as the CEO of Toyota Connected North America, while adding this new responsibility.

Hicks said: “Our new team will double-down our efforts on connected vehicles so we can provide our Toyota and Lexus customers a more human experience.

“Connected vehicles are the next step in a personalized driving experience, emphasizing your preferences as a driver thanks to better technology, improving the customer’s ownership experience over time.”

Separately, Toyota and Servco Pacific, the distributor of Toyota vehicles in Hawaii, are testing a new car-sharing technology in Honolulu, starting initially with company employees but with plans to launch a new public car share business by the end of 2017.The car-sharing application, developed in-house by Toyota, will support driver identification and authentication, plus payment and fleet management for car-sharing businesses.

It also includes a Smart Key Box (SKB), which lets users lock and unlock vehicles via a smartphone.

Hicks added: “This successful launch of the Mobility Service Platform represents the next generation in car-sharing platforms and is Toyota's global foundation for fleet management, car-sharing, and the future of mobility.

“Its powerful and flexible API-based platform allows us to quickly adapt to new market opportunities and support deployment of locally-tailored mobility services."

Since January 2017, Toyota has been working with Getaround on a car-sharing pilot program in San Francisco, to test the SKB technology.

Eventually, Toyota says it plans to begin working with other dealers and distributors to tailor the core technology for their markets, aiming for safe and more convenient, customer-centric mobility services.