Microsoft and Toyota Motor Corp. (TMC) unveiled their grand plan to forge a strategic partnership around telematics using Windows Azure platform.

The two companies, whose senior executives announced the deal at an event in Redmond, Wash., yesterday, plan to participate in a $12 million investment in Toyota Media Service, a TMC subsidiary that offers digital information services to Toyota automotive customers.

Starting in 2012, customers who purchase one of Toyota's electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles will be able to connect via the cloud to control and monitor their car from anywhere, explained Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in his remarks.

As part of its smart-grid activities, TMC is conducting trials in Japan of its Toyota Smart Center pilot program, which it intends to link people, automobiles and homes for integrated control of energy consumption. "TMC believes that, as electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles become more popular, such systems will rely more on telematics services for achieving efficient energy management," the company said in a press release.

Microsoft has a history of delivering platforms and services to the automotive market, including in-car infotainment systems built on the Windows Embedded Automotive platform, in-car mapping services with Bing and the Microsoft Tellme voice application, along with other consumer solutions.

Microsoft co-developed Ford SYNC, which allows customers to bring digital media players and Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones into their vehicles and operate the devices via voice commands using Nuance Communications' voice recognition technology or with the steering wheel's redundant audio controls.

Before his remarks about the deal yesterday, Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda took a moment to express his gratitude to the United States for support of those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. He said he debated whether or not to come to the event at Microsoft's headquarters, but he had recently visited the most severely affected area in Japan, talked to some of its people and came away believing the best thing he could do is to provide hope and steady economic progress for the future.

TMC'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.