Photo/IllutrationA Toyota operator talks with a driver about a problem in the car via a telematics system in a demonstration in Tokyo’s Koto Ward. (Tomohiro Yamamoto)

Toyota Motor Corp. said it will equip most of its automobiles with a telematics system that enables drivers to control interior functions through outside smartphones and provides immediate help if serious problems are detected.

The Internet-connected system, shown to the public on Nov. 1, is intended to increase customer satisfaction, improve driving performance and counter information-technology companies that are developing self-driving vehicles.

Users will be able to unlock doors and start engines with their smartphones instead of keys, and they can heat up or cool down the vehicle, as well as defrost the windshield, from the outside.

In addition, the system can detect potential failures, such as a dying battery, and display the possible problems inside the vehicle. A Toyota operator will then phone the driver to provide advice based on data obtained through the telecommunications system and guide the driver to a nearby repair shop, according to Toyota.

The support service will be free for the first three years, and an annual fee of 12,000 yen ($111) will be charged in the fourth year or later.

Toyota plans to gather a large amount of driving data, such as brake performance and outside temperature, so that the system, for example, can tell when roads are frozen.

Footage from car-mounted cameras will also be used to create a detailed map to improve the safety of automated driving.

The telematics system will be mounted on Toyota’s Prius PHV model to be marketed this winter. The automaker plans to furnish almost all its models sold in Japan and the United States with telematics systems by 2020 to expand the notification-support service.

The information gathered will be shared with insurance companies and taxi operators as well so that new products and services can be developed, Toyota said.

In January, the automaker intends to begin a verification experiment jointly with a U.S. start-up that offers car sharing services so that the technology will help rental car providers in Japan.

(This article was written by Takehiro Tomoda and Tomohiro Yamamoto.)