A new strategic partnership between Toyota and Microsoft will see the next generation of telematics systems built on the Microsoft Azure platform, allowing the incorporation of GPS, energy management, multimedia, and more within a single platform. Microsoft's SYNC system, already several years old and based on an even older platform, is currently one of the leading systems in the industry--Azure promises to be a leap beyond.

The Azure announcement follows closely on the unveiling of the new Microsoft-powered Entune multimedia/infotainment platform from CES (pictured). The new platform will debut first on Toyota's electric and plug-in vehicles in 2012, with a "complete global cloud platform" by 2015.

A pilot program is currently underway for Toyota's information and telematics service system, dubbed the Toyota Smart Center, which aims to link people, cars, and homes for "integrated control of energy technologies." The end goal is a more complete, unified strategy for energy management throughout one's life, all centered around the Toyota brand.

"This new partnership between Microsoft and Toyota is an important step in developing greater future mobility and energy management for consumers around the world. Creating these more efficient, more environmentally advanced products will be our contribution to society, said Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Company.

Despite the high talk and sweeping plans, Toyota currently only has $12 million earmarked for investment in the program--a tiny drop in the automotive R&D bucket. Perhaps this initial funding is for the pilot program only, though Toyota was not clear on the matter.

We'll keep you posted as we learn more about the Microsoft-Toyota deal and what Azure means for your next-gen in-car infotainment.