Toyota's Prius woes may muffle hybrid buzz

Embraced by Hollywood celebrities and beloved by environmentalists, the Prius has long been the envy of Toyota's rivals, but now its safety woes risk putting the brakes on the success of hybrid cars.

The crisis-hit Japanese auto giant is a pioneer in fuel-sipping hybrids, which run on a combination of petrol and electricity and are vital to the company's efforts to stay in pole position in fuel-efficient automobiles.

Toyota, whose edge in hybrid technology helped propel it past General Motors in 2008 to become the world's biggest automaker, has struggled to keep up with demand for the Prius in recent years.

But a software glitch with the braking system of its newest model now threatens to tarnish the image of petrol-electric cars, just as Toyota reels from massive worldwide recalls due to separate accelerator pedal trouble.

The Prius problem "is certainly giving hybrids a bad name, especially in the United States," said Koji Endo, an auto analyst at Advanced Research Japan.

"People who have never driven a Toyota hybrid and were considering buying one may stop and think, 'Wait a second'," he added.

Toyota said Friday that it was still considering whether to recall hundreds of thousands of Prius hybrids.

The Prius, which boasts a world-beating 38.0 kilometres per litre, or 50 miles per gallon, has been the most popular hybrid globally since the launch of the first version in 1997.

Known in the industry as the "intelligent" green car owing to its highly sophisticated electronics, nearly 1.5 million Prius vehicles had been sold in 40 countries as of August 31, cruising ahead of rival Honda's Insight hybrid.

Yet while Toyota leads the industry in terms of brand loyalty, the brake flaw could deter buyers at a time when interest in less-polluting automobiles is growing because of worries about global warming, Endo said.

Toyota, which acknowledged Friday it faced "a moment of crisis", has said it redesigned the anti-lock braking system (ABS) for the Prius in January and will soon announce steps for those already on the road.

It said there was sometimes a slight delay switching from regenerative braking - which captures the energy of a hybrid car's motion to recharge the battery - to the hydraulic brake on icy or bumpy roads.

It is a strong blow to Toyota, which has bet heavily on hybrids, in contrast to some competitors, such as Nissan, that see them as merely a passing fad on the road to pure electric vehicles.

Toyota produced 530,000 hybrids in 2009, spanning 15 models from sport utility vehicles to sedans, mini-vans and the luxury Lexus series.

It aims to boost annual output of the petrol-electric automobiles to about one million vehicles - a third of its total domestic output - within the next few years, said company spokesman Paul Nolasco.

But its lead may now be under threat as rivals seize on the opportunity to wrest back market share lost to Toyota during a global expansion drive that once seemed almost unstoppable.

US rivals General Motors and Ford were swift to launch sales campaigns to lure buyers away from the Japanese giant, whose brand has long been synonymous with safety and reliability.

With drivers becoming more environmentally aware, "it should have been a golden opportunity for Toyota to expand further at a time when green technology is in the limelight," said Mizuno Credit Advisory auto analyst Tatsuya Mizuno.

"Toyota appears to be throwing away the chance all by itself," he added.

Dozens of drivers in Japan and the United States have complained their Prius brake was slow to kick in, sometimes resulting in accidents.

"Since its 1997 first-generation Prius, the company has been focusing on cost-cutting efforts," said Takehiko Morozumi, an auto expert at the Tokudaiji Institute of Automotive Culture.

"Because it was too focused on permeating the market with the Prius, Toyota may not have paid enough attention to the tiny details for which it had been so famous," he added.

The Prius, however, is not the only hybrid with brake trouble. Ford said last week there was a problem affecting braking in some of its hybrid vehicles and offered a software fix.

Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

    Recruitment Genius: General Processor

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

    Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot