Hybrid hopes dashed by Prius recall

The Engineer

To say it’s been a disastrous couple of week’s for Toyota is an understatement. First, fears over sticking accelerator pedals prompted the global recall of around 7.27 million Toyota, Lexus and Pontiac cars (the Pontiac vibe is rebadged Toyota). Next, concerns over brakes led the company to recall 400,000 of its third generation Priuses. And now mounting concerns over steering on the Corolla – the world’s best selling car – may yet lead to more recalls.

But while it’s a huge blow for the Japanese car industry, it’s not such bad news for Toyota’s North American competitors. Indeed, the barely disguised glee emanating from some quarters of the US car industry has led some more paranoid commentators to start muttering about industrial sabotage.

We certainly wouldn’t go that far, but US car makers have wasted little time kicking Toyota while it’s down, with both GM and Ford announcing special discounts and financing offers this week in an effort to regain some of their market share.

But beyond the machinations of the global car industry, Toyota’s fall from grace is unequivocally bad news for low-emissions automotive technology.

The Prius, with its celebrity owners, frugal fuel consumption and attractive performance had become the standard bearer for green powertrain  technology. It was the vehicle that took low emissions motoring into the mainstream, and Toyota was rightly and widely applauded for embracing new technology when many other members of the global car industry were too risk-averse, and too short sighted to bother. 

Sadly, although the recent problems have absolutely nothing to do with the car’s hybrid powertrain, the reputation of the technology could be done untold damage by association.

Over the last few years we’ve witnessed a growing enthusiasm for low carbon transport solutions, and the Prius has been at the forefront. We strongly hope that the damage caused by what is one of the biggest PR disasters to hit the car industry in recent years doesn’t undo all the progress that’s been made.