PRIUS V to be Offered in U.S. this Fall

 * Prius v to go on sale in U.S. market in October

* Two more Prius models available next year

* U.S. supply of Prius cars now at three to four days

By Ben Klayman

YPSILANTI, Mich., June 21 (Reuters) – Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) (TM.N) will roll out the hybrid Prius’ big brother this fall in the U.S. market, introducing a roomier version targeted at young families.

The Japanese automaker hopes to begin selling the Prius v — the “v” stands for versatility to remind customers of its increased interior room and cargo space — in the United States in October, said Ed La Rocque, Toyota’s U.S. marketing manager for advanced technology vehicles.

From there, Toyota will offer a plug-in version of the current Prius model in the first quarter of next year and a smaller version dubbed the Prius c in the first half to make the crucial U.S. market the only one in the world to offer four Prius models.

“Clearly this is a brand we’re creating,” he told reporters on Tuesday at an event outside Detroit, adding that U.S. sales of Prius vehicles could eventually rival those of its high-volume Camry and Corolla cars.

“The Prius has the highest brand awareness of any hybrid vehicle, making it to hybrids what Kleenex is to tissues and Levi’s are to jeans,” La Rocque added.

Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker, has dominated the gasoline-electric hybrid market since putting its first Prius on the road in Japan in 1997.

The Prius went on sale in the United States in 2000 and has sold more than 1 million units, or about half of the global total. U.S. sales last year totaled almost 141,000, slightly up from 2009, and are up 13 percent so far this year.

LEADS BATTERY-POWERED RIVALS

Toyota has 14 hybrid models globally and is planning six new and four refreshed models over the next 20 months, La Rocque said. It is aiming for global hybrid vehicle sales of 1 million units a year by 2015, compared with 700,000 last year.

While rivals Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) and General Motors Co (GM.N) look to share the green limelight with their Leaf and Chevrolet Volt electric cars, sales volumes are expected to stay at a fraction of the Prius until the high price of batteries comes down significantly.

Toyota envisions the Prius v competing across several segments, against such vehicles as the Honda (7267.T) CR-V, Ford (F.N) Escape and Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) Jetta wagon, La Rocque said. He said the v, which was launched in Japan last month as the Alpha, offers 58 percent more cargo space than the current hatchback model as well as more space than 80 percent of the small sport utility vehicles on the road today.

Edmunds.com analyst Bill Visnic sees the v model as more incremental to sales, with the coming smaller version as the real game changer.

“If somebody has their heart set on a CR-V, I don’t think they see this vehicle necessarily as a replacement,” he said of the Prius v. “This is not a quasi-SUV. It’s still very much a wagon and people don’t like wagons.”

While La Rocque declined to provide pricing for Prius v, he said it would be a little more than the hatchback, which lists for $28,320 at the high end.

He added the small car version of the Prius, which will be aimed at young singles, will be priced below the current Prius, which sells for $23,050 at the low end.

The U.S. launch of the Prius v was delayed a couple months by the March 11 Japan earthquake that subsequently caused parts shortages. Prius supplies in the United States have dwindled to three to four days of dealer inventory, La Rocque said.

He reaffirmed that Toyota would initially target monthly sales of 2,000 Prius v’s in the United States, a number it is also aiming for in Europe. La Rocque said the company envisions the Prius v, which gets an estimated 42 miles per gallon, eventually accounting for 15 to 20 percent of total Prius U.S. sales.

La Rocque said if Toyota wants to continue expanding U.S. sales of Prius vehicles, it will eventually need to add production capacity in the United States. (Reporting by Ben Klayman, editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Toyota Recall Findings

It’s All Your Fault: The DOT Renders Its Verdict on Toyota’s Unintended-Acceleration Scare – Feature

The final word on the Toyota unintended-acceleration mess.

BY CSABA CSERE, PHOTOGRAPHY BY GETTY IMAGES
June 2011

Pages: 1 Photos

Earlier this year, the Department of  Transportation re­leased the results of its study into the blizzard of reports that various Toyota and Lexus models were accelerating out of control. The DOT concluded that, other than a number of incidents caused by accelerators hanging up on incorrectly fitted floor mats, the accidents were caused by drivers depressing their accelerators when they intended to apply their brakes. “Pedal misapplication” was the DOT’s delicate terminology  for this phenomenon.

Reports of sudden acceleration had been trickling in on Toyotas at a modest pace, as they do on most brands, until a spectacular accident on August 28, 2009, near San Diego. A veteran California Highway Patrol officer was driving three family members in a Lexus ES350. At some point, the throttle of the car stuck open, the driver lost control, and the car accelerated to high speed before hitting another vehicle, rolling over several times, and bursting into flames. All four occupants died.

A subsequent investigation discovered that the car had been fitted with all-weather floor mats designed for a Lexus RX, which were too long for the ES350, thus trapping the accelerator pedal after a full-throttle application and causing the crash.

Ironically, Toyota had already recalled the all-weather floor mats used in ’07 and ’08 Camrys and ES350s. However, after this crash and several other reports of sticking throttles, Toyota decided to recall a total of 3.8 million cars and trucks in October 2009 to replace their gas pedals with a shorter design that would be less susceptible to interference from floor mats.

The notorious ES350 crash, followed by  the major recall, focused media attention on Toyota, and the volume of sudden-acceleration complaints grew quickly. Of the more than 7000 unintended-acceleration complaints about Toyotas that the National Highway  Traffic Safety Administration received from 2000 through March 2010, more than 70 percent of them came after October ’09 [see graph].

One component worthy of investigation was the electronic throttle control Toyota introduced on the Camry in 2002, now  virtually universal in the industry. This device replaces the mechanical link between the accelerator pedal and the engine’s throttle valve with a sensor at the pedal and an electric motor on the throttle. Was this new device going haywire?

The DOT hoped to answer this and other questions about these suspect Toyotas. In most cases, the driver reported that the sudden acceleration began immediately after the driver applied the brakes. DOT engineers determined that there was no mechanism by  which applying the brakes could initiate acceleration. Additionally, they conducted tests to determine that, at low speed using normal pedal effort, the brakes could easily hold a car stationary or bring one to a stop even with the engine racing.

A field examination of 58 vehicles said to be involved in unintended-acceleration crashes revealed no evidence of  brake failure or throttle malfunction. Moreover, these Toyotas were equipped with simple event data recorders (EDRs, or “black boxes”), as about 85 percent of new cars are. Of the 39 vehicles that fit the unintended-acceleration pattern and had usable EDR data, none showed sustained, pre-crash braking taking place and 35 revealed high or increasing accelerator position.

The reported high-speed incidents were far more rare. After examining the various cases, most of them turned out to be related to alcohol use or drivers’ medical problems: The EDRs showed no pre-impact braking or substantial acceleration, suggesting drivers who were unaware of impending crashes.

In only a handful of  high-speed crashes was there evidence that the accelerators hung up on the floor mats. The DOT tested the ability of the brakes to bring such a car to a halt. A continuous, strong braking effort was found to be most effective. Pumping the brakes only served to bleed off  the vacuum from the brake booster, increasing pedal effort. And partially applying (dragging) the brakes would eventually cause fade and make it more difficult to stop the car.

Shifting the transmission into neutral, park, or reverse was also found to be an effective way to terminate acceleration. On Toyotas, any of these three actions puts a moving car into neutral.

The DOT found nothing about the placement of Toyota accelerator and brake pedals that would have promoted misapplication.

Finally, to evaluate the possibility that some sort of electronic gremlin caused these problems, the DOT engaged the rocket scientists at NASA to probe the Camry’s engine-management computer, comb through its thousands of lines of code, and bombard the system with high levels of electromagnetic interference.

NASA scientists evaluated six Camrys (ranging from ’02 to ’07 models) the DOT had purchased from customers who reported sudden-acceleration problems. The scientists found that the electronic throttle-control (ETC) system had several fail-safe features designed to cut engine power if any  failure was detected. The agency also found no circumstances under which the ETC could somehow disable the braking system.

To test for electromagnetic interference, NASA subjected the six test cars to very high-powered radiation at a variety of frequencies. The agency also directly  imposed these electrical signals into the cars’ wiring harnesses. In the process, the NASA scientists stalled engines, induced limp-home mode, and even entirely fried one engine-management computer. But they  were unable to cause a single instance of sudden acceleration.

Based on the DOT report, it seems clear that the Toyota sudden-acceleration scare has little more substance than the one that came before it [see below]. Ultimately, driver error was the culprit.

In many ways, Toyota’s unintended-acceleration situation last year mimicked Audi’s experience 25 years ago. There was the same media firestorm, the same parade of sympathetic victims, and similar tales of wildly accelerating, unstoppable cars.

In 1986, however, cars didn’t have transmission interlocks, so you could shift from park into drive or reverse without your foot on the brake. The Audi 5000 also had a problem that occasionally caused an elevated idle speed. Both circumstances encouraged pedal misapplication.

But, as C/D demonstrated in a story published in June 1987, an Audi 5000 could be brought to a halt from 70 mph at wide-open throttle in a reasonably short distance (we demonstrated that a Toyota Camry could do the same in March 2010). Then, as now, no car could overpower its brakes.

Audi didn’t help itself by blaming the crashes on the cars’ owners, who didn’t appreciate the suggestion that they were incompetent drivers. Toyota avoided that approach last year.