Toyota Prius Leaving Skid Marks for the Wrong Reasons

Automology’s columnist, MAC, weighs in on yet another Toyota recall.

In what is seen as another embarrassment for Toyota, arguably the world’s largest car manufacturer, 1.9 million Prius hybrids are set to be recalled to rectify a software glitch. The recall affects all third-generation Prius manufactured since March 2009 to date. The news is yet another blow to the Japanese carmaker who has had to recall the Prius a number of times already. The most recent glitch is reported to be a software problem that causes the car to stop unexpectedly and somewhat abruptly. An official announcement from Toyota stated that so far 11 incidents have been reported in Europe and about 400 others worldwide, mostly in Japan.

A spokesperson for Toyota Motor Corporation said the latest incident involved a possible issue with the software “used to control the boost converter in the intelligent power module.” The boost converter is required when driving with a high system load, for example when accelerating hard from a standstill. It said that if the issue occurs, then the car could switch to a ‘fail-safe’ operation, causing the vehicle to slow down.

The spokesperson added: “In limited cases, the hybrid system might shut down and the vehicle will stop, perhaps while being driven. The driver will not experience any change in the vehicle’s behaviour or performance prior to the problem occurring.” The Prius is of course the darling of the tree-hugging hemp trousers-wearing brigade and a particular favourite in California where I am guessing the sudden and abrupt braking could cause some unexpected skid marks on the aforementioned hemp trousers as well.
We seem to have written a lot about recalls on this news portal; this particular author has seemingly delighted in the trials and tribulations suffered by Toyota of late and let us not forget that there is a Wikipedia page or two on Toyota recalls now. My colleague argues that the recall is not something to be ashamed of. It is, after all, the actions of a responsible manufacturer to ensure that their products perform to the best possible safety standards and leave no stone unturned to ensure that safety is the first priority.

I sort of agree but with a couple of caveats, of course. Unfortunately, most of the recalls are NOT voluntary and are generally at the request of a safety body such as the American NHTSA. Most recalls will be attempted on the quiet to avoid the embarrassment of having to admit that the designers and engineers, and countless others got it wrong. The obvious implication is that if they got this bit wrong, then what else could they have gotten wrong?

Of course, the other reason to try to avoid admitting something is wrong is the potential for a product liability lawsuit, as happened with Toyota’s sudden acceleration issue a few years ago and could have cost Toyota a fortune.


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