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#200 of 1489 Business Week Special Report
Aug 08, 2000 (3:19 am)
AUGUST 14, 2000 ISSUE
The Eco-Cars: As Detroit stalls, Japan drives in with appealing new hybrid models
It was a scene that could have served as a heartwarming advertisement for clean-air consciousness. A nervous young customer picks up her new car: a sleek, 65-mile-per-gallon, ultra-low-emission Honda Insight. As she glides away from the dealership, a throng of onlookers gathers to wish her well and applaud her noble intentions.
But Jennie Sharf, 29, is the first to admit that helping out the environment was far down the list when she made the big decision to plunk down 20 grand for her new wheels. Sure, as one of the first generation of so-called hybrid cars powered by both a tiny gasoline engine and an electric motor, the Insight uses technology that promises to help clean the environment and revolutionize the auto industry. Sharf's motivation, however, was far less lofty: She loves the look and feel of the curvy car. As for helping the environment, ''that's a bonus, but it takes a backseat to the coolness factor,'' says Sharf, a wireless-phone designer. ''I was looking for something that I could find in a parking lot without having a Styrofoam ball on the antenna.''
Cool and environmentally correct? Now, consumers can have both. With Japanese auto makers leading the push, the auto industry has launched its first alternative-fuel vehicles to the mass market. The timing couldn't be better. As gas prices surge past $2 per gallon in some parts of the U.S., the Insight, and Toyota Motor Corp.'s $20,000, five-passenger Prius--making its American debut this month--promise to save about $500 a year on fuel, compared with, say, a Honda Civic. Plus, the hybrids' advanced engines easily beat stringent emissions ratings in smog-conscious California. An Insight, for example, generates roughly half the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases of small cars such as the Toyota Corolla or Ford Focus.
PLAYING CATCH-UP. In the next couple of years, the Japanese auto makers plan to kick their eco-car effort into high gear by selling adaptations of current-model cars and sport-utility vehicles equipped with hybrid power trains. Honda Motor Co. plans to sell a hybrid Civic in Japan next year, followed by a U.S. launch probably in 2002. Toyota is considering a minivan and an SUV within three years.
Where's Detroit? Playing catch-up again. For years, U.S. car executives fought environmentalists' efforts to toughen federal gas-mileage rules and resisted California regulators' attempts to mandate cleaner cars. Now, thanks to their increasing tilt toward big SUVs and pickup trucks, U.S. manufacturers are being squeezed by regulations and by competitors who have found a way to sell environmentalism. After borrowing from future allowances to meet federal fuel-economy standards, Ford Motor Co. now must boost mileage in its fleet if it's to avoid millions of dollars in fines. That's a big reason why Ford recently trumpeted plans to boost by 25% the fuel economy of its SUVs, mostly by improving the efficiency of their gas engines and making new models lighter and more aerodynamic. ''By volunteering to get ahead of potential legislation, we've done more for the environment than having 600,000 hybrid electric vehicles on the road every year,'' says Ford CEO Jacques A. Nasser.
HYBRID PICKUPS. Still, Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler are all scrambling to match Honda and Toyota. In 2003, Ford plans to introduce a gas-and-electric version of its new Escape SUV that would get 40 mpg, nearly twice the mileage of the gas-powered model. A Ford insider says the company hopes eventually to sell as many as 20,000 of the hybrid version annually. General Motors Corp., after devoting much of its clean-car efforts to its EV1 electric car, just announced it will sell a 20-mpg hybrid version of its hot-selling Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks in 2004. And DaimlerChrysler is working on a hybrid Durango SUV.
American car executives mostly view hybrids as an interim technology that will capture only a small slice of the overall car market. GM says gas engines can still be squeezed for a 30% boost in fuel efficiency. Executives point out that Honda and Toyota lose money on each Insight or Prius they sell. Detroit is betting that by the time its hybrids arrive, the technology will be more popular and Washington will push it with tax incentives. DaimlerChrysler says it could sell 80,000 hybrid Durangos if the government turbo-charges the market with tax incentives.
That seems a distant prospect in today's political climate (page 70). Meanwhile, critics say, the popularity of the Honda and Toyota cars makes it seem that U.S. auto makers are fumbling a huge opportunity. ''Detroit has missed the American auto market in the past, and there's a good possibility they can miss it on this one,'' says Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), chair of the Senate high-technology task force. Adds Bennett, who recently bought an Insight: ''I would much have preferred to buy an American car if there'd been one.''
Hybrids may turn out to be much more than just a stop-gap solution. Ultimately, the goal is to make cars that run on fuel cells requiring not one drop of gas, only hydrogen. But carmakers are learning valuable lessons with hybrid cars' electric systems, which will likely find their way into those next-generation vehicles. ''Any company that doesn't have a hybrid misses out on learning the technology as well as consumer reaction,'' says Firoz Rasul, CEO and president of Ballard Power Systems Inc., a Burnaby, B.C., company that's working on fuel cells with Ford and DaimlerChrysler.
The first thing consumers find out when they test-drive the new eco-cars is that they're not overpriced experiments, as are the high-maintenance electric cars the industry has sold in tiny numbers over the past five years (page 68). The humbling experience with electrics taught car marketers that if they want to sell alternative-fuel cars in big numbers, they can't just appeal to affluent Sierra Club members eager to make a green statement. ''The Prius is a real car,'' says James Hall, managing director of AutoPacific, an auto consulting firm in Tustin, Calif.
NO PLUG. Since most hybrids use an electric motor to assist a small traditional gasoline engine, they come close to matching the pickup and power of conventional cars. They have a striking high-tech look. Batteries are shrinking to take up less space. And drivers don't have to find a special plug to recharge, since hybrids refill their batteries by drawing power off the gas engine or from the energy of forward motion that's transferred to the battery as the car slows down.
Already, sales are off to a strong start. Honda sold 1,600 Insight two-seaters in the U.S. from January through June--four times more than the total sales of GM'S EV1 in its three years on the market. Honda expects to sell 7,000 to 8,000 Insights this year, twice its original estimate. Toyota has sold 35,000 Priuses in Japan since 1997. ''They'll sell 12,000 [in the U.S.], no problem,'' says Rod Lache, auto-industry analyst with Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York.
That's still tiny compared with overall U.S. car and truck sales, which should hit about 17 million this year. And for now, there is no sign that consumers are ditching SUVs for compact hybrid cars. But if hybrid technology can be applied to existing and new models in a way that gives them ''mass appeal in a variety of vehicles,'' they could make up 20% of the market in 10 years, says Christopher W. Cedergren, an analyst with Nextrend in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Gloats Robert Bienenfeld, Honda's marketing manager for the Insight: ''When our competition comes out with their first hybrid, we'll be coming out with our second or third.''
The Insight, with its distinctive low-slung rear end, already is drawing attention on the road. Its sleek lines, no doubt, are a big part of what lures prospective buyers eager for a test drive. But it's the surprising performance and convenience that persuades them to pull out the checkbook. ''A lot of people don't understand that you don't have to plug in the car,'' says Ernest Bastien, vehicle operations manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. The Insight can go 700 miles on a tank of gas, and the Prius can make it 500 miles. That sure beats GM's EV1, which has to spend hours hooked up to a special device after just 130 miles. ''These cars work, and electrics don't,'' says Insight owner John E. Johnson of Ann Arbor, Mich. Chris Jenkins of Ypsilanti, Mich., has a vanity license plate on his Insight that reads: ''NO PLUG.''
It's no surprise that Japanese auto companies jumped on eco technology so eagerly. High gas prices and choking smog in their home market provide stronger consumer demand. Now, Honda and Toyota want to move beyond showcase cars. They plan to offer hybrid options with several high-volume models within five years. Already, Toyota has designed the Corolla compact and Camry midsize cars to carry such systems. ''We'll get to the point where, in the same way that you choose a 4-cylinder engine, a 6-cylinder, and a V8, you can choose between an internal-combustion engine, an eco-car, and eventually fuel cells,'' says James E. Press, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA.
AT A LOSS. In the U.S., meanwhile, a love of burly trucks, mega-horsepower, and fully loaded luxury have made alternative drive systems less attractive to customers--so far. Delivering that kind of performance with hybrid engines still comes at a huge expense: With their specialized batteries and electrical systems, hybrids sell at a loss in the U.S. Analysts estimate that Honda loses $8,000 every time it sells an Insight. A spokesman says Honda expects to break even ''in a couple of years'' on the Insight, possibly by leveraging its development costs with a hybrid Civic. Toyota has admitted that it is losing money on the Prius, and Ford claims its hybrid Escape will break even only by selling at a $3,000 premium to gas-only models. ''At some point, these things have to be economically viable,'' says Bernard Robertson, senior vice-president of engineering technologies at Chrysler.
That day may arrive sooner than U.S. execs expected. True, the industry has succeeded for six years in holding off any changes to the federal fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks--20.7 mpg for minivans and light trucks and 27 mpg for cars. But with every SUV that replaces a small car, auto makers' fuel-economy averages slip closer to the red zone. The Big Three already would be paying millions in fines if not for loopholes. Starting in 2004, the federal Clean Air Act will require across-the-board improvements in emissions. California appears to be moving forward with tough requirements that 10% of a manufacturer's sales be zero-emission vehicles in three years. For now, four hybrids count as one zero-emissions vehicle.
That's why Detroit is suddenly trying to clean up its big bruisers. Ford's plan would lift its SUV fuel-economy average to 23 mpg. About a third of the improvement comes from the 22-mpg Escape that will soon hit the market. Three years later, the hybrid Escape will offer the same interior space and acceleration as the V6-powered model, while getting 40 mpg in the city. DaimlerChrysler says a hybrid Durango would get 20% better fuel economy and be just as brawny as the gas-powered V8 version. And GM's hybrid Silverado and Sierra pickups will boost mileage by an estimated 15%. Says GM Vice-Chairman Harry J. Pearce: ''Because full-size pickups are significant fuel users, you get the biggest bang for your buck.''
Detroit has lobbied heavily for federal incentives to boost development of alternative-fuel technologies, but it can't rely on a handout. If anything, the mood in Washington has swung the other way. Take the ''super car'' project, for instance. Five years and $1.25 billion after Vice-President Al Gore and Big Three auto chiefs committed to developing clean-burning cars capable of 80 mpg, the program has little to show. The House and Senate recently voted to cut funding in half. Representative John E. Sununu (R-N.H.), who led the charge to slash the project, says the success of the Insight and Prius demonstrates why subsidies won't work. ''It may well be precisely because the federal government has been subsidizing certain areas of innovation that we're behind the Japanese,'' he says.
Carmakers did learn one valuable marketing lesson with electrics: Only the most committed environmentalists were willing to pay extra or give up driving conveniences to make a clean-air statement. That's backed up by recent studies. Most of the 28,000 car buyers surveyed by AutoPacific said they wouldn't alter driving habits until gas hits at least $2.10 per gallon. ''Very few people would be willing to pay even $500 extra for a clean vehicle,'' says George C. Peterson, president of AutoPacific.
ALUMINUM FOIL. Price hasn't been the only problem with electric cars. Although GM quickly attracted a hard-core group of enthusiasts with its launch of the EV1 in 1996, that entire first generation was recalled last fall because of problems with the charging socket. The owners were given leases on new EV1s. Honda pulled its EV-Plus from the market last year but still has more than 300 on the road.
Executives admit they never intended to sell many electrics. GM offered its EV1 only for lease at some Saturn dealerships, and customers had to submit to two days of interviews and instruction before driving off with a car. A spokesman says GM wanted to make sure lessees knew what they were getting into. Margaret Cheng, a 53-year-old systems planner for a Southern California power company, recalls an hour-long interview in which an EV1 specialist stressed all the drawbacks before letting her drive off. ''It's amazing that some of us were persistent enough to get the car,'' Cheng says.
Hybrids are far from perfect. To boost performance, the Insight relies on an all-aluminum body that weighs just 1,800 pounds, half the bulk of the average family sedan. The car holds up in crash testing but makes for an expensive trip to the body shop. Some Insight owners say they live in fear of not just collisions but also door dings and hail. Anna Eley of Atlanta says her husband got in a parking-lot accident with a Cadillac DeVille while driving her silver Insight. Both cars were going slower than 15 mph. The DeVille drove off with a busted grille while the Insight was totaled, says Eley.
New as they are, Hybrids may be replaced by a far more promising technology. The industry has pumped billions into developing fuel cells, which extract electrons from the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. The exhaust is clean water, and the electric power results in a quieter ride than any gasoline engine.
Fuel cells appear much closer than they were five years ago--but don't hold your breath. Most execs don't expect mass-market vehicles for 10 years. DaimlerChrysler is probably furthest along. It committed $1 billion to fuel-cell development and has a working version of its Mercedes A-Class subcompact that it plans to start selling in Europe in four years. Honda has spent $500 million to develop fuel-cell cars and wants to have them ready in three years. But it has no current plans to go to market. Ditto for Toyota and GM. ''I really don't see significant volumes--in the hundreds of thousands of cars--until the end of the decade,'' says Lawrence D. Burns, GM's vice-president for research and development.
Even that assumes steady progress on a whole range of daunting technical issues. Supplying hydrogen fuel, for instance, is no easy trick. The two preferred methods are to store methanol aboard the car and draw hydrogen from the methanol or to store the hydrogen itself. Methanol can be pumped from existing gas stations. But the onboard hardware to strip out hydrogen from methanol would add $1,500 in vehicle costs and create maintenance challenges. And hydrogen has to be stored under heavy pressure or at very low temperatures.
Still, if hybrids really catch on--if the technology becomes just another option, such as antilock brakes--they could speed the day that the industry ditches fossil fuels altogether. ''As we pursue the Holy Grail, existing technology is getting cleaner,'' says Ford Chairman William C. Ford Jr. The trick is to put clean technology into the cool cars and trucks that buyers crave. If auto makers can do that, more buyers like Jennie Sharf will take an interest in green vehicles without ever thinking about what is or isn't sputtering out the tailpipe.
By David Welch in Detroit, with Lorraine Woellert in Washington, D.C.
#201 of 1489 Business Week (cont)
Aug 08, 2000 (3:20 am)
AUGUST 14, 2000 ISSUE
46 Miles Per Gallon... 47... 48...
Rarely do I worry about how much gas I'm burning while lead-footing it through town. But after a few days in Toyota Motor Corp.'s (TM) new Prius, I became fixated, like a kid staring at a video game, on the fuel-economy numbers flickering at the top of my dashboard. Soon I was poking along at 55 in a 65-mph zone, sweltering with my air-conditioning purposely shut off and the windows rolled up (it cuts down wind resistance). All that so I could nudge my mileage up to the government-rated 48 miles per gallon.
Life in the slow lane has never been so thrilling. Sliding behind the wheel of a fuel-sipping gas-and-electric powered Prius or its only rival, Honda Motor Co.'s (HMC) Insight, can be habit-forming. The Prius, just now hitting U.S. showrooms, displays average fuel economy in real time through a video screen. The Insight, which has been on sale in the U.S. for six months, also tracks mileage on a dashboard display. Owners strive for the best fuel-economy stats, then brag about them in Internet chat rooms.
THE REAL DEAL. But whereas the Insight is a hip two-seater, the Prius delivers high efficiency with real-car performance and convenience. Its 1.5-liter, four-cylinder gas engine and 33-kilowatt electric motor combine for 114 horsepower, vs. 73 for the Insight. That's no hot rod, but it matches many compacts on the road. And the $20,000 Prius comfortably seats five, so long as the three people in the back aren't too lanky. The trunk is roomy, offering 12 cubic feet of cargo space.
The most noticeable difference in driving a hybrid is the interaction of the electric and gas power plants. In the Prius, the electric motor gets you started smoothly, with a ghostly silence. The gas engine shuts down when you're stopped. At about 10 miles an hour, you can feel the gas engine subtly start up without the grind and shudder of an ignition start. That recharges the batteries while giving the Prius a fairly peppy acceleration. It helps that the all-steel body is a lightweight 2,765 pounds--more than the 1,800-pound aluminum Insight but a lot less than the typical 3,200-pound small car. There are a few downsides. Once you're up to highway speeds, the Prius does broadcast a fair amount of road noise. And it took me three days to get used to the tight brakes.
Still, no one buys a hybrid expecting muscle. They're falling for the high-tech gadgetry and great gas mileage. For many, the Insight has the same funky fashion appeal as Volkswagen's (VLKAY) New Beetle. That look--especially the distinctive ''skirt'' that extends halfway down the rear wheels--is not for everyone. When I took the Insight for a spin, one driver stopped me to call it a computer mouse on wheels. While the Prius has a more conventional exterior, its interior is decidedly modern. The touch-sensitive video screen toggles between the fuel-use monitor and a fun schematic showing how energy flows between the wheels, electric motor, gas engine, and battery.
Next up: Ford (F) and GM (GM) are promising hybrid versions of their hulking SUVs and pickups. If the car companies can transplant this technology into their most popular models, we'll really have something to honk about.
By David Welch in Detroit
#202 of 1489 Business Week (cont.)
Aug 08, 2000 (3:22 am)
AUGUST 14, 2000 ISSUE
Commentary: The Japanese Are Making the Right Bet on Hybrids
When the subject of greener cars comes up, Detroit always has the same answer: Americans won't buy them. U.S. motorists, the industry says, want the broad-shouldered, gas-hungry hulks that are usually shown screaming across the landscapes environmentalists fight to protect. Besides, carmakers say, we can't get the mileage up to where environmentalists want it--the technology isn't there.
Uh-oh. Here come a couple of cool, high-tech cars that customers want to buy. These gas-electric hybrids not only deliver snappy performance but also get up to 65 miles per gallon. When Detroit was formulating its denunciation of green cars, it apparently forgot to send the memo to Japan. Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) and Honda Motor Co. (HMC) accomplished what Detroit said was impossible. And environmentalists are giddy.
''It's everything we can do to bite our tongues and not say, 'We told you so,''' says Daniel F. Becker, director of the Sierra Club's global warming and energy program. ''We're very enthused about hybrid cars and think that they are the wave of the present.'' The Sierra Club, which had never in its 108-year history honored a product, created an award for excellence in environmental engineering and gave it to both Honda's Insight and Toyota's Prius.
COSTLY REBATES. The critical issue for environmentalists is whether hybrids can help reduce the threat of global warming. All gas-burning cars emit carbon dioxide, one of the principal culprits. Better mileage means fewer emissions. American cars and trucks burn 120 billion gallons of gasoline a year, producing more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide, according to the Sierra Club. Part of the problem is the cars Americans drive. The Sierra Club calculated that the colossal Ford Motor Corp. (F). Excursion sport-utility vehicle is responsible for 134 tons of carbon dioxide during a 124,000-mile lifetime. A Honda Insight driven the same distance generates only 25 tons.
Hybrid cars offer a painless way to cut carbon dioxide emissions. But they can't do it fast enough. Nations will be meeting at The Hague in November to consider further progress toward reducing carbon dioxide emissions. And the U.S. will be under pressure to take action. But hybrid vehicles are not likely to grab a big share of the U.S. market for at least another decade.
The reason is that Honda and Toyota are giving consumers a hidden, costly rebate with each hybrid car they sell. Analysts estimate that Honda is losing $8,000 on each Insight. Toyota is also believed to be subsidizing each Prius. The auto makers won't make a bigger push to sell hybrids until those costs come down. ''I think with luck we can get to a million or so vehicles over a decade,'' says John M. DeCicco, a mechanical engineer and auto-policy specialist at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy in Washington. ''I don't see the costs coming down fast enough'' to sell any more than that.
In the meantime, if the U.S. wants to cut its emissions, it must boost the fuel efficiency of conventional cars, minivans, and light trucks. A gas tax is one way to do that. It would cut gasoline use--thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions. It would encourage moves to alternative fuels, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and make hybrid cars far more attractive. The tax could be offset with a reduction in income taxes, say, so that it would end up costing the public nothing. It's a rational solution--the kind that economists like. But it has no chance of adoption in Washington's antitax climate.
An alternative is to raise fuel-economy standards. This strategy has been proven to work. The standards were tightened in the early 1980s, and the actual fuel economy of cars and light trucks rose to an average 26 miles per gallon. But the auto industry blocked any further attempt to change the standards. And now the average fuel economy of U.S. cars and light trucks has fallen back to where it was in 1980, shortly after the system was established (chart).
U.S. auto makers are betting they can continue to block tougher fuel-economy standards and delay the arrival of greener cars and trucks. With the Insight and the Prius, Honda and Toyota are making a different bet. They are positioning themselves as the carmakers of the future. They are getting valuable experience in the production of sleek, affordable, environmentally friendly cars. That makes it easy for environmentalists to take sides.
By Paul Raeburn
Senior Writer Raeburn covers science and the environment.
#203 of 1489 Business Week (continued)
Aug 08, 2000 (3:24 am)
AUGUST 14, 2000 ISSUE
Q&A with Thomas Elliott
A talk with North American Honda's Thomas Elliott
Detroit's latest buzz is the jockeying between truck kingpins Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. for bragging rights as America's most eco-friendly car company. Sure, both are scrambling to bring out gas-electric hybrid-powered cars and trucks, while racing to boost fuel economy of their thirstiest pickups and sport utilities. But so far, they're just playing catch-up to Japanese rivals, Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.
Honda has spearheaded the U.S. move to cleaner, more efficient cars, first by making its bread-and-butter Civics and Accords ultra-clean, then by being first to market with the next generation of eco-cars, the gas-electric hybrids. In January, Honda launched the Insight two-seater, whose 65-mile-per-gallon fuel economy beats any other vehicle on the road. Already, consumers have snapped up some 2,000 of the stylish Insights, prompting the company to double this year's sales goal to 8,000 cars. So far, its only rival for fuel-economy prowess is the just-introduced Toyota Prius, a five-seat compact.
Ultimately, hydrogen-powered engines are a good bet to take over American highways. But until that technology is perfected, cleaning up internal-combustion engines is the industry's goal. Hybrids, which use electric motors to enhance the power of small, fuel-efficient, gas-driven engines to match the performance of conventional cars, appear to be the best way to do that.
Thomas G. Elliott, executive vice-president of North American Honda, spoke with Business Week's David Welch about why hybrids will become more commonplace and what the future of cleaner, more efficient cars will look like. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:
Q: Why hybrids and why now?
A: We see the gas-electric hybrid in the near and medium term as the technology that could address environmental and fuel-economy concerns. Hybrids are the kind of car that most consumers can live with. The technology is almost transparent to them.
Q: Looking at your plans for future hybrids and those of Toyota, Ford, and GM, it seems hybrids could hit volumes of at least 100,000 a year by 2004. Is it realistic to think that the technology will catch on to sell such numbers?
A: It sounds reasonable to me. Selling 100,000 as an industry is easily attained by 2004 and maybe exceeded.
Q: So does that mean we're in the age of the hybrid?
A: I think we're right on the tip of it. You're going to see more versions coming.
Q: The Insight has been pretty successful, but critics call it an underpowered two-seater with limited market appeal. What's next?
A: The Insight is a first step for Honda. It was done to look at all aspects. The new hybrid will come off the Civic platform in Japan next year and in the U.S. some time after that.
Q: Toyota plans to sell 12,000 units of the Prius in the first year. What kind of volume can you do with a more mainstream hybrid vehicle?
A: Our next step will be significantly higher than that in terms of volume. Based on the acceptance of the Insight, there's greater growth potential. 20,000 is not an unreasonable number.
Q: You are losing money on this car. Can hybrid technology be sold profitably?
A: If we do enough volume, it can be done at a profit.
Q: Do consumers care enough about fuel economy and the environment to really make hybrids mainstream?
A: I don't think you can sell cars solely on environmental technology. If you're talking about mass-volume cars, you have to address the primary issues. We do feel that fuel economy and clean air will become more important.
Q: What kind of marketing buzz are you getting from these cars?
A: If you want to differentiate yourself, one way to do it is with emissions and fuel economy. What Honda does in North America can be carried globally.
Q: I've heard that Honda's push to cast an image as the industry's technology leader is part of a larger plan to contest for top market share in the U.S. many decades from now. That sounds nice, but is it realistic?
A: I've been here for 30 years. Back then, we were selling 3,000 cars. Now, we're selling 1.1 million. I do think Honda has the potential of becoming one of the top three sellers in the U.S.
#204 of 1489 New Canadian Prius Owner
Aug 08, 2000 (5:55 pm)
Bought the new 2000 Saturn Wagon LW1 in March, turned out it had a recall which they didn't bother notifying us of until we found out by accident 3 months later. From day one the Saturn dealer screwed up with multiple purchasing paperwork errors, telling us defects were normal etc etc. Conclusion came when we contacted the Canadian Television Network, they covered our story on several programs airing it to millions of viewers and Saturn agreed they screwed up, gave us our money back and we bought the Prius.
Everything Toyota did for us was what we had expected but never got from Saturn. Some of the cult-like members over on the Saturn chat group didn't like us complaining, others were supportive because we weren't at fault. Even when a Saturn employee listening in on one of my conversations with another Saturn employee said "the little prick" after he thought we were disconnected but was caught on my tape recording. She deserves to be fired and we shall see what happens.
Enough of that saga, we love our Prius. First ones to take possession at the Burlington Toyota Dealership in Ontario, Canada. Dealer gave us their showroom car because we had to return the Saturn quickly. Excellent sales service, even gave us an expensive gift basket of Laura Secord Chocolates and took a photo.
I just found this board and know it is mostly U.S. owners but the cars are very similar. I am finding some of the differences like we don't have 'traction control' as mentioned on the U.S. Toyota site, or side air bags mentioned in the manual.
ONLY thing I would add to the car is a remote key fob that can open the trunk. Having to use the key when arms are full of groceries is difficult for me.
If you want to learn more about our Saturn story come visit http://people.becon.org/~djenning
I plan on making the Canadian Saturn Lemon Car webpage a submenu and changing the main page to the story about our Prius.
P.S. Anybody know how to reprogram the door locks to automatically lock when you start to drive? The model we test drove did that, but our car doesn't. On our Saturn it was an option we could program ourselves but the Prius ManualS don't cover it.
Looking for many happy years as a Toyota owner.
#205 of 1489 ontariocaprius
Aug 08, 2000 (7:43 pm)
Thanks for the info and owner's review, welcome to the Toyota family.
#206 of 1489 Couple other questions that have come up
Aug 08, 2000 (9:29 pm)
Cruise control was standard on the Canadian one, not sure why the U.S one doesn't have it.
U.S. site talks about "Traction Control", Toyota Canada said not on mine.
Side air bags listed in owners manual but not on my car, not even an option.
Lastly, Single Cd was standard on mine but the 6 cd is a 550.00 CAD option.
Just tried out the U.S. prius chat on the Toyota site, asking about the automatically locking doors when you start driving. They told me to talk to the dealer. Seems to be a little bit of confusion over what this car is about, and what its features are but then it is so new.
#207 of 1489 About traction control
Aug 08, 2000 (9:42 pm)
This is a feature that all the Prius' have but Toyota really doesn't want us talking about it because it is not the same thing as you normally thing of for this feature. It is not even mentioned in the literature on the vehicle. What TC does is monitor the wheels. When the wheels begin to move faster than the vehicle can move, a normal system does one of tow things or both. It can apply the brakes to the slipping wheel or reduce engine power or both. The Prius only reduces engine power. It is not as effective as systems that also use brakes but it is better than nothing. I am sure the Canadian version has this as well.
Aug 08, 2000 (10:39 pm)
The U.S. Toyota website DOES mention it "The vehicle is equipped with an anti-lock brake system, a traction control system....",
but no mention in Canada. In fact this is the response I got from Toyota Canada "Thank you for your most recent correspondence.
Further to your inquiry, we wish to confirm that traction control is NOT an
option or a feature on the Prius. We would like to explain that market
trends are closely studied to give us a better idea of what vehicle
features are in demand. Then based on our findings, our Product Planning
Division is able to choose the vehicle options that best suit the needs of
the buying public.
Thank you again for writing.
Aug 09, 2000 (12:28 am)
In the training class I was at, they claimed the car had to have this in order to deal with so much torque generated at low RPM by the electiric motor. We were also told that this would not be publicized in order to avoid confusion with the more sophisticated system on other cars like the V6 Camry. My hunch is the Canadian Toyota people are referring to the regular type of TRACS where the brakes are also used.