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Prius Revisited

February 10, 2010

I still love my Prius. I still love Toyota. A 30 year love relationship does not dissolve overnight. We are a culture with undying loyalty to our favorite products.
(Can you spell T-Y-L-E-N-O-L?)

I’m trying to be smart about this – to not be blinded by love, to not miss the cues that my relationship with Toyota is threatened.

But here’s what I think about as the unfolding news about the safety of the Prius continues. Four Toyota cars have carried my family and me safely across more than a half million miles. Each of my three prior Toyotas (two Camries, one Sienna) had approximately 170,000 miles on it when it was traded or sold. Only once did a Toyota car let me down – when, at 120,000 miles, the original drive train gave out. It had lasted 30,000 miles longer than its expected life.

Through the years there have been occasions when I have had to defend my buying of a Japanese car, even though I believe two of the cars came from a plant in Kentucky. My defense is that for the past few decades, without the competition of the foreign market, American car builders would not have the motivation to improve their product to the extent that they have. In my opinion, all foreign car markets ensure the American car market keeps in stride with world knowledge and inventiveness.

I remember the moment when I first understood that there are times in civilized history when the decision is made to accept that some number of lives will be lost in the use of a product that has overall good benefit for the whole of humanity. In wars, this is called “collateral damage.” I forget what it’s called in the automotive industry.

And don’t we all feel sad when a tragic life-claiming car accident is on the front page of our local paper. But perhaps we feel a bit less sad when we read about deaths in statistical figures – such as, approximately 43,000 people die annually in car accidents.

We live in a society that accepts that cars are not perfect, in fact, that they are dangerous. We live in a society that accepts thousand upon thousand of casualties each year for the convenience of driving cars.

I’m not implying that Toyota is free of blame in the dangerously imperfect brake/acceleration glitch. And I’ll be hard pressed to stay loyal to Toyota if negligence is apparent in their handling of the Prius issues.

We know there are car recalls, we know there is human error in design, we know there are injuries and fatalities by the scores, daily, from automobiles. We are all a little to blame for any automotive mishap or death every time we turn the key, or press the Power button, to start our car engine.

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