Navistar Partners With Clean Air Power on Natural Gas Dual-Fuel Option for MaxxForce 13 Engines
Audi’s A1 to Launch With Four Engine Options; Energy Recuperation and Stop-Start Standard

Perspective: Toyota Prius Recall Is Only a Bump in the Road in the Move Toward Electrification

Perspective by Oliver Hazimeh, Director of the North American Automotive Practice and the Global e-Mobility Practice, PRTM
[Management consultancy PRTM was a contributor to the “Electrification Roadmap” released in November 2009 by the Electrification Coalition. Earlier post.]

The recall of Toyota’s Prius is causing some observers to question whether the prospects for the entire hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) and electric vehicle (EV) markets are fundamentally hurt.

We don’t believe so. While a recall presents a short-term bump in the road regarding consumer perception of HEVs and EVs, there is no question that longer term, the fundamental drivers for increased powertrain electrification are alive and well.

This immediate problem affecting the 2010 Prius relates to software that manages the regenerative and conventional braking system. [Earlier post.] This technology has been successfully and robustly used for more than 10 years in other Prius models, as well as in non-Toyota models.

(Technical Note: The regenerative braking problem reflects a problem not with the mechanical brakes but with the system interface between hybrid regenerative software controls and the traditional ABS breaking system. Automotive electronics have been increasing significantly during the past years, and the advent of hybrid powertrains added new electronic control systems that need to be managed. Current lessons will not only help Toyota but the industry as a whole. As we continue the transition from a mechanical to more electronically controlled vehicles, the required engineering processes, skills and tools need to adapt accordingly. That is why many OEMs are beginning to rebuild their internal electronics and system engineering capabilities after many years of outsourcing. Customers should find assurance that other industries, such as the aerospace industry, have made a similar transition and today’s modern planes have replaced mechanical aircraft controls with full electronic controls).

Toyota has earned a stellar reputation for quality over decades. While the current recall issues are reflective of the company’s rapid growth, Toyota will likely address not only the specific vehicle problem, but will also ensure that it is systemically addressed at all levels of the organization.

The Electrification Tipping Point

PRTM believes that the worldwide tipping point in HEV, PHEV and EV acceptance, whereby these vehicles become a major part of the automotive powertrain portfolio, will likely occur in the next few years. The Prius recall, which is under more public scrutiny due to other recent Toyota quality issues, will not fundamentally alter the underlying drivers for electrification of powertrains. Just a few drivers for this shift include the following:

  • There is an urgent need to increase fuel efficiency and reduce C02—conventional ICE technology will not suffice, and all major OEMs have accepted the role that HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs need to play. They have already reshuffled their product portfolio for the coming years.

  • OEMs see the strategic need to develop and offer HEV, PHEV and EV vehicles—above and beyond simply complying with regulations. A major competitive threat comes from other regions, such as China, which view this technology as a means to leapfrog entrenched players.

  • Oil price and supply dependencies will continue the search for alternative fuel sources, and battery powered vehicles can have a significant impact on that equation. This issue is outlined in detail in the Electrification Roadmap, developed by the Electrification Coalition and PRTM.

  • Finally, the cost of the hybrid/electric vehicles will come down significantly during the next 10 years, primarily by reducing the lithium-ion battery cost. This will be achieved through a mix of scale, operational efficiencies and technology advances. This price reduction will create the economic incentive to appeal to a broader consumer base. We expect that HEV, PHEVs and BEVs will reach total cost of ownership parity by 2010, 2016 and 2018 respectively.

Certainly, any automotive recall is unfortunate for any auto maker and certainly for the consumer. However, we have every expectation that Toyota will effectively address the problem. We are also confident that the adoption tipping point gets closer every day, and that our estimates of 10% of PHEV/EV adoption and as much as 20% Mild/Full-HEV adoption by 2020 are still right on track.



This is a relatively easy to solve very minor problem that some interested parties may try to blow out of proportion to undermine EV evolution, especially imported models.


The best engineers are those who do the best "worse case analysis." Looks like one problem was overlooked: and, as I understand the problem, it has to do with the transition made by the braking system when switching from regenerative braking to mechanical braking and that driving over a bumpy road was a factor in the problem. At no time was the driver without brakes. He only had to press harder on the brake pedal to stop.
I have great confidence the engineers will be able to fix this problem with little more "to do about it." IMO, the press was hungry to create news and a flap to fill in a otherwise dull news day or week. And of course the competitors will use the news to sell their own products while all the while not letting the public know about its own cover-up transgressions


I trust Toyota to act quickly on this problem. The
media has over-hyped this. I wouldn't be surprised
if it weren't Government Motors egging on the fourth
estate to keep banging the drum on this. I read
that Toyota is pulling ads from ABC because that network
uses this story as a lead every chance it gets.


Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill. It's a software glitch. Programmers will correct this once they have the correct conditions spelled out that caused the weird braking.
There are a million different driving conditions. They can only test for so many.
OTOH, Toyota has dragged their feet and let this escalate. As a previous Toyota owner I know how they tend to deny problems that should have been recalled.
GM & Ford are much more straighforward and own up to problems quickly.


This seems to be a case of Toyota trying to clean out all the technical dust bunnies in one sweeping so as not to appear dirty later.

Nick Lyons

Probably due to Japanese corporate culture, Toyota has been slow to admit the magnitude of their quality problems. No doubt they will fix things, but whether they will take this as a wake-up call to become more responsive has yet to be seen.

I agree with those who say that when Toyota decided they wanted to be #1 world wide, they lost focus on some of the attributes that made them so successful in the first place: quality, reliability, value. A much better corporate goal is some variation of "be the best", not "be the biggest". My experience working in large corporations is that the messages coming from upper management set the tone for the whole organization.

And as for the accelerator fix, I'm not convinced there isn't a software gremlin as yet undiscovered in addition to the sticky-pedal issue they are currently fixing.

Henry Gibson

This recall is not even a bump in the road. It is at most a pebble that has all of the petroleum speculators hype it for their profits. The major problem is with the public who will accept any form of automobile when it comes to just getting to work but allows the demand and the supply of high acceleration high power automobiles to grow. A vehicle that can pull a semi trailer is not needed for commuting. There is little reason for high speeds or speed limits on the freeways inside or even near cities and even less need to make high performance electric vehicles that can travel at these speeds. Plug-in-hybrids with limited performance and cost and short full electric range are fine for most of the US automobile uses. People in the US forget that there are countries where there are not 100 miles of continuous paved higways. The hydraulic hybrid can cut emissions almost as well as any electric vehicle without the cost of a super performance lithium battery. Lower freeway speed limits will cut the use of fuel per mile of travel greatly. ..HG..


But who wants to hear of every pebble on the road, major hazard recall sells more easily , much the same hype in Australia.
It is not so bad though to expect the best, and maybe Toyota have such a reputation, that this is a wakeup call for high expectations. It would not be good for efficiency driven govt's if these efficient vehicles achieve low satisfaction levels.


This may cause some people to pause in making a hybrid purchase. Do people really want to pay more for something that could have regenerative braking problems with the computer?


Big-3 vehicles were the subject of over 400 recalls in the last 10 years. The media + politicians did not pay that much attention.

Why so much noise about a computer glich on the Prius braking system?

Could part of it be orchestrated by highly interested people to promote the sale of their own products?


Because 8 people have died and hundreds more injured. It is the nature of the recall, not being able to stop an accelerating car is high on the list of dangerous conditions.

R River

Paradym shift:

Before: Toyota - Good, Domestics - Bad...
Now: Toyota - untrustworthy, GM sceptical, Ford - Good

Remember the demographic for Toyota is that of Buick 20 years ago - 55 to dead. These people abhore change and avoid risk. This will effect them long term. When a respected in the know guy like Steve Wozniak can diagnose his Prius problems, this trumps the biased media.

Personally, I can't stand the UAW and their BS, but this is exposing the nasty little habit of Japanese secrecy in engineering. It clearly and the acceleration problems are a Japan engineering issue at TMC.

Can't wait to see the venue that Akio chooses for hsi ritual suicide!!

The comments to this entry are closed.