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Feb 032010

From Green Right Now Reports

Could Nissan’s marketers have planned this any better?

Just as the carmaker is in the midst of a national tour of the LEAF, its much ballyhooed new electric plug-in, competitor Toyota finds itself in a tailspin over mysterious sudden acceleration events that now affect even its energy-efficient darling, the 2010 model Prius, according to several news reports. (Here’s one from the Christian Science Monitor; ABC News also reports Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has experience trouble with his Prius.)

The Prius, the nation’s best-selling and highest mileage hybrid car, looked to have a  fruitful  future — until lately, when its reputation was sideswiped, along with other Toyota brands, in a safety scandal that grows larger with every news cycle.

Car reviewers have noted that the Prius, even on a scandal-free day, has plenty of competition emerging from hybrids like the Ford Fusion and the Honda Insight.

The new kids on the block might now have a wedge to muscle in. The LEAF is not a hybrid, but part of the new generation of all-electric, plug-in vehicles (EVs) that will go head-to-head with hybrids already on the road. Their appeal: Zero carbon tailpipe emissions and increasingly better range.

Due in showrooms this coming fall/winter, the LEAF is riding the leading edge of this new technology. It will offer a clean carbon footprint (especially if it’s charged on electricity provided by renewable energy sources) and have a range of 100 miles, a big deal in this new world.

The LEAF and GM’s new plug-in offering, the Volt, can expect competition from leading hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius, the Honda Civic and Insight, and the Ford Escape and Fusion, among others. These hybrids are road tested, energy efficient and don’t lack for places to refuel.

But of all the hybrids you can even think of, the Prius is king. It is the top-selling hybrid, around the world, and last year it was the top selling car in Japan, bar none.

At this point, how Toyota’s problems will play out and affect the Prius is just conjecture. Car chatter has centered on how to deal with the immediate problem, if the Prius suffers from the same sticky acceleration issues of its cousins. Earlier models of the Prius are being recalled. News about the 2010 model, just out this winter, is still too fresh.

But if the Prius takes a long pit stop, that’s one less hybrid option at the top of consumers’ lists. Such a shift in the landscape could fuel more interest in the coming EVs, now less than a year away from appearing in showrooms.

If Toyota’s problems prove scarier than the worries related to electric vehicles — Where do I plug in? Will the battery wear out? — the race gets even more intense.

And Nissan is heavily involved in addressing concerns upfront. It is making sure charging stations are available in many major metro markets — working with charging station provider Ecotality in several test areas, and with a U.S. maker of home charging stations.

The LEAF’s U.S. debut tour winds up in New York next week, after a stop in Houston this coming weekend, according to a map of the stops posted by Nissan. But the car will likely make other appearances before going on sale in late 2010.

To see the list of Toyota, Lexus and Pontiac vehicles being recalled for gas pedal “entrapment” issues, see the U.S. Department of Transportation website. The models are:

  • 2007-2010 Camry
  • 2005-2010 Avalon
  • 2004-2009 Prius
  • 2005-2010 Tacoma
  • 2007-2010 Tundra
  • 2007-2010 ES 350
  • 2006-2010 IS 250 and IS350
  • 2008-2010 Highlander
  • 2009-2010 Corolla
  • 2009-2010 Venza
  • 2009-2010 Matrix
  • 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe

Toyota, Lexus and Pontiac vehicles affected by the related, but slightly different, “sticky pedal recall” are:

  • 2007-2008 Tundra
  • 2008-2010 Sequoia
  • 2005-2010 Avalon
  • 2007-2010 Camry
  • 2009-2010 Corolla
  • 2009-2010 Matrix
  • 2009-2010 RAV4
  • 2010 Highlander
  • 2009-2010 Vibe

The DOT has advice for drivers experiencing a problem with their Toyota’s gas pedal, a serious issue that has resulted in critical injuries, even deaths.

  • Brake firmly and steadily – do not pump the brake pedal
  • Shift the transmission into Neutral (for vehicles with automatic transmissions and the sport option, familiarize yourself with where Neutral is – the diagram may be misleading)
  • Steer to a safe location
  • Shut the engine off (for vehicles with keyless ignition, familiarize yourself with how to turn the vehicle off when it is moving – this may be a different action than turning the vehicle off when it is stationary).
  • Call your dealer or repair shop to pick up the vehicle.  Do not drive it.