Feb 4, 2010

I have a mic, so what I say must be right

Continuing with the topic of Toyota's troubles with its massive recall, the media which glorified Toyota in the late 90s is now happily thrashing it. After all, the media does not care who you are or what you do. All they need is some news to create a frenzy. They ride on your good times and your bad times and feed off it; just like parasites.

When TMC recalled its cars for accelerator issues, immediately there was a wave of people owning older cars (that were not part of the recall) claiming 'sudden acceleration' which led to their vehicles crashing. Obviously, they follow it up with lawsuits claiming obscene sums from TMC. There was this guy who says because he is not able to get the accelerator pedal replaced in time for his car, he had to suffer mentally, and is depressed blah, blah blah.. Naturally, when the news of some braking issues with the 2010 Prius came out, people suddenly were saying their cars don't brake either.

So with all the bashing of Toyota that has been going on ( I am no Toyota enthusiast, mind you) I cannot help but notice the statements from several news agencies who have no clue of what they are talking about. Explaining a mat that holds on to the accelerator is simple enough. A worn out shim inside the pedal mechanism gets a bit more complex to explain. But a hybrid car's brake system? That is where the real fun begins.

It is reported that while driving on slippery or bumpy roads, sometimes the drivers of Prius suffer a momentary loss in braking. So some wise guy assumed that 'a moment' that is described by drivers equals a second and came up with a calculation that at 60mph the car would have traveled another 90 feet before it stops. This is going around in all channels and reports including America' s Dhinathandi, CNN.

Let us see in a simple way how the hybrid powertrain works, especially on a Prius. The Prius has a normal gasoline powered engine that combines with an electric motor to drive the car. The electric motor drives the car at low speeds (city driving or stop-and-go traffic) upto 30mph. Once the car accelerates to higher speeds, the gas engine takes up and drives the car. The electric motor continues to serve as power boost for rapid torque requirements. An important feature of such hybrid systems is the concept of regenerative braking. In simple terms, when the car brakes while it is being operated by the electric motor, the motor actually reverses its function and acts like a generator by using the kinetic energy of the vehicle to charge the battery pack. So in essence, this braking happens when the electric drive is functioning, i.e., at speeds less than 30mph. If the braking power needed is more than what the motor can apply, then the braking is done by conventional means using brake pads that slow the vehicle by friction. This transfer of control from the regenerative braking to conventional braking takes place during a fraction of a second giving the driver a feeling that the car is not braking as hard as it should, especially on surfaces where the ABS feels the need for more brake power causing the brake pads to step in.

So coming back to the original reports of 90 feet of increased stopping distances at 60mph: firstly when the car is at such high speeds, the braking is directly by brake pads and so there is no instance of control transfer. If considering a maximum speed of 30mph, the car requires another 44 feet to stop. Adding to it is the fact that the lapse is for a fraction of a second. Even if it is half a second, you are looking at 22 feet. And this control happens only when the car is already being braked by the motor. So you are looking at speeds less than 30mph, after which the brake pads step in, if required. So maybe 10 feet? 15? Significant number yes, but not as much as CNN and rest of the media says it to be.

CNN showed a segment in the evening, in which one of its viewers, Jessica Yellin had this problem with her Prius. Jessica is a smart lady, I should admit. She clearly mentions in her interview that the car does not lose braking power at high speeds but only when she is driving within city. When she applies the brakes hard it stops as it should but only during slow stops from low speeds does it give that feeling of momentary loss of braking. CNN then shows her trying to contact TMC to get an answer about her issues with Prius but they do not respond to her. Duh! Obviously, if 5million customers and 1million news reporters call you at the same time, you cannot expect a response.

Talk about shaping public opinion.

Not sure why Toyota is not coming out with a media blitz yet against all these propaganda.

And I should stop sounding like their P.R.O!


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