Hybrid Is Heaven
First, a disclaimer: I don't own any stock in Toyota
and am not going to get any discount on
future purchases, even after writing this article.
On the other hand, I have been a shameless promoter of
the automaker's manufacturing
process, called Toyota Production System, which has become
a widely copied (but rarely matched)
method of continuously improving service. We have been
using these methods very successfully at The
Johns Hopkins Hospital to reduce medical errors and improve
During my tenure at Johns Hopkins, the Office of the
President has had five different Toyota
vehicles. The last three were minivans, which were selected
for their comfort, size and
passenger/cargo hauling capacity. But with rising fuel
costs, relatively poor fuel efficiency was a major
negative when it came to replacing the most recent minivan.
We tried to wait out Toyota, which has
been producing a successful hybrid minivan in Japan for
more than five years, thinking the company
would logically introduce it to the U.S. market. But for
reasons only the market and profit gurus at
Toyota recognize, there is still no hybrid minivan on the
horizon. Shame on you, Toyota.
So we made our move to another hybrid: the Toyota
Prius. I was prepared to sacrifice
performance and comfort for fuel efficiency. Nothing could
be further from the truth. When I test-
drove the Prius, I was simply astounded. It drives well and
has nice handling characteristics, with a
tremendous amount of acceleration. Moreover, it has
enormous legroom in the rear seat — rivaling, and
perhaps exceeding, that of many standard-sized cars sold
today. And the hatchback provides a
spacious luggage compartment plus fold-down seats that
allow room for bicycles, luggage or whatever.
My first trip in the new Prius, to Hunt Valley and
back, was an eye-opener: 45.3 miles per gallon
without even trying to conserve fuel! And because the Prius
(unlike some other hybrids) was designed
from the ground up as a hybrid vehicle, many components are
optimized for performance and comfort.
There was, however, one initial major drawback. The
first few times I stopped at a traffic
light, the engine stopped (as it is designed to do), and I
panicked, thinking I had already encountered a
significant mechanical defect!
The future is coming fast, and from my recent
experiences, I now know it is going to be a
future that still includes fun driving. I heartily
recommend looking at hybrids for your next vehicle.
There are an increasing number of them from most of the car
companies, ranging from small cars to
SUVs. So if the Prius is not to your liking, test-drive one
that meets your particular needs. The world
will benefit and, like me, you just may find new fun behind
William R. Brody is president
of The Johns Hopkins University.