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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University June 9, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 37
Thinking Out Loud

William R. Brody

By William R. Brody

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 quality.

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 the wheel.


William R. Brody is president of The Johns Hopkins University.


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