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Worried About Natural Disasters? Akio Toyoda Says Buy A Prius

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Akio Toyoda

Akio Toyoda

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Toyota president Akio Toyoda -- scion of the Toyoda family for which the company is named -- recently held a press conference on the subject of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan on March 11. And in the middle of it all, in response to what could've been a pre-arranged question from someone in the audience, Toyoda launched into a pitch for the Toyota Prius, which sounded at best contrived, and at worst, in poor taste.

Referring to people who have written him since the disaster to sing the Prius' praises, Toyoda noted:

"They said, 'I'm glad I have a hybrid vehicle' because hybrid vehicles have a very long driving range," Toyoda said. "And because of that, if they had not been using hybrid vehicles, they would be among those people cuing [sic] up for gasoline. They didn’t have to because they had hybrids."

Toyoda went on to wax rhapsodic about the Estima hybrid (currently available in Japan and Hong Kong) and its ability "to charge mobile phones or warm up emergency supplies or food" using battery power.

Was it staged? We don't have a transcript of the Q&A session, so for now, we'll avoid casting aspersions on the integrity of the journalist who set Toyoda off on his spiel. But Hans Greimel at Automotive News says that Toyoda's response was "tightly scripted", which to our ears sounds mildly synonymous with "planned".

Was it accurate? Well, the Prius does get some very good fuel economy, meaning that owners have to fill up less often than many of their peers. But it still uses gasoline, meaning that at some point, owners must queue up with everyone else. Furthermore, praising the Estima's ability to charge mobile phones seems a little weird, since nearly any car with a cigarette lighter can do the same thing, provided there's an inverter at hand.

Was it in poor taste? Again, we don't have a full transcript of the conference, so we can't put Toyoda's response in context. However, it seems a tad thoughtless to be pitching cars when many Japanese towns and cities lay in ruins and over 20,000 citizens are still dead or missing -- including many family members of Toyota workers. We have our doubts about whether car companies in the Deep South will be making similar claims in the wake of the devastating storms that struck there earlier this week.

On the other hand, we know that Japan has to start moving back toward "business as usual" at some point -- the country and its people can't stay mired in disaster forever. Are we being too critical of Mr. Toyoda? Not critical enough? Feel free to weigh in below.

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