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Problems with Prius Spark Investigations

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In this morning's business news, the Prius has problems. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration is investigating reports that a small number of Toyota's popular hybrid cars have stalled in traffic without warning. NPR's Jack Speer reports.

JACK SPEER reporting:

The government says its preliminary investigation will focus on 33 reported cases of stalling involving 2004 and 2005 Prius models. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it will be trying to determine whether further investigation is warranted. Kevin Smith is editorial director of Edmunds.com, a consumer-oriented automotive Web site. He says reports of Priuses losing power first emerged some time ago in an online chat forum devoted to the popular hybrid vehicles.

Mr. KEVIN SMITH (Edmunds.com): Our forums are kind of a finger in the wind on things like this. It isn't a scientifically accurate research project. It isn't something that yields hard data, but it does give us an indication that, eh, something may be going on there.

SPEER: Toyota has issued several service bulletins on the cars but has not yet said what it thinks the problem may be. However, Smith and others say the automaker will likely focus initially on the car's microprocessors or perhaps faulty software.

Mr. SMITH: The typical car, never mind something like a hybrid, has become quite complex and I think any computer user can tell you that that stuff is never completely faultless.

SPEER: Industry analysts point to the fact today's cars now pack more computing power than the first lunar lander and they say hybrids, with the reliance on dual technology, gasoline and electric motors, are even more complicated. Toyota has sold around 88,000 of its 2004 and 2005 Prius models in the US. The automaker says in none of the stalling cases were there any reports of injuries or deaths. Toyota says it's conducting its own internal investigation and will release those findings once a final determination has been made.

Jack Speer, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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