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Published: Tuesday, 8/24/2010

Prius adds some noise

ASSOCIATED PRESS

TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius hybrid is becoming a little less quiet with a new electronic humming device that is the automaker's answer to complaints that pedestrians can't hear the car approaching.

The $148 speaker system that goes under the hood of the third-generation Prius sets off a whirring about the same noise level as a regular car engine, Toyota said Tuesday.

It goes on sale Monday in Japan, and owners pay extra for installation charges. Its use is voluntary.

The gasoline-electric hybrid gets good mileage but is also quiet because it runs on electricity much of the time.

That has drawn complaints that pedestrians, the blind in particular, are at greater risk of being hit by the car, especially at low speeds.

The U.S. government's auto safety agency found in a research report last year that hybrids are twice as likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes at low speeds compared with cars with conventional engines.

Toyota, which also makes the Camry sedan and Lexus luxury models, said it plans versions of the device for other hybrid models, plug-ins, electric vehicles, and fuel-cell vehicles.

Pedestrian deaths compared to overall traffic fatalities are higher in Japan than in the United States and many other nations because of Japan's narrow and crisscrossing crowded streets. Japan is also a rapidly aging society.

Toyota said the device is based on guidelines addressing the dangers of silent cars, including hybrids, issued in January by the Japanese government.

Other automakers, including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., and Nissan Motor Co., are also working on making quiet ecological cars safer.

The Prius device can be turned off with a switch but goes on automatically every time the car starts.

Toyota, the world's biggest automaker, has sold nearly 337,000 third-generation Prius cars in Japan.

It has sold more than 2.68 million hybrids around the world so far, a million of them in Japan.



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