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March 10th, 2010:

Is the “Runaway Prius” the greatest marketing hoax ever?

Prius

It doesn't look so safe and reliable now...

As someone who grew up in the Detroit area, I’ll be the first to admit that I have been taking tremendous pleasure in the woes of Toyota recently. It is nice to see the idolized Toyota on the ropes for a change. And when I read about the Runaway Prius the other day, I simply thought “More good news for Ford!”

But my friend Kevin over at the blog America, Love It or Not makes the rather persuasive case that the runaway Prius incident in California could be an elaborate hoax.

Here are some of the facts he found that don’t seem to make sense:

  • He pressed the brake to the floor, but it didn’t slow down the car. Most cars with good brakes can lock up all four wheels at any speed. A Prius isn’t exactly a torque-machine. Its acceleration is pretty weak and should be easily overpowered by the brakes.
  • The car was accelerating for 20 minutes before it could be stopped. I don’t know if any of you have ever driven on a freeway with other cars before, but it is nearly impossible to go 90 MPH for 5 minutes – let alone 20 – without hitting traffic. Unless he was passing cars on the shoulder (unlikely), he would have definitely hit another vehicle in 20 minutes.
  • He called 911. If you were speeding along at 90 MPH and unable to stop, would you call 911 (if it wasn’t a hoax)? What is 911 going to tell you that you don’t already know? Wouldn’t you be scared to take a hand off the wheel when weaving in and out of traffic and passing on the shoulder?

You can read the rest of the post here.

If this is a hoax, it might be the finest corporate negative campaigning in American history. In the last 24-hours alone, there have been over 1,990 stories published about the incident according to Google News. This is the kind of negative publicity that money cannot buy. And it would suggest that the American business world (or some lone gunman) is finally embracing the rough and tumble tactics that are a hallmark of our elections.

Of course, being a native Michigander, I can’t help but think that a campaign this devious would be beyond the reach of Detroit’s marketers. It is quite frankly just too effective to have been the brainchild of an industry whose ads and messaging strategies have been almost universally horrible for decades. Which is why I’d bet that if it turns out to be a hoax–which I suspect it was–we’ll find out that it was the work of one or two enterprising fellows.

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