Lean Guy Drove a Prius For Two Years And…

    … I wasn't impressed in the least. In my previous role as a consultant, I was given a company vehicle to use, even though it was basically for commuting to a local client, the airport, and occasional personal use.
    I had the Prius just over two years and put about 12,000 miles on it. The driving experience was OK (it was peppy enough, I suppose) and it did get 41 MPG. But, aside from being ugly (which is a matter of taste), I was left with some pretty poor impressions of Toyota quality.
    This is hard to stomach to a “Lean guy” who preaches the gospel that the Toyota Production System leads to better quality.
    My impression was that, to keep the total price of the Prius low (since price is driven by the market, as Toyota teaches), they had to “get cheap” with components that we're part of the expensive hybrid drive system. Toyota couldn't just add cost (hybrid drive) and then try to pass that cost along in “cost plus” pricing. Toyota customers wouldn't buy the Prius at a significantly higher price (or at least not enough, Toyota must have figured).
    The interior just felt cheap… the components, materials, and construction.
    I wore a hold in the carpeted floor mat and I don't have particularly pointy heels… I drive with my heel in the same position, rotating my foot over to the accelerator. I have a Saab with 40,000 miles and the carpeted floor mat is just fine. The Toyota mat is pictured below:
    OK, but a floor mat could be replaced easily (and probably under warranty). The driver's seat cloth was pretty worn and cruddy looking, if that is conveyed in the picture:

    Fumbling with a GPS unit that I was unsticking from the windshield, it fell and, in my fumbling, I struck the clock on the dashboard. It wasn't that hard of a hit, but it must have been in just the right spot to knock the clock into the dash. On it's own, I'd say that was just an unlucky blow, but it got me thinking that maybe Toyota had used cheap fasteners or clips to hold the clock in place.

    Has anyone else had a similar experience with the the Prius? For many people, the Prius might be their first Toyota. This is supposed to represent Toyota quality? The company that brought us Lexus?

    Maybe people are so happy to drive a hybrid car and feel so good about that, so the customers/drivers are willing to forgive and overlook other flaws and cheapness? Is Toyota giving the market the quality they desire at their price they are willing to pay?
    I wouldn't spend my own money on a Prius after my experience. What do you think?

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. I think this is exactly the reason Toyota made serious changes in top management. The Toyota leadership have very publicly acknowledged the company has recently lost it's vision and pursued sales at the expense of quality.

    2. I drive a Prius since three years (and bought it when it was two years old) with now 115.00km (about 70.000 miles) on the meter. I have the opposite experience: excellent quality, much less problems then my former car.

      For the few problems that were there, most of theme I wouldn't have noticed (part of the breaks needed to be replaced and a part of the cooling system), but the dealer noticed them before I did and fixed them under warranty.

      For the rest, I like the interior feel and touch.

      I do live in the Netherlands, but I was told that al Prius (Prii?) come from Japan, so it should be the same quality, right?


    3. I have rubber mats, so holes are not a problem. But the upper backside of the rear seats have ugly marks after I laid them down and loaded long things.

      However, the worst thing is the user experience of the car stereo. There is a folder list for CD's or mp3 CD's, however that feature is locked and dimmed out while the car is moving.

      I don't know of Toyota or the general driver, but I usually want to operate the stereo while I am driving. I certainly don't want to stop everytime I'd like to browse the folder list.

      The ironic part is that all feedback I have got, via forums or Toyota, is that this feature is by design. It's designed that way for security reasons.

      How strange that I can browse / navigate my radio stations in exactly the same fashion while driving.

      And that the workarounds I have to apply to change songs take longer time and require more consentation and efforts.

      My next car will also be a hybrid, unless my needs have changed. I hope that stereo thing has been fixed by then.

    4. Mark,
      My Matrix has the same hole in the driver's side floor mat.
      It's not a Prius specific cost reduction.
      I must confess, I considered this a result of my habits more than Toyota quality, but the car is only ~3 years old, and I tend to switch out for rubber floor mats in the winter, so it's not a good sign.

    5. We are a two Prius family. I drive a 2002 (1st gen) with 185,000 miles. My wife drives a 2007 (2nd gen) which now has about 50,000 miles on it. We love them.

      I consider the Prius a great VALUE. To wit: My wife and I encouraged her sister to buy a Prius. Her sister traded in a Lexus. Upon experiencing the Prius she noted wryly, "it's not a Lexus." No it is not, but it is a terrific value (and good for the environment if that is a decision factor for you). By the way, the sister now owns three Prii / Priuses.

      We had to replace the catalytic converter on the 2002–big expense–but otherwise only normal maintenance. The 2007 has been trouble free.

      Oh, and Mark, sounds like your driving style will be well suited to Boston. When my wife drives, she gets about 41 mpg. When I drive, I get 48 mpg. 2002 or 2007 doesn't matter–driving style does!

    6. Dale – drive in Boston?? I haven't driven any car in over a month… didn't bring a car with us, we're walking and taking the T.

    7. Interesting comments about the radio.

      I drove a Camry for work while traveling last year. I hated that they didn't have a permanent "hot" plug to charge my cell phone.

      When I contacted Toyota, they claimed it was a safety issue to have permanent hot plugs. I responded with my dissatisfaction and challenged them to either think more of their customer in the future or identify past history with "hot plug-caused car fires".

      I never heard a response from that, but it has made me wonder about the rumors (I, too heard) about customer/quality sacrificed for cost/sales dollars…


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