Hybrid car 'hums' at pedestrians
Toyota's Prius hybrid is becoming a little less quiet with a new electronic humming device which is the corporation's answer to complaints that pedestrians cannot hear the top-selling car approaching.
The 12,600 yen (£96) speaker system which fits under the bonnet of the third-generation Prius sets off a whirring sound designed to be about the same noise level as a regular car engine so that it isn't annoying, the Japanese firm said.
It goes on sale on August 30 in Japan, and owners pay extra for installation charges. Its use is voluntary.
Overseas sales plans are still undecided but Toyota is studying regulations and considering offering it in the US and other markets, said spokeswoman Monika Saito.
The petrol-electric hybrid can achieve good fuel economy but is also quiet because it uses an electric motor some of the time. That advantage has drawn complaints that pedestrians, blind people in particular, are at greater risk of being hit by the car, especially at low speeds when the electric motor is more likely to be used to power the vehicle.
The US government's car 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 Lexus luxury brand, said it plans versions of the device for other hybrid models, plug-ins, electric vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles.
Pedestrian deaths compared with overall traffic deaths are higher in Japan than in the US and many other nations because of Japan's narrow and criss-crossing crowded streets.
Japan is also a rapidly ageing society, making audible cars critical.
Toyota said the device is based on guidelines addressing the dangers of silent cars issued in January by the Japanese government.