It's not a crime to be the bankrupt operator of an swingers' Web site facing the prospect of taking the bus when the lease on your runaway Prius ends in a few months. But in the court of Web-driven public opinion, it doesn't look good. And that's great news for Toyota.
Leaked reports about the investigation into James Sikes' runaway Prius in San Diego indicate the uncontrolled acceleration he described can't be replicated, and that the degree of wear on the car's brakes doesn't look at all like what you'd expect if he did in fact stand on them for miles trying to restrain a wildly charging Prius (such as that is).
Reports of unintended acceleration are typically traced back to driver error. And while the Toyotas involved in this fiasco are sold globally, most claims of problems and all claims of fatalities come from the U.S. Doesn't mean Toyota's blameless--not does it mean that about America's trial lawyers, either.
To my nose, this one stunk the minute it broke and that's a gift to Toyota. The U.S. media machine loves nothing more than to build up a hero (awe-struck coverage of Toyota's rise to No. 1), then tear it down, then raise it up again as a maligned hero that endured (what else explains Michael Vick finding employment outside of a parking lot?) If the San Diego Prius turns out to be a bogus story, it will almost certainly be the start of the "maligned hero" phase that restores the benefit of the doubt to the carmaker and props up a ladder it can climb back to unanimous public esteem.
I just hope that doesn't blot out the truth about what, if anything, is really going on with their cars.