Father of the Toyota Prius Dies in Plane Crash

The American father of the Prius died over the weekend in a light plane crash. David Hermance didn't create the popular hybrid car, but he's credited with making the once poor-selling gas-electric vehicle popular among American drivers.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

A leading engineer who helped develop the Prius automobile died over the weekend in a light plane crash. David Hermance was Toyota's in-house Prius evangelist. He's credited with helping make the once poor-selling gas-electric vehicle the most popular hybrid in America.

MIKE PRESCA, host:

His title was executive engineer for advanced technology. And when Toyota introduced the Prius in 2000, he focused on explaining the arcane fuel-saving technology to consumers and decision-makers.

Mr. BILL REINERT (Advanced Technologies Group, Toyota Motor Corporation): He had just this wonderful ability to make complex subjects understandable, so he was key in doing that.

PRESCA: Bill Reinert is a fellow engineer at Toyota and long-time friend and colleague of David Hermance. Reinert says Hermance would tell anyone who would listen that the hybrid's fuel efficiency could mean the Unite States would be less dependent on foreign oil. And as concerns about global warming grew over the last few years, he promoted hybrids as a way of reducing greenhouse gases.

BRAND: Hermance spent his working life in the auto industry. As an engineer at GM, he focused on developing vehicle emission systems for conventional engines. He joined Toyota in 1991. Along with introducing Americans to Toyota's hybrid cars, Hermance was also instrumental in prodding the Japanese car company to upgrade the original Prius model. His goal was not only a car that was more fuel-efficient; he believed that in order to attract American buyers, the car had to be peppy and fun to drive too.

PRESCA: Hermance was right. The second generation of Prius was a big hit. In the U.S., it now outsells entire manufacturers, such as Volvo and Audi.

Along with his passion for fuel-efficient vehicles, David Hermance was also an avid pilot who loved to do acrobatics in small experimental planes.

BRAND: He was flying one such plane on Saturday afternoon over the ocean, not far from his home in Huntington Beach, California. One witness told the Los Angeles Times that his plane failed to come out of a loop and that it crashed into the water.

Again, here is his friend and colleague, Bill Reinert.

Mr. REINERT: He and I always had an ongoing competition to see who could get the best mileage out of their Prius, because we have a similar drive into work. And he'd always beat me by two or three miles to the gallon. And on the way into work today, I was getting 56 miles a gallon, and I just wanted to call him and brag. And that's what I remember. That's the kind of guy he was.

PRESCA: David Hermance is survived by a son, a wife, and a daughter. He was 59 years old.

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