"Heidi, The Hybrid From Hell!"
by Gregg James

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but, then again, so did buying a Winnemucka motor home on my Wiza card. Faux pas.

Although I read about them as a teen, and saw prototypes at an auto show a few years back, it wasn't until an off-beat TV commercial caught my eye that I sat up and took notice of hybrid cars. A funky-looking sedan, driving through the forest, is suddenly surrounded by fuzzy little woodland creatures and birds-on-wing. 

Rather than attack the driver as we are expecting (and hoping...), they begin to snuggle and cuddle and lick the car in appreciation of saving their humble little habitats. A few even appear to be mating with it as the velvet-voiced announcer exclaims: "The Promise of a greener tomorrow." Gee, all that fuzzy little woodland creatures and birds-on-wing ever did to my car was pee on the tires and poop on the hood. 

Not only would owning a Promise help save the planet, but it would sure save a lot on car washing.

Promise, the revolutionary new gasoline/electric-powered vehicle, was manufactured by Toywithya Motor Company. Its pug-nosed 'face' bore an uncanny resemblance to my first-grade teacher, Sister Mary Obnoxious, at Our Lady Of Perpetual Homework Grammar School. (Note: Sister Mary's trademarked twelve-inch combination stainless steel ruler & knuckle-whacker was optional equipment...) 

Promise's interior featured a whiz-bang electronic dashboard that would be the envy of any video game arcade. Flashing icons of smiling trees, shrinking oil barrels, and dancing dollar signs showed exactly how much you were saving with every mile traveled. Promise came in several interesting paint schemes, including Luscious Lilac Luminescence, a shimmering pinkish-purple. No chance of successfully using that color for a getaway car. 

Best of all, while everyone else was destroying the environment by cruising around in their enormous 
Chubby Subdivision and Fjord Excavation Sport Utility Vehicles, the Promise was a Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Low Emissions Vehicle, meaning it practically vacuumed harmful pollutants from the atmosphere as you drove. 

But Promise wasn't the only hybrid to hit the market. Its main competitor was a snappy hatchback called the Foresight, built by Hwanda (silent "h"...). Hwanda's advertising department coined the catchy little jingle: "Have Foresight to save our future." It reportedly achieved an EPA rating of a gazillion miles-per-gallon and could go across country and back on a teaspoon of gas. Decisions, decisions.

After test-driving both, I decided on the Promise, then headed back to my local Toywithya dealership to plunk down a deposit. According to the salesman, I had a better chance of receiving my first Social Security check, some 23 years into the future, than having the car arrive during my lifetime, as there was somewhat of a waiting list. 

Of course, once I paid an extra five thousand dollars for something called 'MVA' (i.e., Market Value Adjustment...), I was allowed to proceed to the head of the line and buy their 'demo' model, which just so happen to be in Luscious Lilac Luminescence. "This must be my lucky day!" I exclaimed. Little did I know...

It was the hottest September afternoon on record when I picked up Heidi Hybrid. Switching on the climate control only produced a scorching breeze from 'her' vents. This was not good. Perhaps that, along with the fact that "Dueling Banjos: Theme From Deliverance" was playing on the radio, should have been a subtle hint of the squealing to come. 

Horror stories? Let's put it this way: if Promise wrote the book on horror stories, I'd be driving Stephen King. The air-conditioner compressor stopped compressing, the power steering rack stopped steering, the computer chip stopped computing, the water pump stopped pumping, the inverter stopped inverting, and the special one-of-a-kind tires began growing balder than a Telly Savalas look-alike convention. Heidi seemed to spend more time dangling from the back of a tow truck than she did sitting in my driveway. But my banjo was about to be 'plucked' again.

What started out as an "Oops-the-guy-in-front-of-me-stopped-faster-than-I-did" fender-bender, turned into 
a major production number worthy of Buzby Berkley, even though no headlights shattered, no fenders 
buckled, no airbags deployed, and no fluids leaked. 

Only Heidi's hood was dented, 'her' rubber bumper cover fell off, and air-conditioner condenser was slightly kinked. However, what was supposed to only take two weeks and cost three grand to fix, actually took six months and skyrocketed to eight thousand dollars, because Toywithya had no spare parts on hand. 

I literally needed to buy another car (a Mitzigaynor Montage coupe...) for its "No payments forever!" promotion in order to keep from going bankrupt on the twenty dollar-per-day car rental fees, and Heidi's six hundred dollar monthly loan payments.

I turned to the Internet for advice, and thought I found it via the YeeHaw! ChatGroup for Promise owners. 
Unfortunately, other members quickly started to hurl electronic e-stones at me for posing blasphemous questions about the reliability of their water-walking hybrids. 

Since Heidi seemed too unpredictable to be taken anywhere without first arranging for alternate transportation home, I decided to pursue the Lemon Law. But first, I was required to contact Toywithya's Customer Care(less) Center in Rancho Cucamonga. 

There were innumerable unreturned phone calls placed and a flurry of faxes back and forth, but that's about all. After being promised some 'compensation' might be in order for my time and trouble, I was later told that, in no uncertain terms, I had about as much chance of recouping my losses as Ralph Nader did of winning the Miss America pageant. 

The arbitration paperwork was submitted, followed by an eternal wait.

My hearing day arrived in April, as did Toywithya's 'independent' arbitrator, Ms. D'Uwannadance, and 
the factory representative, Mr. Badhairplugs, who immediately disputed the fact that Heidi had been out-of-service for half a year. "Our records show your vehicle was only in our shop a mere twelve days for 
warranty work." 

Ah, those magic words: warranty work. Regardless of how long it took to get parts for non-warranty work, like the infamous 'fender-bender' (and other fun things such as 'goodwill gestures', 'service bulletins' or 'supplemental updates', to name a few...), it did not count. And what about those seven weeks it took to get the mythical set of low-rolling-(and-wear-out)-resistance tires? "

Since they are made by Poundstone Rubber Company and not us, we cannot be held liable for any delays." (Not even the fact that there were no other vendors chosen to provide ample supplies?) Mr. Badhairplugs then reiterated, "This is a 'niche' vehicle, produced in limited numbers, which is why parts are often hard to come by." 

I fervently protested, "Twenty thousand Promises a year is not exactly a limited number, and one 
hundred thousand already on the road worldwide does not exactly constitute a 'niche'. If you can't 
supply parts as simple as tires in a timely fashion, shouldn't there be some kind of disclaimer in your brochure stating that?" 

Ms. D'Uwannadance began scribbling notes at breakneck speed. I made my best Jimmy Stewart 
closing argument, calmly declaring, "While I still believe in hybrid technology, I no longer believe in Toywithya and their total disregard for customers. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this car to 
anybody who may be interested in purchasing one." 

When I again confirmed that I wanted them to either buy Heidi back or reimburse me for my expenses, the arbitrator stated she would make her decision within ten days, and notify both parties by mail. 

On the tenth day the long-awaited answer arrived, and even though I got a massive paper cut opening 
the envelope, I felt hopeful that all my research, diligence and perseverance would finally pay off. In 
two short sentences came the verdict: "Vehicle performs as expected. Claim denied."

While I was hoping to score some points by hugging a few trees, winning friends and influencing people, 
and possibly even getting 'lucky' every now and then (hey, there's nothing sexier than a middle-aged guy 
driving a Luscious Lilac Luminescent hybrid, right?), all that really ever happened is I wound up buying 
The Emperor's New Car. "The Promise of a greener tomorrow?" Yeah, but only if that 'green' is what 
came out of my wallet. Queue up them banjos, boys...I'm buying an SUV!

2001 Toywithya "Promise" Arbitration
April 4, 2002
Owner: Gregg James usma1802@att.net 

The Reason For This Arbitration Is Twofold: 
*to show that Toywithya manufactured a vehicle plagued by serious defects
*to show Toywithya is negligent of long term delays in providing replacement parts

Disclaimer: I believe that Toywithya of Wasteport is in no way responsible for any wrongdoing, negligence, or delays. The fault lies solely with the manufacturer of the vehicle in question.

Warranty-Related Problems:
09/13/00 - Air conditioning system failure 
09/22/00 - Power steering system recalled (the day after delivery)
10/12/01 - Catastrophic tire failure / ECU failure / starting battery failure
12/05/01 - Inverter water pump failure
02/18/02 - Hybrid system inverter failure
03/25/02 - Starting battery failure

Parts Replaced Under Warranty by Toywithya:
Air conditioner "O" ring seal
Entire power steering rack & electric assist motor
4 Poundstone "Potentate" HD tires
Starting battery
Inverter water pump
Inverter system

Total Days I Have Been Left Without The Car: 199

10/14 - 10/25/01 - Power steering recall & oil pan puncture (non-warranty related*)
06/12 - 10/12/01 - "Fender bender" (non-warranty related**)
10/12 - 12/05/01 - Tire, ECU, & starting battery replacement
12/05 - 12/11/01 - Inverter water pump replacement
02/18 - 02/22/02 - Hybrid system inverter replacement
(*oil pan & crankcase parts delayed; **clamp, bracket, A/C hose parts delayed)

Out-Of-Pocket Costs Incurred While Car Not In Service:

"Promise" loan (Choice Bank): $549 x 6 months = $3,294
"Promise" town taxes: 6 months = $286
"Promise insurance ("United Motors Liability Corp"): 6.6 months = $689
"Entrepeneur" Rent-A-Car: (06/12 - 08/30/01) = $1,360
2001 Mitzigaynor "Montage" tax & tags: (08/30/01) = $2,000
Photocopies / faxing / postage = $22
(TOTAL) $7,651


Contact List

Mid-11/01: Department of Consumer Protection - "Lemon Law" paperwork requested

01/03/02: Toywithya Customer Assistance Center (Karl, 12:41pm EST) - Complained about 6 months of delays in getting parts. Promised "callback within 72 hours..." (NONE ever came...)

01/11/02: Toywithya Customer Assistance Center (Dan Becker, 3:02pm EST) - "Local reps assigned to 
case on 01/04 are in New Hampshire until Monday 01/15..."

01/15/02: Toywithya Customer Assistance Center (Mack, 3:53pm EST) - "Your case # is 123456789..."

01/16/02: Toywithya Customer Assistance Center (Sharyn, 4:25pm EST) - "BE PATIENT!"

01/16/02: (FIRST incoming call) Regional Supply Administrator (Melinda Flipper, 6:46pm EST) - "Will call back 01/17/02 (next day) before 5:00pm..." (NO call came...)

01/25/02: photocopied & faxed (5:45pm EST) ALL records & bills to Melinda Flipper for review; "...with possibility of some compensation for your 'inconvenience'..."

02/06/02: (incoming call) Melinda Flipper - "Supervisor(s) gave a 'no go' on any monies refunded, and Toywithya won't repurchase your vehicle as requested. Proceed with arbitration..."

02/06/02: Toywithya Customer Assistance Center (Craig, 6:31pm EST) - requested arbitration paperwork, then told "...it takes up to 40 days from date of submission for hearing to take place. New case # is 987654321..."

02/18/02: Hybrid inverter fails; car towed to dealership. Left Melinda Flipper message about problem in her voice mail. Toywithya Customer Assistance Center is closed for the President's Day holiday.

02/20/02: Toywithya Customer Assistance Center (Alan, 12:48pm EST) - requested that he add newest problem to notes in both case files

02/21/02: Toywithya Customer Assistance Center (Margie, 4:16pm EST) - requested that she correct original misdiagnosis in notes from (2nd) bad water pump to actual inverter failed itself

02/26/02: Arbitration paperwork submitted to United Center for Dispute Settlement in Oklahoma

02/30 - 03/30/02 Received 5 letters and several follow-up callbacks concerning questions from United Center for Dispute Settlement Case Administrator (Teri Cantor). Confirm a tentative 04/04/02 hearing with arbitrator Nina D'Uwannadance

03/25/02: Starting battery fails; Toywithya "Promise" Roadside Assistance contacted (Luigi, 8:16pm EST); "Downtown Towing" jump-starts car. Left Melinda Flipper message about problem in her voice mail...


Author's postscript:

Although I had threatened to buy a wretched SUV, I decided to chalk things up to experience, bite the bullet, and take the plunge... I got rid of "Heidi-From-HELL!" and bought "Farrah" Foresight (my, how "Charlie's Angels" can we get?), the cute little 2-seat hybrid coupe.

'She's' absolutely wonderful!

I had the opportunity to drive 'her' out and back to an Army buddy's wedding in Ohio the day I picked 'her' up last week, and couldn't be more pleased!

Best of all, the dealer discounted 'her' list price by $2,000, I saved $1,200 with the state sales tax exemption for cars achieving 50+mpg, I can deduct another $2,000 from my IRS 1040 for owning a "clean / alternate fuel vehicle", and the 2% reduction in interest rates will lower my monthly payments by about $50, or about another $3,000 over the course of the 5-year loan.

My faith in humanity and hybrid technology has finally been restored!

Gregg James 2002