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Buyer interest in Prius grows. Say what?

by Peter Valdes-Dapena, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- By now, you've heard that some 2010 Toyota Priuses have a braking problem blamed for several crashes. That sounds scary, but to some it sounds like a deal.

A recent analysis of online car shopping shows that more people are seriously looking at a Toyota Prius than before the problematic brake news was uncovered.

2010 Toyota Prius

"When a car or automaker receives bad press, people sense an opportunity to pick up a bargain," noted Edmunds.com CEO Jeremy Anwyl. "We saw the same reaction from consumers when Chrysler and General Motors declared bankruptcy last year."

These shoppers may not actually want to buy a car with a potentially hazardous defect, of course. Shortly after the problem came to light, Toyota revealed that it had instituted a "running fix" on the Prius production line in Japan, so cars produced beginning some time in January don't have the problem.

Besides that, shoppers may be putting their faith in an eventual recall, too, said Edmunds.com spokeswoman Jeannine Fallon.

"There's still trust the automaker will have it taken care of if there is a problem," she said.

In the week leading up to the first news reports of an apparent problem, about 7.4% of those researching compact cars were considering a Prius. As of Thursday, after the news broke, 8.7% did.

Among those who seemed seriously ready to buy a compact car, 10.1% were looking hard at the Prius before the news. By Thursday, 11.2% were.

Some Prius owners complained that the brakes hesitated to work when traveling over rough or potholed roads.

Edmunds.com's data trackers gauge purchase intent by noting a user's on-line behavior. Certain behaviors, like pricing research, has a strong correlation to actual intent to purchase a car, Edmunds.com analysts have found.

It was revealed late Tuesday that Prius owners had lodged more than 100 complaints of a problem in which the car's brakes briefly hesitated to work on bumpy or potholed roads. As of Wednesday, four crashes had been alleged as a result of the problem. To top of page

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