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Death of Prius engineer likely won't affect Toyota's hybrid

Hermance, 59, was executive engineer for advanced technology vehicles at Toyota Technical Center in Gardena. He had joined the center in 1991 as senior manager in engine evaluation.

The Huntington Beach resident and father of two grown children was dubbed the "American father of the Prius" for explaining and promoting the low-emission hybrid's technology in the U.S. market.

Toyota's high-mileage Prius is the best-selling hybrid vehicle in the U.S.

Toyota has not picked a replacement for Hermance, said Toyota spokesman Mike Michels, who works at Torrance-based Toyota Toyota Motor Sales USA, the Japanese company's U.S. sales and marketing arm.

"The job was really tailored around his unique talents," Michels said. "There certainly is a need to fill his role. But they have not determined who and how they would do it."

In addition to his technical engineering work, Hermance was a prominent Toyota spokesman for hybrid and other alternative-fuel technologies, often speaking with journalists, environmentalists and government legislators and regulators.

"From an engineering and development standpoint, thousands of engineers work on these, both here and in Japan. So his loss won't really delay or impact our current or future models," Michels said.

"Where we will feel it more is in the communication side with constituencies like legislators, regulators, environmentalists, the auto industry. He was really excellent at maintaining relationships with all of them."

Hermance was able to "explain very complicated matters in a way people could understand," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Although Hermance's loss represents a blow to Toyota, "it's not something you can't overcome," Cole said.

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Death of Prius engineer likely won't affect Toyota's hybrid
Japanese Import Car, New & Used Car, 2007