Prius Personal Log  #122

May 26, 2004  -  May 28, 2004

Last Updated: Weds. 6/09/2004

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5-28-2004

Sulfur Discovery.  Shortly after the 2004 Prius made its debut, reports started appearing about strange gas gauge behavior.  Throughout the months that followed, I was a troublemaker.  Disagreeing with other owners wasn't what some wanted to hear.  But I wanted to get to the bottom of the situation.  And since nothing was wrong with mine at all, I was sincerely curious why.  No matter what the circumstances, it worked exactly as it should.  What the heck?  How come I never witnessed any weirdness anywhere.  Why?  That was just too odd.  Today, we apparently found out (or discovered a contributory factor).  It was something I hinted at all along, yet didn't realize I had actually nailed it.  Reports of people in the southern states started flooding in, gas gauge problems on a large scale (1,800 of them).  Traditional vehicles were having the problem too!  It turned out to be so bad that around 500 stations had to stop selling gas entirely!  Somehow, very high-sulfur gas had been delivered to them.  Their refinery had some type of processing failure, allowing gas well beyond the acceptable limit slip through the system undetected... at first.  That amplified sulfur-build up.  It turns out that sulfur build-up interferes with the electronic sensors in the gas tank, causing incorrect operation.  Well, as soon as I heard that, the alarms went off.  That's it!  I've been using low-sulfur gas for years, going out of my way to insure high-sulfur was never used.  The purpose was to prevent sulfur built-up in the catalytic-converter, to insure the catalytic-converter could always cleanse emissions as much as possible.  I didn't have any idea that would be beneficial to the gas sensors too!  Now we finally know.  Yeah!  Thank goodness low-sulfur gas is required nationwide by the end of 2005. 

5-28-2004

Classic Misleading.   I caught a review of the 4 hybrids available in the United States today.  They had a new Insight, Civic-Hybrid, and 2004 Prius available for comparative testing.  The Classic Prius was used though.  So right away, I became concerned.  And sure enough, I had reason too.  The article complained about the rock-hard tires.  The factory-recommend PSI is only 35.  That tire-pressure is the same as with quite a few traditional vehicles.  So that should have been a non-issue.  But the owner was obviously well-informed, knowing higher PSI lowers resistance which increases efficiency.  And those tires allow pressure all the way up to 50 PSI.  To make matters worse, they complained about being forced to constantly correct steering on the highway.  Obviously, the alignment and/or balance of the wheels hadn't been checked.  My Classic Prius certainly didn't have that problem.  I know, I tested it.  I could drive a 1/2 mile without even holding the steering-wheel while driving down the highway without even wandering out of the lane I was in.  It's really frustrating that they either don't bother verifying the integrity of the vehicle before testing... or simply allow tainted data to serve their purpose (making the improvements in the 2004 appear even better).  Whatever the case, it's misleading.  I don't like that.

5-28-2004

Battery-Packs.  Ford will use batteries from Sanyo.  250 in the pack.  They are the "D" rechargeable NiMH type, literally the kind you can buy off-the-shelf (with high-cycle life).  Those "D" batteries are shrink-wrapped together in series of 6, called a module.  Honda uses the "D" type too, 120 of them from Panasonic shrink-wrapped the same way.  Only Toyota uses a propriety design (supplied by Panasonic), which offers tremendous benefit; the energy-density is higher than the ordinary NiMH, the form-factor is smaller, and it has the ability to ignore a single cell if it fails.  There are 28 rectangular modules internally arranged with 6 cells, each independently (non-series) providing the same voltage (but more amperage) as a "D" battery.  Here's a photo of the hybrid battery-pack modules

5-28-2004

Short trips are killers.  The first 5 minutes of my drive to & from work is usually pretty nasty, beyond that is sweet.  If your drive is less than 15 minutes, you will definitely notice lower efficiency.  Eventually, I'll finish the "Owner Expectation" document.  That way, people will be well aware of the warm-up efficiency penalty.  Fortunately, there is no emissions penalty.  And you still get better MPG than a traditional vehicle under the same circumstances anyway.  You'll see a really pleasing improvement when you do take occasional longer trips too.

5-27-2004

Sweet!  Those with conspiracy theories are not going to be happy about this quote I read in an Australian article today: "Toyota plans to double production when a second Prius factory opens in Japan in August."  I'm totally delighted!  The 2004 Prius worldwide production was roughly 130,000 units, a significant boost over the previous year.  Next year, exceeding the quarter-million mark will be praised as a significant endorsement for hybrid technology... especially since RX400h & Highlander-Hybrid will be adding to the annual HSD production count too.  Yeah!

5-27-2004

Bashing.  Candidate "A" has advertisements that clearly says what he plans to do for our country.  Candidate "B" has advertisements that just bash the other guy, completely ignoring the issues themselves.  So as you could imagine, some feel it is acceptable to bash.  Personally, I don't... even though I am quite well informed (lots of reading and listening to public radio) and very strongly support "A".   I feel sharing the facts to awareness is necessary.  But keep the emotional aspect out.  Remain objective.  The relation between politics & hybrids is remarkable.  Some hybrid supporters focus on goals (emissions & efficiency).  Some just bash the other guy (this design is "better", but without including any detail).  Interesting, eh?

5-27-2004

Tank-By-Tank.  The consist measurements I've been taking is how I was able to confirm my gas gauge was accurate.  Same type of gas, same gas pump, same temperature, same filling method, same commute route, close to the same distance, and value matching with the Multi-Display did the trick.  So two days ago when I filled up at a different pump, with all else being the same, I immediately knew the pump had stopped prematurely.  And sure enough, yesterday's dropping of the first and second bar on the gauge balanced out with exactly what I had expected.  In English, 62 MPG calculated couldn't have possibly been correct.  I expected to be able to fit a little over 3/4 of a gallon more it, but didn't try hoping to be able to take advantage of the situation.  So when the gauge changed about 45 miles too soon, it confirmed the amount I had suspected it was off by.  In short, it takes quite a bit of attention to detail just for an owner to track his/her own efficiency on the tank-by-tank scale.  So making comparisons properly is extraordinarily difficult... hence all the confusion.  To keep things simple, just stick to telling people your Location, Lifetime Mileage, and Lifetime MPG.  Don't work about the tank-by-tank stuff.

5-27-2004

"Best in City" Misconception.  It is very, very common for people to believe that hybrids obtains their best MPG in city driving.  But in reality, it is actually "Suburb" driving that is best.  But since the EPA doesn't list that as a category type, some people assume everything non-highway to be "City".  So naturally, some assume everything non-city is "Highway".  Neither is actually true.  In fact, people driving the daily commute on a "Highway" will encounter speeds just like "City" routinely... which means no definition is perfect, but at least we can try to eliminate some of the current confusion.  "Suburb" can be defined as 35-50 MPH driving with only a few occasional stops, quite different from "city" driving of 5-30 MPH with lots of stops.  Is the difference obvious after having pointed it out?

5-27-2004

Bizarre Reporting.  Hybrid articles are really starting to take an interesting twist.  The one I read this morning praised the Ford & Toyota hybrids for being the "full" type, in the middle of the article.  Then at the conclusion, GM was given praise for its efforts to rollout one million hybrids within the next year without any mention of type whatsoever.  We in the know are well aware that many of those shouldn't technically even qualify as hybrids, since all they offer is auto-stop.  The misinformed slamming of EPA estimates continues, of course.  More and more it appears as though they are writing just for the hype, caring more about sensationalism than being objective.  The fact that winter-only data is all they are using doesn't even phase them. Well, the Prius owners sure are going to let them have it in a few months when the new hybrids debut.  The summer months are revealing efficiency averages well above those winter-only values.  Naturally, emissions were totally completely ignored.  That's the primary purpose of Prius, with MPG being secondary, yet not even a mention can be found.  That's sad.  My favorite part of that article those was the fact that it emphasized the "more is better" mindset.  That brain-dead advertising technique is now surfacing in the hybrid world.  Specifically, the Escape was deemed "more practical", but not clear explanation why was included... since consumers apparently only need to know that it is "more".  Anyone, the vague comments will only lead to confusion.  Those currently buying hybrids are typically better informed that then average consumer.  They won't fall for that nonsense, especially when that hybrid design becomes available in a different vehicle type.  Of course, Detroit has been known to burn bridges.

5-26-2004

More Awards.  Prius was awarded MotorTrend's "International Engine of the Year", "Best New Engine of 2004" and "Best 1.4-liter to 1.8-liter".  That's pretty cool, especially considering that international category won by a landslide (51 of 56 votes).  Prius certainly is going down in history as one heck of an attention-getter... as it should be!

5-26-2004

Comparisons.  It continues.  Comparing winter-only performance to year-round is extraordinarily misleading.  Yet, the anti-hybrid folk keep doing it.  The delivery of the first 2004 Prius began in the middle of October, well after summer had ended.  That means only the worse performance data (in general) is available currently.  To be fair, you absolutely must wait until an entire year of data is collected first.  The best MPG season is just starting now.  In fact, the difference for me will be over 10 MPG.  That's a huge difference.

5-26-2004

Oversimplification.  I wonder how often quotes like this will show up now, "a full hybrid usually has a substantially higher powered battery than a mild hybrid".  That use of "battery" is very, very misleading.  There is only a 57.6 volt difference between what used to be thought of as a mild hybrid (Civic-Hybrid, which is now more appropriately labeled as an assist hybrid).  The "substantial" part is actually in reference to the power the motor uses, not the battery-pack.  The inverter in Prius increases the battery-pack voltage from 201.6 to 500 volts.  So the "battery" has little to do with the actual referred to power.

5-26-2004

Replacement.  I can see this getting milked to death.  Arrgh!  All the info so far has stated that hybrid abilities will simply be degraded when the battery-pack grows old (in excess of 150,000 miles), which means lower fuel efficiency.  That's it!  Replacement really doesn't factor in as necessary (based on the initial real-world data now available).  And since even climbing steep hills and normal highway merging doesn't require the battery-pack anyway, what's the actual source of concern?  Even at reduced capacity the battery-pack will still be able to power the burst of power you need for an aggressive acceleration.  Where is there any evidence that replacement will ever be needed?

5-26-2004

Misunderstood Intent.  Did you know that hybrids are not intended for everyone?  Those struggling to get by, living just one paycheck at a time, are not part of the initial target market.  The intended buyers are those with income to spare, the people that are currently purchasing gas-guzzlers.  The misunderstood intent is actually quite common.  People are under the impression that hybrid technology is expected to rapidly REPLACE every single vehicle model produced.  That is not the current objective.  In reality, the goal is to OFFER the hybrid system in every vehicle model by 2010.  By then, hybrids would have been on roads in the US for an entire decade and mass-production would have helped to drive costs down.  So there is nothing to worry about.  Don't freak out over the belief that the automotive market will suddenly change overnight.  Options will simply increase, not change.

5-26-2004

Never!  People are crunching the numbers.  They imply the cost of hybrids won't ever come down.  Arrgh!  Anyone in the computer industry knows all too well that new technology is expensive when it first becomes available, then drops later as its popularity grows.  Are those people oblivious to that fact or intentionally ignoring it to make hybrids seem likely to fail?

5-26-2004

At 79 F.  The warm weather today was great!  I really had fun today.  Stealth was totally effortless.  So of course, MPG soared.

5-26-2004

When?  Figuring out any hybrid related schedule is harder trying to predict than what will happen in Iraq, so don't even bother.  Most all the pros expected the monster-size SUV craze to continue on for a few more years, since they also expected the price of gas to remain cheap for years.  Both of those near-term predictions were wrong.  So naturally, I wouldn't put any faith in the mid-term ones.  All I know is that the deployment of HSD to the others models on vehicles in that Toyota/Lexus offers will continue.  The pace at which that will happen is a mystery.  2 or 3 models per year has been announced, but the volume hasn't.  In the computer industry, it typically takes about 3 years for high-volume production facilities to catch up to unexpected extreme product shortages.  Imagine how ridiculed I would have got had I proclaimed that the new Prius would be named "Car of the Year".  Anyone hearing that outside of the Prius world would have laughed hysterically, declaring me nuts.  But look who's laughing now!  Ha!!!

5-26-2004

Daily Sightings.  It's becoming pretty routine.  At first, I would just randomly spot a Prius somewhere.  But now, I actually pass one on the way to work everyday.  Could that just be a lucky coincidence, or did that person buy a Prius after spotting mine everyday?  I'm sure daily sightings play some type of role in endorsing hybrids... but how much?  The media is sending mixed messages to consumers, so I'm not sure what the heck kind of impression that is making.  Hmm?

 

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