Prius Personal Log  #136

July 28, 2004  -  July 31, 2004

Last Updated: Sun. 9/05/2004

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7-31-2004

Naked Driving.  The "will it keep me warm enough" question is starting to make me crazy.  I�m tired of answering that same question all the time.  The misconception about heat availability is rather annoying.  Obviously, it isn't a problem.  Just look at how many of us in the north own a Prius now.  So to combat this unfortunate attitude on my part, I�ve come up with a silly way to answer by telling them "You can drive totally naked in the car in the dead of winter and still be warm".  In other words, heat is a non-issue.  The engine runs just like it does in a traditional vehicle to generate the same heat the same way, the only difference is it is more efficient at creating & retaining it.  But I do really need to add this disclaimer:  Rather than being totally naked, you really should wear a seatbelt.  (I know... bad pun.)

7-31-2004

Driving the Van.  My parents bought a full-size conversion-van back in 1989.  They are obviously using it for what it was designed, hauling lots of people and very large cargo.  After all those years, the mileage is only at 86,500 miles.  (Imagine if everyone used vehicles as it was intended for... no more commuting to the office in a monster-size SUV on paved roads without any passengers or payload, just a cup of coffee and a driver.)  I've driven that van quite a bit.  We went on a family driving vacation out west.  We have hauled quite a few large loads of household stuff inside.  Heck, I have even carried 4x8 foot sheets off insulation and been able to shut the doors complete.  It's quite practical.  In fact, even my grandfather's electric wheelchair can fit in the middle without interfering with any of the back or front seats.  Anywho, I drove it today to give a tour to some family from out-of-state.  There were 7 of us, all very comfortable inside.  The nonsense about SUVs being bigger doesn't work when you talk to any of us.  We know for a fact the van is bigger.  In fact, it is taller too.  I could see above virtually all of the SUVs we encountered along the way.  I'll never understand the appeal of being up that high, even with the van which has a lower center-of-gravity than average for it's size.  Of course, I don't like sitting extremely lower either.  The "just above the headlights, so you don't get blinded at night, height of Prius is what I prefer.  Whatever the case, driving that van reminds me of how different various vehicles can be.  It also taught me how to start a traditional vehicle again.  Even though I figured out how to use a key (no button on the dashboard like Prius), I didn't turn it correctly.  I gave it a quick twist & release like I used to with the 2001 Prius.  That just resulted in non-amused grins from the passengers.  I finally figured out that you have to twist & hold to start a primitive vehicle like that.  That goodness hybrids are influencing many aspects of appeal.  The electronic interface conveniences will become popular and the size & power obsession will subside in favor of the features "full" hybrids offer.  Yeah!

7-31-2004

Better Late, Than Never.  I wonder how many times I'm going to have to use that response.  Ford's hybrid design isn't as well polished as Toyota's yet.  Having a 7 year lead, obviously what we now find in Prius is clearly going to be more refined than the Escape.  Nonetheless, owners of that hybrid Escape will be delighted with what they get at first.  And that pledge Ford made 5 years ago about their fleet MPG being improved 25 percent by 2005 is finally going to make some progress.  (Though, it is somewhere around 28 percent that they owe us now.)  I'm quite curious how the market in general will respond when they do finally begin to understand the differences, especially to whom someone like me is already very aware of.  It puts the mild hybrid design in a very awkward position too.  I'm not sure what the heck the response will be about them.  As for the automakers, clever marketing won't work with any type of hybrid.  The current market of buyers are far too well informed (in part due to the lengthy delivery wait) to be surprised by their purchase.  They figure out the behavior, well beyond just the fundamentals, before taking possession.  That will eventually change though, as supply catches up with demand.  Hmm.  Anywho, I'm sticking with "better late, than never" for now.  Perhaps eventually it will turn into a good, old-fashion, harmless feud... you know, where the various products exhibit very pleasing results and the clash is actually just owners flaunting their loyalty.

7-31-2004

Upgraded Tires:  2000 Miles  Living in Minnesota and being a Prius pioneer, I got asked about winter driving constantly.  Answering the hybrid system responses to snow & ice was easy.  Recommending snow tires for those with special needs (steep driveways, minimal plowed roads, etc.) wasn't, since I didn't require them.  And of course, with all the experience I had hunting for a better alternate for the classic, it was just a given that I'd do the same for the 2004.  However, I had no clue it would happen so soon.  But unintentionally running over the blade of a tool accelerated those plans.  Now I'm 2,000 miles into gathering data of what appear to be a fantastic high-traction tire suggestion.  The increased footing on dry & wet roads is pretty impressive.  The car can corner pretty darn tight now (though I don't encourage driving aggressively like that).  It's rather obvious why too.  When the tires are turned, it makes the long-angled tread-trench for directing water & snow hit the road with a perpendicular grip... allowing it to grab really hard.  I still won't know about the snow traction for awhile, but the literature clearly states it should be improved.  The MPG penalty, after break-in is complete, appears to be settling at 1.5 MPG... which I consider that well worth it.

7-30-2004

It's coming.  Some automakers will begin to feel the threat of hybrids, forcing them to finally acknowledge that people want more than just gas-guzzlers.  That rush to market will likely result is some disappointing designs, ones that could give the hybrid name a black eye.  Countering that potential negative image wave is a secondary motive of my website and upgrading to the 2004.  With such an overwhelming amount of data, it will make simply dismissing the success of Prius difficult.  Plus, the website sends a lot of reporters my way.  (I've been interviewed by 3 over the last 2 weeks!)  But by far, the fact that those just generally curious can rapidly find hybrid information there is the sweetest part.  And yup, I have many of owners to thank for that.  They supply that initial spark of interest, then reel them in afterward on the discussion groups when the curious desire (more like crave) personal experience feedback from owners.  (I guess that makes me the middleman.  Hmm.)  We are all doing pretty well to counter the latest wave of "backlash" effect.  Those newbies without electrical & mechanical backgrounds are now asking some rather bizarre questions, ones that make you scratch your head wondering how they came across information so grossly incorrect.  It's a struggle still, but thankfully no where near as difficult as it was 4 years ago.  And by the way, there's naturally a tie into politics (since that has become a rather hot topic lately, go Kerry!)  I tell people to concentrate on real-world actions, not words we hear in various speeches and read in vague reports.  What we actually witness happen do is far more convincing than anything someone can claim about another solution without any data to support it.  Prius has proven a practical technological choice... will the competitions designs?

7-30-2004

No everyone wants a hybrid.  I'm really growing sick of those surveys.  That lack of (apparent) desire is a misconception.  In reality, a very large percentage of the population actually do want a hybrid.  They simply don't understand that the attributes they desire can be delivered by hybrid technology.  So the negative response is due to being asked the wrong question.  It is commonly implied that a "hybrid" is a small vehicle that puts all emphasis on achieving maximum MPG... which is just plain not true.  HSD can be configured in a very wide variety of ways, to fulfill a wide variety of power, speed, efficiency, and emission requirements.  Emphasis can be placed on whatever factor is desired, or the system can be setup to provide a balance of several factors.  Prius is just one possible configuration.  Unfortunately, many people don't know that and get the impression that is the only way a hybrid can be.  To be objective, you must not ask a yes or no question.  Instead, it should be quantitative.  Ask "how much" the person would like to increase efficiency, or decrease emissions, or increase torque, or decrease acceleration time, or a combination of those improvements.  Then point out that a "hybrid" can deliver that.

7-30-2004

Electric Functionality.  The fact that even the slightest decline in the road will result in electricity while driving baffles most people.  (They are under the impression that is only possible when you step on the brakes.)  We're talking changes it pitch so subtle you wouldn't normally even notice them.  Fortunately, the Multi-Display makes it very easy to see; the sudden +30 MPG jump in efficiency is a rather blatant clue.  So owners catch on quickly.  Skeptics reading about Prius on paper don't though.  Their arguments are based on fundamentals that simply don't apply to this design, only those from mild hybrids (with a mechanical CVT, rather than electric) and the antiqued battery-only vehicles.  I wish I had a decent method available for explaining to people how the carriers of the PSD (Power Split Device, aka: Planetary-CVT) can rapidly alter the flow of electricity without anything else happening.  Those carriers keep right on spinning the same way they were a fraction of a second earlier, but now the system is capturing electricity rather than consuming it.  Then a second later, it switches back to consuming.  Then a second after that, it the system is both capturing & consuming at the same time.  Then a second later, all electrical activity halts entirely.  Then a second later, it starts consuming again.  And of course, there is absolutely no consistency between the switching of modes and the timing of those switches.  It is extraordinarily dynamic, taking a wide variety of factors into account... so many that I wonder how the other automakers will be able to get their software to work as well as Toyota's quick enough to be able to compete on the same level.  The concept model of Prius came out in 1995.  That's a rather significant lead.  Every tiny programming tweak makes a difference, and Toyota has had a heck of a lot of time to make revisions.  Several MPG can easily be lost by the system not being capable of both detecting and responding to certain criteria fast enough.  Not choosing the right engine size, motor size, battery-pack size, carrier size, peak RPM, combined RPM, peak voltage, etc. have an effect on efficiency too.  Taking all that into account, you realize so many efficiency opportunities could be missed that the MPG may be no better than a traditional vehicle.  And that doesn't even take into account the fact that Toyota also went to great lengths to make sure the battery-pack isn't ever stressed, to always maintain a moderate charge-level... since deep-discharging shortens the life of a battery.  Needless to say, the system is far more "complex" than most people realize.  But then again, all that complexity is in the electronics... a fundamental concept they have yet to grasp.  The hardware itself is actually extraordinarily simple.  Very little happens physically to achieve the remarkable MPG.

7-29-2004

A little insight.  Those that comment against hybrids have contributed a little insight (no pun intended) into why lately.  At first, I figured it was mostly based on the fear-of-change and those that feel they will lose money (or a job) as the result of hybrids becoming successful.  It turns out, another really big factor is that lack of understanding how they work.  Those that have no engineering background whatsoever are trying figure out how the HSD system works.  It impresses me how hard they try, but WHOA! the conclusions they come to are way off base.  No wonder they are concerned about a future filled with hybrids.  If I shared those same misunderstandings, I would too.  Those beliefs make the standard misconceptions pale in comparison.  I have no clue how to help clear up those misunderstandings either, especially since at that point (having exerted so much effort) they have already made up their mind.  Perhaps, just seeing more and more Prius on the road, the may finally seek a credible source of information and discover how HSD really works.

7-28-2004

Touchless Unlocking.  Another case of not understanding the full potential of SE/SS has surfaced.  This owner was unaware that just passing your hand inside the handle sensing area is all that's actually needed to unlock the door.  It sees your hand, then scans for the fob in your pocket or purse.  No physical contact is required.  But if your hand motions are just right, you may not discover that for a long time.  In this case, the act of pushing the lock button and reaching for the handle was perceived as being the correct sequence... never realizing that touching the button was totally unnecessary.  I wonder how we can better spread the word about this convenience.  Hmm?  I take advantage of it so much that someday I'll try it on a non-SE/SS vehicle and be confused for a moment why the door won't automatically unlock.  Oh well.  You can't win them all.

7-28-2004

Spotted 8 Today!  That's a new personal record for daily Prius sightings.  Sweet!

7-28-2004

Political Comments.  I get asked a lot about my endorsement.  So it should take a moment to explain it, especially since it was his environmental support that initially caught my attention...  About a year and a half ago, John Kerry showed up on my radar as a strong supporter of the need to reduce emissions & consumption.  And following that has been a steady flow of information (NPR, C-Span, Daily Grist, etc.) confirming those beliefs.  He focuses on the goals, not the technologies.  He wants to provide flexibility for innovation.  I commend that.  CARB proved to everyone that requiring a very, very narrow development path (too specific of a technology requirement) to be delivered was a bad idea.  (And unfortunately, you-know-who repeated exactly that, falling into the identical doomed-to-fail trap with his endorsement for fuel-cells.)  Anywho, I have no doubt that Prius will be identified later as a reason to take advantage of the money he is pledging to help our domestic automakers (by the way, Toyota builds vehicles here in the US) achieve that goal to reduce emissions & consumption.  I'm all for that approach.  Set a performance requirement, then let the engineers indulge.  Personally, the goal I would like us to all strive for is a minimum of a SULEV emission rating and a minimum of a 75% increase in efficiency (both of which based on class-average for each particular vehicle type).  He's telling us what needs to be achieved, not how it must be done.  I really like that.  It is a sensible way of addressing a very serious need in a timely fashion.

 

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