Prius Personal Log  #142

August 26, 2004  -  August 31, 2004

Last Updated: Sun. 9/05/2004

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8-31-2004

"Will make them unsafe."  That's what President Bush claimed today when arguing against Senator Kerry's efforts to raise efficiency standards.  Now I'm really upset!  He's playing off of the fear created back in the 80's when minor MPG increases were required.  Those efficiency improvements were so minor that simply reducing the size & weight of the vehicle a little would achieve the desired MPG.  And it did.  Unfortunately, the side-effect was reduced accident protection.  That really did make the vehicles unsafe... back then.  Nowadays, that is clearly not true.  The 2004 Prius rated with 4 stars all around for impact by the NHTSA, except the driver test which received an outstanding 5-star rating.  The European tests also revealed that the 2004 Prius is remarkable safe.  That means you-know-who is either trying to scare people, out-right lying, or very poorly informed.  I'm not happy.

8-31-2004

Hydraulic Hybrid.  Here's a new one.  Someone built a prototype of a "hybrid" that uses a hydraulic pump rather than a electric motor for propulsion.  And they say, combined with a small diesel engine, the system could compete with the current hybrids.  My question is: How?  The switch from a gasoline engine to diesel will add about $1,000 to the price of the vehicle.  And then of course, you'd have to add roughly $400 more equipment to cleanse the low-sulfur diesel exhaust (to remove NOx & PM) to an acceptable level.  So once you finally add the hydraulics themselves, which is $600 more, the total comes to $2,000.  What exactly is the benefit at that point?  The price is mighty close to the projected mass-production cost of a HSD hybrid without the interface frills.  What future improvement opportunities are there?  Why would an automaker want to invest in a technology that is so limited.  With a full hybrid, the next step is simple.  An advancement in battery-technology, which either reduces cost or increases energy-density, will immediately create a benefit.  It has already been well proven that a bigger battery-pack in Prius will result in a higher MPG average.  A lower price tag bares obvious appeal too.  And what about fuel-cells?  A full hybrid can easily utilize the electricity it creates.  The same cannot be said for hydraulics.  It is clearly not a long-term solution.  Perhaps if it costs less, then it could be worthwhile for some.  But I just don't like supporting designs that don't offer future potential.  In fact, that's why you rarely hear me praise a hybrids isn't not the "full" type.  All too often the market is driven by short-term gain, sacrificing their future for profit in the present.  Just look at how the automakers in Detroit are reducing production and those in Japan are increasing.

8-30-2004

EV mode ...is a forced version of stealth mode.  (It is a standard feature everywhere except the Unites States, where it can be added as an aftermarket upgrade.)  Motor power is increased considerably, but the top speed is reduced to 35 MPH.

8-30-2004

Super-Stealth mode ...is only available after driving down a very long & steep decline. The battery-pack becomes super-charged, allowing you to maintain highway speeds using nothing but electricity for several miles.

8-30-2004

Warp-Stealth mode ...is when the engine cuts fuel, like when you are going down a minor decline, at speeds faster than the normal 42 MPH limit.  The reason it is considered stealth, even though the engine is still spinning (but without gasoline being used) is that the electric motor will provide thrust during that time to help you maintain full speed.

8-30-2004

Stealth mode ...will engage every time time you drive.  Top speed is 42 MPH and can be maintained for several miles.  And since the A/C is electric, rather than belt-powered by the engine, it can be enjoyed during the summer.

8-29-2004

Cold Summer.   57 of 87 days so far have been below normal.  This is usually an indicator that winter will be a normal temperature winter but with lots & lots of snow.  We'll find out.  That will give me plenty of opportunity to test the new tires.

8-29-2004

Changing logs.  I'm sure glad the "early days" of hybrid rollout are over now.  All that typing was really getting to me.  But being well aware of the history I was documenting as it was happening, I stuck with it.  In fact, they even got more detailed as time proceeded.  There's just simply no way write-ups after the fact can do justice.  Too much gets forgotten.  It all changes so fast too.  Capturing the beliefs & attitudes at the moment made the effort well worth it.  I'm really looking for to reading them years from now and getting feedback from others.  What do you think?

8-29-2004

Out of the Blue.  Just like in the music business, the fame Prius is now enjoying is hardly sudden.  To those not paying attention though, the technology does appear to have come from out of the blue.  Trust me, this isn't overnight success.  It is 10 years of hard work, by a small army of people to pull it off.  That effort was well worth it.  The owners who were once doing their part to endorse the rollout are all celebrating now.  The pieces have fallen into place nicely.  Unfortunately, it's basically just the border of the puzzle that is complete, but at least many can envision what the picture will look like in a few years.  Phew!  That hardest part is over.  Yeah!

8-28-2004

Too Little, Too Late.  In my profession (computer programmer), I have a ton of experience in the area of technology advancement.  The problem has always boiled down to how fast the change should come, not whether it should happen.  All along, I've struggled with those that feel small steps are the best approach.  Rarely do we have the resources (time & money) to do that.  And of course, the users are usually not willing to endure too many upgrades, they end up asking for a large step.  So my job has been to find the best way to introduce as much as realistically possible as quickly as realistically as possible... because eventually, we get stuck using what we develop for a lot longer than we ever anticipated.  I've witnessed that upgrade cycle quite a few times throughout my career.  The auto industry is known for getting stuck in ruts and taking forever to introduce change.  It is a pretty safe bet to expect them to have issues with the way they develop hybrids.  We have already dealt with them having a different "advancement" priority at each auto-show premiere over the past few years.  So it is clear that they can't even decide what to do.  Nor can they predict consumer demand, due to the continuous climb in oil prices.  Change is necessary, plain & simple.  The computer industry suffers all the time from new products that deliver "too little, too late".  Do we really want consumers to be victims of that?  No!  We need to make sure they are well aware of what they are actually paying for as well as what else is or could be available.  Telling them about what Prius offers is how we are going to do that.  In other words, the auto industry no longer gets to tell us what we want.  Now, we finally get to tell them.

8-28-2004

More Forecast Nonsense.  They have always been very pessimistic about hybrids.  Why?  These comments today got me to climb back up on the soapbox... again: "Our forecast calls for as many as half a million hybrids to be sold in 2007," says Walter McManus, executive director for forecasting and analysis at J.D. Power and Associates. "After that, it could go up to a million by 2011. That's out of 17 million vehicles total, so we don't see hybrids, per se, ever being more than a niche vehicle. But being a niche vehicle doesn't mean it's not successful."  It doesn't make any sense that they dismiss the reality that between increased production and supplier competition appeal will be added hybrids, because it will help to lower prices.  Perhaps they just plain don't understand how HSD can be installed in a Camry or Corolla, how none of the interface enhancements are necessary.  That makes it no different than when front-wheel-drive or fuel-injection was introduced.  They each became a standard within a decade, not a niche in any respect.  The average joe will have no clue what was changed.  To them, it visually looks just like the vehicle they have always driven.  Heck, it will even drive the same (with the exception of the transmission being remarkably smooth and the silence from when the engine automatically shuts off).  I just don't get how they can, year after year, continue to say hybrids won't become a standard... especially when you realize just how many different configurations are possible, everything from fuel-sipper, to race-car, to muscle-torque.  The variety engine/motor/battery configurations opens up a whole new world of opportunities.  Why can't they see that?

8-28-2004

New Photos from January.  It's a darn good thing Prius teaches people to be patience, because I certainly can't deliver online stuff quickly.  But then again, that can be advantageous sometimes.  Today, I finished a set of night photos... with SNOW in them!  That's quite a change of scenery from what most people experience now in August.  We were getting a bunch of the heavy, wet stuff.  So I frantically drove around hunting for a location that would take advantage of the unique situation.  I ended up finding it.  Unfortunately, it was a very busy parking lot and I figured I'd get yelled at for setting up a shoot there.  Turns out, it was way too cold for anyone to care.  So I managed to capture the illusion of seclusion, despite having cars constantly driving between the Prius & Tripod (and me holding an umbrella, an odd sight in the Winter).  Anywho, I'm pretty happy with the way they turned out.  Do you think they were worth waiting for... photo album 81

8-27-2004

Highway-Only Deception.  Those anti-hybrid folk sure aren't creative.  They keep using the same old deceptive data over and over again.  But this time, it backfired.  The sight real-world data from a traditional vehicle that does nothing but highway driving, only they don't tell you how the vehicle is driven.  They allow you to assume it experienced the same stop & slow commute daily many of us have to face daily along with routine suburb driving, which in all cases is far worse for non-hybrid efficiency.  And when you call them on it, they simply ignore you, downplaying the important of what you just asked.  On today's occasion though, it was the MPG itself that caught someone's interest.  The highway-only data claimed for a 2002 Corolla was 45 MPG.  Someone was really shocked by that.  He exclaimed, "WOW 45????? My neighbor barely gets 29 overall in his 2003! And he drives conservatively. What's your secret?"  See, I know it.  All you have to do is be aware of where to look.  Many people participate in numerous forums online, each of which has a different purpose.  On one, the person is friendly and provides advice.  On the other, that same person is hostile & misleading.  In this case, not only was that data collected from highway-only driving, it was also done in a dangerous fashion.  That person actually recommended pumping the 44 PSI maximum rated tires all the way to 50 PSI.  Yes, that would inflate efficiency, but the risk is simply not worth it.  The ride would be quite rough too.  The moral of this entry is to press the person for details.  If they ignore you, that's your first clue they are intentionally being deceptive.  Knowledge is power.  Don't feel modest when you need to use it!

8-27-2004

TSB EL010-04.  This is a new Toyota Service Bulletin for some of the owners of the early 2004 models.  Mine is included, but I don't actually need it.  Some report erratic behavior with the fuel gauge.  It seems to have a mind of its own, both with when each block disappears and when the "Add Fuel" message & blinking begins.  This causes non-emergency fuel capacity to be perceived as well below the 9 gallon tolerance, so they end up only being able to pump around 7 gallons (without forcing more) at the gas station.  The fix includes a few new computer & sensor components along with a new tank filler neck.  That should provide the needed accuracy... for those affected.  I wonder why mine works with the original setup.  Hmm?  My theory is that the extremely clean gas I use (Low-Sulfur E10) contributes to the retention of sensor sensitivity, where those with dirty gas are more likely to develop erratic measurement behavior.  There may be other contributing factors too, like temperature.  It is definitely on the cool side here in Minnesota.  Maybe we'll come across details.  Maybe not.  The later 2004 models work fine, and obviously the 2005 model won't be affected.

8-26-2004

Test Drive, part 2.  That "the Silverado is giving us a look at the hybrid in all of our futures" quote implies heavily that their design will be available in many more vehicles, and it seems to dismiss the incremental upgrades GM is planning.  Why?  It seems like everyone involved is setting up the expectations way too high for this particular design.  Had they taken this strategy years ago, it would have been a great thing.  But they didn't.  In fact, if rewind history to 3 years ago, you'll find media reports about Ford's prototype in an Explorer that worked exactly like the Silverado.  Interesting, eh?  It gets better.  Ford even went as far to to brag that their system could restart the engine faster than Prius.  Then fast-forward back to the present and observe how Ford completely abandoned that approach because they concluded it could not be competitive.  Instead, they chose a design that actually used a motor for propulsion, rather than just a powerful starter.  And when you consider the big picture, because everyone will (just look at how much Insight & Prius got compared, despite having almost nothing in common) routinely compared to the competitors design... because they cost the same!  It's the price tag is the real problem.  Matters would be entirely different if the "hybrid" system in Silverado didn't cost as much.  Their design simply too expensive for how little you gain from it.  Just look at how Prius gets hammered all the time by the number-crunchers.  How can those same people remain objective if they don't use the same criteria for evaluation?  I don't want hybrids to get a bad reputation by misrepresentation.  GM needs to call their system something more specific, not just "hybrid" ...especially since it doesn't really qualify as a hybrid; there is no blending of any kind.  After all, what is the system going to be called later when new functionally is introduced?  And that will raise the price even higher?  I'm simply can't imagine how they are going to keep from confusing the heck out of consumers.  I know firsthand how baffled they are by the differences between THS, HSD, and IMA all are.  In other words, I don't want to see them fail.  Being specific about what their system actually does will help avoid that.

 

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