Prius Personal Log  #273

June 4, 2006  -  June 11, 2006

Last Updated: Thurs. 6/15/2006

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Design Confirmation.  You know it is extremely well thought out when an argument point can be used for multiple disciplines.  That was the case today.  This was it: "That's why Prius is so responsive passing on the highway."  Personally, I find it absolutely fascinating when the opportunity to say that for two entirely different reasons presents itself.  In one case, it was in reference to new a "full" hybrid design that will operate in a way we are quite unfamiliar with... GM's upcoming two-mode, rather than Toyota's HSD.  Having an internal component inventory that's obviously different, expecting the same response is really pushing it.  The change from extremely-efficient-cruising-mode to give-me-a-bunch-of-power doesn't appear to be a quick process.  There's a clutch involved.  The shifting is an extra step that doesn't exist in the "full" hybrid system Prius has.  Using it will require additional time, an undeniable delay... hence not as responsive.  In the other case, it was in reference to hydrogen fuel-cells.  The person I was arguing with was so focused on the technology itself that he had completely overlooked how it could actually be used in a practical application: a car.  On paper, you can demonstrate the complete energy cycle of hydrogen to make a convincing enough claim to warrant continued discussion.  But the moment you ask how a fuel-cell, which is a steady-state electricity provider, will react when passing on the highway the discussion comes to a screeching halt... because being able to respond rapidly is shortcoming for fuel-cells.  A secondary source of electricity is needed to fulfill that need, which means a fuel-cell alone can't do the job.  It has to be a hybrid.  Adding a battery-pack would do the trick, and it would provide a place for electricity created by regenerative braking to be stored.  Lots of people still don't understand hybrids well, because they make decisions based on limited information.  It's the very reason why Toyota decided to include a Multi-Display from the beginning.  Seeing how much the efficiency equation involves is a very eye-opening opportunity... confirming the value of the design.


Ethanol verses MTBE.  That war is over, but the cost analysis continues.  At the end of May, the price of MTBE was $1.99 per gallon and ethanol $2.70.  Looking forward one month to the futures, July prices are currently set at $3.73 per gallon.  That spike is due to the abrupt increase in demand, due to the replacement now being mandatory.  What I find interesting in this new situation is the fact that gas prices were artificially being held low by the use of that water-pollution-causing blend with MTBE.  It only makes sense that a cleaner solution (switching to ethanol) costs a little bit more.  For those that don't live in corn country, that translates to 7 more cents per gallon... a rather trivial when the price of gas is at $3 per gallon and fluctuations from day to day are commonly twice that anyway.  For those that do live there (like me), we've been using the 10 percent ethanol blend for over a decade now; its production & use has become an integral part of the state economy.  The recent push of flex-fuel vehicles has made the approval for building larger production facilities easier now.  That should translate to reduced cost, which could eliminate the price difference entirely... making this point-of-concern a complete non-issue.  Cool!  But in the short-term, the introduction elsewhere will have to endure the initial higher cost.  Oh well.  It's the long-term that matters most.  Of course, even at that level it only increases the price by another 10 cents per gallon... a small amount considering the fact that gas was over $1 less per gallon just a year ago.


Nothing.  It's finally over.  In the past, I went out of my way to avoid saying the "full" hybrid was superior.  That was in part due to certain "assist" owners freaking out when someone else did.  I had enough trouble dealing with their undermining.  So open attacks were not welcome; however, they could no longer be avoided.  My choice to instead just point out the technical advantages was losing effectiveness.  The upcoming "assist" debuts of Saturn-Vue, Chevy-Malibu, and Hyundai-Accent was muddying the water too much.  Those that greenwash cause confuse intentionally.  This was a classic example.  With these new "assist" hybrids on the way, it was quite a bit easier to mislead... fooling people into believe they deliver the same results as a "full" hybrid.  One of the now well known troublemakers exploited this opportunity, hoping discredit me in the process.  Unfortunately, I make a great target for that.  Fortunately, everyone knows that.  Some sounded off in defense, wanting to hear the same thing I was demanding... a explanation of how he could claim that "assist" hybrids were not only competitive, that they were actually superior.  Needless to say, his efforts failed miserably... so bad that he abandoned the fight.  Now, two and half days later, there is still no response.  The posts abruptly halted mid-battle.  My guess it that he got so desperate, he just gave up.  Several times he claimed to be having a constructive discussion, but each post revealed not-so-subtle attempts to draw focus elsewhere.  I repeatedly pointed out that he was undermining, drawing focus away from the original topic.  The evidence was overwhelmingly in my favor.  He eventually decided to do nothing, rather than removing all doubt that his efforts were insincere.


$71.63 per barrel.  Gas prices are still averaging around $3 per gallon nationwide.  Diesel is still about 15 to 20 cents more.  Ethanol is getting hyped to a degree I never imagined, yet the needed significant increase in production is years away still.  Prius is still holding the hearts of owners... and rapidly growing in appeal.  In fact, it's the owners that appear to be the cause of that now.  With so many on the road, the opportunity for family, friend, or coworker to witness the beauty of the hybrid system from the vantage point of being a passenger is quite high.  That experience always impresses.  It is the ideal endorsement... one that those in the oil industry fear.  These terrible oil prices are not their biggest threat.  The excitement hybrid technology provides is an enemy that cannot be easily defeated, since that is what makes doing your part to reduce consumption easy.


Surprisingly Simple.  That opening line was one of the best examples of "milking the hybrid hype" I have read in a very long time... "Thus far, hybrids have danced around the mainstream." ...because the article that followed had absolutely, positively nothing to do with that.  It got your attention, then abruptly switch the topic to the same old, generic, nothing we haven't seen heard countless times already report.  That's sad, but not disappointing, since my expectations are so low nowadays.  And as you could have guessed, I have lines of my own in response.  What the heck does "mainstream" mean anyway?  Is it a numeric quantity?  If so, the half million Prius now on the road would like satisfy that criteria.  After all, there are many other vehicles that don't sell as many per year.  Is it with respect to consumer recognition?  If so, Prius achieves that by a colossal landslide.  In fact, Prius is so well known the name is synonymous with the term hybrid.  Is it in some way related to time?  If so, the fact that the eighth year of production is about to end should and there have been 2 major upgrades since introduction be more than enough to qualify.  Is it an aspect of distribution?  With 3 major production facilities and sales taking place worldwide, that's hardly a factor of ineligibility either.  Is it a factor of sales speed?  Prius has is among the top sellers in modern history, spending a extremely short amount of time on the dealer's premises makes it a very favorable business product.  Is it the resale value?  Prius has the all-time highest slightly-used prices in all of automotive history.  No other vehicle so young has been able to sell for so much.  Is it demand for purchase?  Since there are waiting lists agonizingly long, that point certainly is a clear indication of strong appeal.  In other words, how can Prius not be considered mainstream at this point?  The answer is surprisingly simple: It's because there is no real competition yet.  Remarkable, eh?


Sooner Than Expected.  I actually thought it would take longer.  About 2 years into the hybrid version of Camry being available was when I figured reality would strike the majority.  But with such absurd emphasis on increasing consumption in recent years, then the rather abrupt collapse of the domestic automakers, this turnaround happened sooner than expected.  The ever climbing price of gas was a given.  Without any supply growth, obviously it would cost more.  But this sudden panic to deliver something new is quite a surprise.  And the supposed answer is silly: Ethanol.  That is a very good complementary component for the future, but most definitely not a solution onto itself.  But these absolutely desperate automakers are making it appear as though it is... because they have nothing else to offer.  So now people are crunching the numbers and taking a look forward (especially knowing the tax credits won't last forever).  Realizing that prices tomorrow will likely be even higher, the "save money" factor is becoming a non-issue.  Heck, some people are even seeing that the "break even" factor isn't necessary, that some hybrids offer much more than just the MPG improvement.  It's the very reason I'm pushing so hard on those that feel "assist" hybrids can be competitive.  I want to know how the automakers struggling financially already could survive in the long-term selling a design that isn't anywhere near as flexible as the "full" hybrid.  The investment needed to implement a technology change is quite hefty.  So they will want to commit to something and stick with it as long as possible to turn a reasonable profit.  Whatever the outcome, it's just really nice finally seeing an attitude change in the media.  The nonsense of the past seems to be fading into memory now, rather than the routine source of frustration it once was.


$3 per gallon?  Here in the Midwest, we get our crude oil from the North instead.  Having a different source means the price doesn't necessarily match the rest of the country.  So our high prices for the refined gas afterward, which is blended with locally grown & produced ethanol, have typically been lower.  Today we broke a new record: $2.95 per gallon (plus that silly nine-tenths).  That's the highest I've ever since it here... and dangerously close to that scary $3 mark.  Wouldn't it be really creepy if that became a reality tomorrow, which just happens to be the much feared "6-6-6" date.  Hmm.  That would be one heck of a coincidence.  That sure would make it very easy to remember too.  It will eventually happen.  The competition is more than ever now promoting ethanol... which does absolutely nothing to decrease consumption.  But it is pretty much a guarantee to increase per gallon costs, since most of the country doesn't have corn fields nearby.  Speaking of that topic, did you know my very first job was "corn detasseling"?  That's the process used to cross-pollinate types of corn to create a hybrid species.  Isn't it rather spooky that I am now using a blend of hybrid corn fuel in the tank of my hybrid vehicle?


Moving Backward.  The objective has always been to make a difference.  Apparently, it is now necessary to point out that the difference should be a positive one.  Over the years, we've witnessed plenty of negative.  Vehicles have grown larger and stronger, unfortunately resulting in a consumption increase.  That's clearly a bad thing, yet they attempt to convince you that since the system is more efficient now it is a step in the right direction.  The fact that it "saves gas" should in no way cancel out the reality that more gas is actually being used overall.  Imagine if that wasn't the case, a world of greater size (capacity) & power (speed) while at the same time the decreased consumption.  That would be amazing... and an actual reality in the computer industry.  So why is the fact that it isn't in the automotive industry considered acceptable?  True, it took a massive investment to accomplish that, but making such a difference does have an obvious benefit of helping to ensure long-term profits.  Many automakers didn't run their business with the thought of anything beyond immediate survival though.  Now they are really beginning to suffer from such a poor choice.  Their efforts did appear noble on the surface.  The development of fuel-cell vehicles kindled promise, but didn't actually support a goal that would make a difference.  Substituting one fuel for another alone isn't really a step forward... which is why Toyota has adopted the motto of "Moving Forward".  They actually are.  Not only will the future hybrids support multiple fuels (like gas, ethanol, and plug-in electricity), they also strive to use less.  Just look at the nonsense around the use of "E85".  There is no consumption reduction.  It is just a switch from one fuel to another. I'm really growing tired of the propaganda.  When people accept change but no difference is being made, that's moving backward.  Switching without benefit is a waste.  And thankfully, many more people than in the past are catching on to this.  Perhaps they are tired of me climbing up onto the soapbox so often.  Whatever the case, it's nice to read comments posted in forums and printed editorials stating that consumers want progress now... change in a forward direction.


Fight the System.  I still wonder how many new owners unknowingly cause lower MPG by misinterpreting the data.  Fighting the system by accelerating really slow is one way to do that.  It's ok to see the immediate consumption indicator drop to almost nothing during acceleration.  That is actually a better use of fuel, though quite counter-intuitive.  The engine runs more efficiently at a faster RPM.  That's usually more power being created than what's needing.  So I suspect those that don't understand "full" hybrids ease up, not realizing the extra power can be put to good use by generating electricity.  It appears to be a loss, but that is really only temporary.  That resulting electricity can be put to good use later.  So overall, there is a saving... as reflected in a MPG gain. In other words, you can easily be misled by the data on the screen if you forget to look at the big picture.


No Demo Models.  I remember that lack of availability situation ages ago.  It seems as though it has become a reality again.  Fortunately, that wasn't ever a difficult problem when Prius was still fairly new... despite the fact that there were a ton of misconceptions about hybrids way back then.  People patiently waited for the opportunity to buy even without the opportunity to try.  Now, we are well past those days.  Demand is dramatically higher.  Camry-Hybrid will be flying off delivery trucks straight to new owners faster than you could ever imagine.  Having one to show off would end up getting the dealer accused of bait (hybrid) & switch (not a hybrid), since there will be only a very limited quantity actually available for immediate purchase.  So in a perverse way, I'm ok with the fact that there are no demo models available.  In other words, the belief is to sell them so fast that there is no need to show them off.  And so far, I certainly haven't been disappointed.  Also, keep in mind how much salespeople absolutely hate getting nagged about delivery status.  So the last thing they want to do is make that situation even worse.  It all boils down to the same old learning experience that patience teaches.  As frustrating as that can be, the reward afterward is so sweet.


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