Prius Personal Log  #280

July 16, 2006  -  July 20, 2006

Last Updated: Sun. 7/23/2006

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7-20-2006

New Date from Hyundai.  I saw this one coming a long time ago.  Their announcement for delivering a hybrid seemed incredibly aggressive.  Being that much faster than GM, or even Ford, would have been quite a surprise... and one heck of a reality shock for the competition.  But sadly, that won't happened.  They just made a statement saying there would be a 2 year delay.  Now we won't see something from them until 2009.  This helps to give the industry an even better idea of just how much time Toyota had to invest to do it right.  Designs that truly provide a significant benefit require a tremendous amount of patience.  Too bad the other automakers hadn't learned that lesson ages ago.  You'd think the embarrassment from the 70's would have taught them to plan better for the future.  Clearly, it didn't.  Now, we have to wait again.

7-20-2006

In The Wild.  Sweet!  I saw my first Camry-Hybrid in the wild today.  It was with another Prius owner too.  That was pretty cool.  This one appeared fully loaded.  That moonroof is quite sight.  I really enjoyed my in the car I had before the first Prius.  But it was a Taurus, which back then was surprisingly smaller.  The opening above my head made it feel bigger.  But the tallness of Prius did the same thing.  All that light shining in from every direction from all the windows being taller did the same thing.  As for the wind, there wasn't any.  Even at 100 MPH, the aerodynamic balance created an invisible shield.  That isn't possible for Prius, due to the special roof airflow intentionally added for fuel efficiency.  But Camry-Hybrid isn't optimized to that level.  So it may indeed be an excellent recipient for a moonroof.  Whatever the case, that family sedan certainly adds to the appeal of hybrids.  It's another winner.  I sure hope sightings begin happening often.  We'll see.  (Yes, I know.  Bad pun.)

7-19-2006

Complete Reversal.  There are a few publications that I have come to depend on for negative press about hybrids.  Today, I saw their name listed among those writing commentary about Toyota's recent plug-in comment.  They didn't disappoint.  They made up a story about Toyota not having any interest in plug-in hybrids a little over a year ago.  Who the heck were they talking too?  The official statement sent out before even then clearly contradicts that.  Their stance has always been that charging a battery-pack using electricity created by sources with equivalent-emissions dirtier than those from the current hybrid system would be inappropriate.  I agree.  That would be a step backward.  They have also clearly stated that battery-pack technology still needs to improve before the option would be affordable & practical.  Nonetheless, they admitted to researching the possibility even back then.  But we already knew that, since the system was clearly designed with that type of use in mind.  Evidence came from the very effort that pushed Toyota to release the statement... a team of engineers experimenting by adding their own batteries and taping into the existing setup.  It worked so well, it was hard to deny that augmentation wasn't considered from the very beginning.  Toyota did a remarkable job of planning for the future, building a platform capable of taking advantage of new opportunities later.  Kudos!  So this complete reversal claim simply doesn't make any sense.

7-19-2006

Diesel Hybrid.  Another recent comment from Toyota was the possibility of a diesel hybrid around 4 years or so from now.  Waiting for the cleaner diesel fuel and emission technology is required in the meantime, along with better batteries.  Use of a teeny, tiny diesel engine that wouldn't have to shut off as often would be a very interesting configuration.  The extra weight, emissions, and noise from diesel engines would be reduced by naturally having a significantly smaller one.  And the benefit of more frequent running would help keep the efficiency & emissions near optimum performance.  Of course, if the plug-in option becomes practical & popular in the meantime, that could put a damper on those plans.  The engine would cool down by being off so much.  That may keep gas as the favorite.  But you never know, perhaps a heavy-duty truck would benefit from that.  It doesn't matter.  My endorsement goes to any technology that delivers both significantly reduced emissions & consumption.

7-18-2006

Starring Role.  This quote made today by Jim Press, president of the North American division of Toyota, was wonderful to hear... "Make no mistake about it, hybrids are the technology of the future and they will play a starring role in the automotive industry in the 21st Century" ...even though I've known that for 6 years already.  I guess it's like listening to your favorite song over and over again.  Kind of makes you wonder what the next 94 years will bring, eh?

7-18-2006

No Improvement.  The official average noted in the annual report just published by the EPA was that it's still 21 MPG, just like it was a year ago.  No improvement is disappointing.  The fact that it is so low in the first place is sickening.  Of course, they did point out that 0-60 acceleration time is better.  It's only 9.7 seconds, compared to 13.1 seconds in 1987.  That number is rather meaningless though, since even the 10.1 seconds Prius delivers is faster than I ever need.  A rather meaningful number was how much average vehicle weight has increased since 1987.  Back then, it was 3,220 pounds.  Now, it is 4,142 pounds.  That's nasty, and definitely not an improvement.

7-17-2006

The "Same" Campaign, part 6.  I assumed that all the cards had been played already.  Clearly, I was wrong.  A feature of the two-mode system is the inclusion of cylinder deactivation.  That is suppose to mean shutting off half of the cylinders when full power is not required, intended to reduce consumption while you're cruising along the highway.  (Honda calls it "VCM" Variable Cylinder Management and GM calls it "DOD" Displacement On Demand.)  But sure enough, an "assist" supporter pointed out the discontinued quasi implementation of deactivating 3 of the 4 cylinders that the previous generation of Civic-Hybrid had used.  Now, the entire engine shuts off and the electric motor handles the entire burden during modest deceleration only.  Back then, it was a creative approach... since using the motor exclusively wasn't supported yet.  That does indeed fit a loose definition of deactivation.  It most definitely is not the same though, since it cannot sustain a highway cruise.  But he made it sound like it was just like what Honda uses in their Odyssey minivan and what GM is now beginning to offer on several of their vehicles.  One type is only for very limited use.  The other type can be used for extended durations.  That is quite a difference.

7-17-2006

Moving On.  Interest in the differences among the various hybrids systems is growing.  That's nice to see.  All that anti-hybrid nonsense over the years was rather pointless.  Unfortunately when you dig deep, you discover that the two-mode system won't actually be able to be used as competition with Prius.  So the hype it is now getting is very misleading.  It is specifically designed for the really large vehicles.  And to make their "lots of talk, little action" behavior even more pronounced, you'll eventually discover that all 3 combined (GM, DC, and BMW) only plan to build 83,000 vehicles by 2010.  So even among the large vehicles, they aren't planning to deliver much.  But if I keep repeating that shortcoming, perhaps they'll change their strategy.  After all, that worked for the Honda hybrids.  We kept complaining over and over how they were only ULEV.  Honda eventually got a clue and delivered cleaner models.  So there is hope that more could be built sooner... especially since some people will insist on still buying those large vehicles.  It's good to hear that they intend to get in the "full" hybrid game, but the clutches and additional PSD make you wonder what the heck the cost & efficiency numbers will really be.  And the lack of support for small vehicles is disappointing.  But at least it will be a genuine "full" hybrid.

7-16-2006

60 Percent Reduction.  The conclusion of the Discovery Channel special on Global Warming this evening was loaded with suggestions of things families could do to reduce their carbon footprint.  They stated the easiest and most significant thing they could do was to switch to driving a hybrid.  And naturally, they showed a Prius.  There was a close-up of it in the garage.  Then we got to see it back out over the driveway and out onto the street as they pointed out how it could provide a 60 percent reduction of the entire family's carbon-dioxide emissions.  That's pretty sweet.  I've been saying all along how simple it was to switch.  Now we just got yet another endorsement for that very suggestion.  Sweet!

7-16-2006

Dishonesty.  It's an expectation that supporters of some technologies will mislead, especially if they have something to lose.  You may even catch a few telling a lie.  But for an manufacturer to do it, there is just plain wrong.  Yet, it is happening anyway.  A brand new "assist" design that Suzuki could potentially utilize is being promoted as one-third the cost of the "full" design from Toyota.  Looking for details, you'll find that there is no hardware whatsoever or even a change to the engine with respect to reducing smog-related emissions.  Since their design doesn't fulfill one of the hybrid goals, they cannot compare it to a design that does without explicitly mentioning that as a price difference.  If Toyota were to exclude their special emission equipment and disable the engine behavior that consumes gas for the sake of cleansing, it would drop the price quite a bit and increase efficiency at the same time.  But the maker of this new "assist" design doesn't tell you that.  And since they mention price directly, it is more than just misleading.  Excluding that information is dishonest.

7-16-2006

Extremist.  Yet another article from a known extremist was published today.  Fortunately, they admit that they are.  Their approach was a survey sent to auto industry professionals and enthusiasts.  They clearly were not interested in feedback from the average joe, his friend, his sister, his neighbor, his coworker, etc.  Responses from that group would have been dramatically different.  They care about average family vehicles, not the extreme.  Anywho, I got a kick out of the survey's lack of scale.  They made no effort to define what a "small", "medium", or "major" step actually meant.  Without any sense of perspective, the survey is tainted from the beginning.  With 60 million new vehicles built annually and 100's of billions of dollars at stake, it really easy to have absolutely no clue how each person perceives size or if there is even a common mindset.  Of course, the survey didn't bother to explain what "right direction" meant either.  Regardless, the results were interesting.  I am curious as heck as to why that particular group believes fuel-cells are the "best solution".  It makes sense that the average person would think that, due to all the propaganda.  But this group is supposedly much better informed.  Oh well.  It doesn't matter anyway.  Ask a person at an auto show what they'd like as their next vehicle.  Then ask that same person the day they intend to spend their hard earned money on a new vehicle.  The odds of getting answers even remotely close to each other is almost nil.  The best surveys are still just simple observations of traffic and parking lots.  That accurately reflects what the general population believes and the current choice they made to deal with the situation at hand.

7-16-2006

104 F Degrees.  Whoa!  Seeing that on the Multi-Display was pretty amazing, especially after just having left the cooling effect of kayaking on a windy lake.  The poor Prius was roasting.  So the moment I started up the system; it wasn't shy about activating the special battery-pack fan.  What an odd sensation.  That part of the car is always silent.  But on this record-setting day, it was alive with an unfamiliar sound.  When it's that hot, everything wants a convenient way of reducing the temperature.  Knowing it can take care of itself is reassuring.  So, I just went about my business.

7-16-2006

Estima with HSD.  While some other automakers continue to test the merit of the "assist" design, Toyota implement the "full" in yet another vehicle.  This time, Estima.  It's a minivan smaller than Sienna, but very much the same style of vehicle a family would enjoy having.  You get the convenience of a large seating/cargo area, sliding side-doors & hatch, and a hybrid system.  What else could you want?  Unfortunately, we have our answer to that too.  Only Japan gets it.  On this side of the planet, we still have to wait.  But the rumor that Sienna will be next for us is definitely reinforced by the fact that sales of this newest hybrid already began last week.  So whether or not this market here is ready for the next step, Toyota has already taken it.  The existence of another style of vehicle using HSD is a fantastic endorsement, and undeniably will serve as additional proof that it is the direction they wish to move the company.  As the years proceed, we'll see the choice of HSD become more and more common.  It will be just like when automatics gradually took over manuals.  I can't wait!

7-16-2006

The "Same" Campaign, part 5.  There simply is no long-term business solution with "assist" hybrids.  As battery-technology improves, they won't be able to benefit much from it.  Their electric-motor is too small.  Making it bigger doesn't help either.  The system was not intended to deliver extended periods of electric-motor use, hence the name.  Using more would cause heat.  Those designs don't have a cooling system available, which is a reason they cost less.  Adding something to prevent the heat would cancel out the main selling point by raising the price.  The "full" designs already include a cooling system.  So that isn't a problem.  They continuously use their electric-motors, which are already large enough to provide significant power to the wheels.  Needless to say, they are most definitely not the same.

7-16-2006

The "Same" Campaign, part 4.  Timing is the problem.  Gas prices have tripled and demand continues to rise.  The rate at which new designs make it to a mainstream penetration level is truly frightening.  Having to wait 5 to 6 years just for the trend to become recognized as acceptance of a new standard is optimistic.  Back in 1993, the Ford Explorer was the hot new vehicle.  SUV was an upcoming type of "passenger" vehicle back then.  Yet, it wasn't until 2000 when the market finally exploded.  So for some automakers to just now be rolling out their very first models of hybrid, we have reason to be pessimistic... since they aren't even an equivalent match with the competition.  Only offering a single electric-motor and not drawing much from the battery-pack isn't something that clever marketing can conceal.  Consumers will eventually figure out the limitations of the designs that are not "full".  But at that point, it's too late.  The automaker would have already committed substantial resources to the product.  Losses on that scale are quite serious.  That's why I want them to invest in a better design right from the start, one that offers a system that is both competitive and fulfills the goals of significantly reducing emissions & consumption.  Having to wait several years for them to figure out that they are not the same isn't going to help anyone.

 

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