Prius Personal Log  #283

August 1, 2006  -  August 04, 2006

Last Updated: Sat. 8/05/2006

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8-04-2006

"Two" or "Dual" Mode?  It appears as though GM still cannot make up its mind about what to call their upcoming hybrid system.  They have bounced back & forth so many times, I'm not sure what to call it anymore.  Neither one is ideal.  Both have shortcomings.  Trying to include a reference to design within the name is obviously problematic.  No wonder Toyota chose to market their design as "HSD".  That's generic in nature, yet concise as an brand identifier.  Oh well.  It's not that it really matters much anyway.  The first of those hybrids from GM won't be available for well over a year still.  And by then, how much demand will there be for a 365-horsepower 8-cylinder truck that is expected to deliver 25 MPG anyway?  Fewer and fewer people are using that type of vehicle for purposes beyond which it was designed... as it should be.  The nonsense of using a beast like that for the daily commute was never justified.  They are for hauling massive loads of cargo and for off-road tasks.  That's it.  Driving alone and empty to the office was extraordinarily wasteful, gross overkill.

8-04-2006

MPG Estimates Not Accurate!  This was the hype spread across the European newswire yesterday.  We've heard this countless times here.  But it took until now for them to realize it wasn't just a problem for the American EPA.  Their own EU testing suffers from the very same problem!  This quote states that well: "the problem is that the way in which mileage is assessed by the EU in laboratory conditions is unrealistic, bears little relationship to driving conditions in the 'real-world' and should be changed".  Just like us hear, owners of all kinds of vehicles are discovering that those estimates reflect ideal conditions only.  Their delayed outrage of this is justified.  The recent energy price spikes have had more of an immediate effect on our economy, making it easier for us to notice the problem sooner.  But now that they have joined in with the disgust of having been mislead for so many years, perhaps the entire mindset of the industry will finally improve.  Being fed numbers that imply better efficiency than what you actually get isn't something we should have to tolerate.

8-04-2006

Clueless About Type.  Reading an article about plug-in hybrids this morning, it was blatantly obvious that the reporter had absolutely no clue how hybrids actually work or the even fact that there are different types.  You definitely got the impression that it was only a matter of the automaker deciding to make the battery-pack larger and add a plug... which is fundamentally true for a "full" hybrid like Prius, as quite a number of entrepreneurs have already demonstrated.  But that most definitely is not the case for an "assist" hybrid.  The Honda supporters know this all too well.  They've grown dead silent lately.  The excitement about plug-in hybrids is absolutely devastating news to them.  They had always hoped gas prices would rise gradually, keeping the interest in more advanced designs somewhat tame.  But that isn't what happened.  Gas prices increased dramatically, tripling in just 5 years.  Ouch!  The small electric motor in their system simply cannot deliver anything more than the ability to assist, hence the name.  So no matter how big or inexpensive of a battery-pack is attached to the vehicle, the design cannot take much advantage of it.  That crushing reality quite evident to them now, but most reporters certainly haven't figured it out yet.  Oh well.  After awhile, they finally figure it out.

8-03-2006

Interest Gauge.  I don't care want the media claims about hybrid demand, since their data relies exclusively on past sales.  That alone is not really a gauge, especially since supply is so limited and it doesn't look forward.  What about the people not ready to purchase a new vehicle yet?  I'll tell you!  They're the ones downloading the User-Guide.  And boy are they ever hungry for that type of information.  Whoa!  I see that activity on my website statistics.  These are people curious about Prius, either just researching or filling their time while waiting for delivery.  They get very excited about what they read.  Evidence of this comes from all the downloads of the other informational resources I provide.  It also comes from personal emails I get stating they found the website ages ago and it ended up contributing to their interest in buying a hybrid.  Ha!  Those antagonists of the past that claimed I would never make a difference were dead wrong... and I've obviously lost my humble nature as a result.  Oh well.  Much of what I say is shared by other owners anyway.  And that "smug" episode of South Park has actually served as an a voice of encouragement.  The ending clearly stated hybrids are a very good thing, but the owners just need to find an appropriate way of expressing that.  So I'm thinking the occasional comment in a personal log and availability of free & anonymous downloads will do the trick... because the outcome of them is how I gauge interest.

8-03-2006

Hybrid Perspective.  With the price of oil still around $75, I wondered how long it would take for the price of gas to start reflecting it.  This evening, I saw $3.19 per gallon on the drive home.  Higher is still realistic here, where gas is less expensive than most of the rest the country.  This new reality is rapid developing the hybrid perspective, where people are beginning to wonder why not to buy a hybrid instead.  It's a complete reversal from the "won't save money" mindset we were just dealing not so long ago.  The is literally no more objective argument for cheap fuel anymore.  Energy prices are through the roof without any power to make them return to what was once considered "normal" again.  Those days of abundance are over.  Dealing with the consequences of being wasteful is the need now.  It is very, very clear that simply having oil in the ground isn't enough.  Too many other factors influence actually getting it into your tank.  Ignorance is no longer an excuse anymore either.  So many problems with supply have been in the news lately that you'd be lying if you denied not knowing about them.  It means working toward the goal of hybrids for everyone is not at all an extreme, as the anti-hybrid had declared.  That now makes sense to even the most stubborn.

8-03-2006

Squeaky Brakes.  I wasn't too thrilled about hearing a squeak whenever the brakes engaged; however, it sure made the detection of when that occurred easy.  I was hoping the reduced wear from relying more on regeneration for slowing would have prevented that.  But sadly, it seemed as though that feature only extended their life... or so I thought.  Then the rains came, finally ending our unfortunate drought here.  The squeaking stopped.  That was interesting.  Days afterward, they were still quiet.  Then it hit me.  The Prius hadn't been exposed to any water whatsoever for well over a month.  Apparently, they had built up something that is normally washed away by routine exposure to moisture.  Hmm?  Whatever the case, they sure are quiet now.

8-03-2006

Ethanol, Denied!  I had no idea that certain oil companies sign contracts with gas station owners for exclusive supply.  It never dawned on me that the availability of E85 was prevented due to a legally binding obligation.  But that is indeed the case.  On MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) this morning, there were complaints by a state representative about that very problem.  Being denied the opportunity to offer E85 has become a big deal.  No solution is readily available either.  Infrastructure changes are turning out to be far more difficult than anyone realized.  This newest discovery really adds to the hype of FFV (guzzlers that will end up using only gas) sales.  Not actually being able to purchase E85 prevents progress.  How will investments in new ethanol sources, like cellulose, be funded?  Sure, research money will eventually materialize.  But having the funds required to actually build a production plant is an entirely different matter.  Money from current sales is the best source for upgrading.  But if the oil companies prevent those sales, they've effectively saved their source of survival.  It only makes sense that they wouldn't want an alternative fuel from being too successful.  Bummer.

8-03-2006

Continuous Source.  I heard a complaint on NPR (National Public Radio) today.  It was about how limited most reporting is.  Even the true journalism leaves you hanging.  As good as it may be, disappointment about no follow-up is abundant... which is one of the very reasons blogs are becoming so popular.  They serve as a continuous source of information.  And if you happen find a specialized resource with someone like me at the helm, you get an on-going saga of observations, experiences, and commentary.  It's actually quite amusing now.  There are many of us.  You can get a daily fix, just by pointing your browser to the right location.  Anywho, it's great having a totally new venue contributing to the growth of our society.  Perhaps we'll finally be able to get beyond some of our current limitations with it... like the primary draw of vehicle purchases being size & power.

8-03-2006

My Goal.  It's mass-acceptance, where the penetration level is on the magnitude of front-wheel drive.  Becoming ubiquitous like means having a tremendous amount of patience.  That also means there will be quite a bit of resistance to deal with, since the competition will sense the standard changing out of their favor.  So the best you can realistically hope for is a series of minor successes over a long span of time.  In this case, I figured 10 years.  Having been a programmer for twice that duration now, I've been involved with projects that take quite a number of years to go from the planning stage to the point where the software finally becomes an everyday tool... which is precisely what I want the hybrids to become.  So now, 6 years into the effort, I can look back and identify several minor successes.  We are approaching that ultimate goal, but it won't be reached anytime soon.  You can promote the next-generation all you want.  But it won't get people to skip steps.  A hybrid that runs on any ratio of gas, ethanol, and electricity will be fantastic.  It won't readily be accepted by consumers though.  Currently, many still ponder the worth of hybrids in general.  So one that offers a plug today is well beyond the reach of their wallet... which is why I like Toyota's approach so much.  People can clearly see the effort to deliver more from electricity without being so fundamentally different that its mass-acceptance is questioned.  HSD hasn't fallen victim of the "alternative" label stigma.  It's subtle enough to be considered a natural step forward.

8-02-2006

Too Much Inventory.  The situation locally is getting worse.  Here in St. Paul, Ford builds the Ranger pickup.  Unfortunately, they don't sell well.  Consumers still are not interested in small trucks.  So the employees are suffering.  The factory shut down production the entire month of July.  Overall sales for the automaker are getting worse, down by 34 percent recently.  The current inventory continues to be too much.  That lead to employees receiving notice immediately after getting back to work yesterday.  For 2 weeks in both August and September, production will again stop.  I wonder how long that will continue.  The plant is planned for permanent closure in 2008.  Perhaps that will come sooner if Ford's struggle to survive doesn't get better.  It's really a bad sign.  You'd think the small trucks would now be appealing with gas prices so high.  But a recent survey has shown that the impractical nature of a pickup is causing consumers to switch back to cars.  Personally, I'd like to see that trend continue.  It's more than a mindset.  It actually makes very good sense.  Take a look at a hatch or wagon, in virtually every respect it is a better choice.

8-01-2006

Plug-In Doubt.  I've been speaking out lately about the lack of data available.  There simply isn't any.  The biggest aftermarket provider (most are still in the early testing stage) is based in California.  It's an ideal environment for using a much higher capacity battery-pack, with a plug.  They heavily promote their "100+ MPG" slogan.  That really, really irritates me... because I know darn well that isn't what the real-world annual average will be.  Here in Minnesota during the Winter, daily commutes at 70 MPH including some Stop & Slow driving with the heater on won't yield anywhere near MPG that high.  They are setting up false expectations, much like the EPA estimates do.  However, this is worse since they don't include a "your mileage may vary" disclaimer.  I'm well aware that the 100+ only represents ideal-condition driving.  But who else will?  To further add to the doubt of wide acceptance this early, there are other unknowns that haven't been addressed at all yet.  My greater concern is: Will a dealer have any quibble performing a routine comprehensive 30,000-interval service if you have an aftermarket battery-pack?  Later on, that will probably be no big deal.  But currently, most mechanics are likely not comfortable enough to want to work on an enhanced system yet.  Fortunately, the engineering easily supports that.  But even though the technology works just fine, some dealers may not want to accept any liability even if the mechanic is willing to perform a service for the hybrid.  Stuff like that still casts a shadow of doubt... which I'd like to see eliminated quickly.  So far though, asking for real-world data to be posted has proven futile.

8-01-2006

Diesel Emissions.  This quote on the introduction page for the emission section of the new Isuzu diesel website says it all: "All diesel engines produced starting January 1, 2007 must comply with the new regulations that require the reduction of nitrogen oxide (NOx), hydrocarbons (HC) and particulate matter (PM) by 90% over the current 2004 emission standards.  Further reductions of NOx, HC and PM will be required by 2010.  Emissions must be reduced in all types of operation, including stop-and-go situations.  All diesel engine manufacturers will have to meet these stringent emissions standards, resulting in additional hardware, software and ultimately, higher costs."  That is precisely what I've been saying all along.  The diesel-supporters that fought me denied it.  Now the proof is becoming overwhelming.  This latest endorsement for emissions is very exciting.  Information of that nature used to be extremely difficult to find.  Now, it's getting much easier.  Sweet!

8-01-2006

Changing Focus.  It is interesting to see how the spin on hybrids is now turning favorable.  I sure am glad I downloaded copies of my favorite articles in the past.  After awhile, people won't believe just how bad the anti-hybrid sentiment used to be.  The article published today made no mention of Camry-Hybrid, yet the purpose of the article was to point out how hybrids have become mainstream.  Talking about a major omission!  Efficiency, Emissions, and Types all got fairly decent coverage.  So what articles that follow will cover has me very curious.  It will be very hard to avoid being "just another hybrid article" if all do is cover the basics.  Hopefully, we'll actually get something with deep substance.  I'm not counting on it though.  At least things are finally changing.

 

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