Prius Personal Log #346
August 31, 2007 - September 8, 2007
Last Updated: Sun. 9/09/2007
page #345 page #347 BOOK INDEX
All Bark, No Bite. There isn't even a hint of temptation
to respond to their bait dropping anymore. That complete lack of concern for
the financial well-being of their favored automaker is quite obvious now. A
beginning economics student would quickly detect the absence of support for the big
picture. It's an obsession with "superior" that has blinded them from the
need to sustain the business itself in the meantime. A strong financial
foundation comes from offering large-volume products that are somewhat vanilla,
the kind of vehicle you see very frequently everywhere you go. That isn't
sexy. That isn't exciting. It is good, solid business though.
With that comes stability, allowing you to invest in long-term ventures... like
Volt. In other words, Volt is just a lot of talk now with no chance
of mainstream status for the platform until many, many years from now.
What about the time leading up to that? How will the automaker pay their
Dismissing Two-Mode. That divide I eluded to months ago is no longer visible to just an educated eye. Its existence is easy to see now. Those supporting the "series" hybrid have turned against the "full" hybrid, not wanting anything to do with them... especially the plug-in configuration. Two-Mode has been deemed a solution for large Pickups & SUVs. They completely dismiss it as something to compete with Prius or Camry-Hybrid. Remember that episode of South Park? The effort (praised in the end) was to get everyone driving hybrids. From Volt supporters, you definitely don't get that. Discussion of price and production volume get you branded as traitor. There is no place for that with technical triumph. They simply aren't interested in the numerous smaller steps required to change the majority, hence such cavalier dismissal.
Electric-Only Range. It has become obvious that when referring to any distance value, proper representation would be to use quotes. For example: "40-mile" range. Those numbers are only rough calculations based on battery-pack capacity and approximated consumption durations & rates. In other words, they have even more potential mislead than the EPA estimates. After all, no criteria for measurement has been disclosed by GM. Fortunately, we do have Toyota working with the Japanese government to help establish testing standards. Hopefully, that will lead to the same effort here in the United States too. Otherwise, those numbers being promoted are pretty much just arbitrary and without regulation. Your mileage will most definitely vary.
Interesting Twist. This was quite unexpected, though eventually inevitable. That "40-mile" electric-only range was squashed. Volvo revealed their concept vehicle, one that could deliver a "65-mile" electric-only range. In other words, the building of reputation by press-release is starting to get nonsensical. Range is arbitrary. It depends upon how much you actually want to pay. The danger of thermal-runaway can be overcome by isolating cells and providing individual controllers or through the use of new battery chemistry. None of that has proven affordable though... a gotcha the enthusiasts are too distracted about to acknowledge. Technical triumph is their obsession. Whether or not joe-consumer's budget will allow them to purchase the vehicle is not their concern. Fortunately, I am concerned and will continue to point out the importance of keeping cost low.
Superior. The meaning of that has been perverted to insane proportions over the past 24 hours. Because the specific adjective of "superior" was used in that investor presentation to describe the approach chosen for widespread market penetration, Toyota must now suffer... according to the big GM forum and the one dedicated to Volt. Simply achieving a technical triumph isn't enough. Their hate has grown to the level of wanting pain for the competition. That's why I left. It didn't take much to see this coming. Continued discussion participation there was pointless. They simply don't care about economics or sustaining the business. Reputation is all they focus on. It's pretty obvious too, just by reading comments to the identical topic posted on two neutral automotive forums... ones that don't have allegiance to any particular automaker and make a sincere effort to avoid bias. The difference in reader responses there is truly remarkable. The meaning of "superior" varies significantly depending on who you ask. Thank goodness there are some that understand the importance of delivering large volumes of hybrids at reasonable prices.
20 to 25-Mile Range. The importance of price is finally being acknowledged by the biggest of aftermarket upgrade promoters. They got the message. Yeah! Quite a few of us had complained that the $10,000 to $12,000 price for battery-pack augmentation was unrealistic for the typical Prius owner. Price needed to be less, even if that meant a reduced electric-only range. Now there's talk of a new configuration offering a range of 20 to 25 miles for $6,000 to $7,000. That's still a bit high, but far more likely to reach a decent sales goal. The cost-prohibitive nature of the original configuration didn't make a strong case from a business-sustaining perspective. This change will definitely improve the success potential.
Parallel Hybrid. Lately, that's what most of the people arguing against the Prius in favor of the "series" hybrid have been using to identify HSD. It's a term that has never been correct, because that's actually the type of hybrid from Honda. In fact the confusion is what lead to the term "full" hybrid being coined... since Prius delivers operational behaviors of both the "parallel" and the "series" hybrid types. It was a best-of-both-worlds design advantage that obviously paid off significantly. But some people dislike using "series-parallel" label. Others don't want to admit anything in common with a competitor. Whatever the case, the use of "parallel" for HSD is totally incorrect.
Business Goals. They just plain don't understand.
Toyota's presentation highlighted their next planned stage for hybrids: annual
sales tallying 1,000,000. That has little, if anything, to do with the
overwhelming hype coming from Volt right now. GM is planning for
production of 60,000 the year of general availability. It's just one
vehicle though, with the hopes of becoming a platform for others later.
Toyota has already delivered a platform and is working to expand its use.
Those business goals are very, very different... yet the enthusiasts absolutely
refuse to acknowledge that. It's much like the computer industry, where
the technology has matured and now efforts are focused on making the product
widely appealing and very affordable. Immediately jumping to another
technology usually isn't wise. You need to build up a steady revenue
source before investing even more capital. In this case, the "series"
hybrid will initially be small & expensive. So what are they going to sell
in the meantime, while waiting for it to advance? Selling lots and lots of
"full" hybrids at a reasonable profit makes sense. It's a sound plan that
doesn't require much risk, something that audience of Toyota investors were
likely very pleased to hear. What is GM telling their investors?
Facing Reality. Toyota made a strategy presentation to
investors yesterday. The GM supporters went nuts over that,
concentrating discussions on bragging rights by claiming the "better" technology
will be coming from Volt. They refuse to face reality that an
automaker's primary purpose is to sustain business. That means
high-volume production. The concept "series" hybrids we've seen so far is
small & expensive. Decent sales will be the result, but nothing on the
industry-changing scale. The "full" hybrid with a plug option is what has
potential to reach a much larger consumer base. There is less reliance on
a plugging in and the battery-pack size can vary with little alteration to the system
itself. In other words, platform flexibility is what will lead to mass
quantity... the very thing needed for survival over the next decade.
Afterward, things could be entirely different. But that's not what will
allow the automakers to be financially stable in the meantime.
August Sales. Prius remained above the threshold, easily on the way to meeting the 150,000 goal. The count was 14,055 sold, which represents a 25.7 increase over the August of the previous year. Camry-Hybrid remained strong, coming in at 4,284 sold. That pretty much keeps it on par for the anticipated sales goal of 60,000 for the year. With success like that, I'm starting to grow impatient for a 4-cylinder non-car hybrid from Toyota. In Japan, they've had the Estima minivan available. But the United States market is fickle, not widely embracing minivans or small SUVs. Evidence of that should be obvious, with the availability of Two-Mode in the very large SUVs next month. Next year brings the 6-cylinder version of Two-Mode. Willingness to accept change is minor. Fortunately, slow is still acceptable. Progress is easily validated by the sales of Prius & Camry-Hybrid.
NOx Awareness. Discussions about diesel now include the issue of NOx levels, whether supporters like it or not. In fact, concern of smog-related emissions now sometimes include mention of NMOG levels too. So even though there is still quite a struggle for constructive contemplation of the different hybrid types, the topic of diesel is maturing. It's about dang time! I was tired of diesel enthusiasts misleading by only saying emissions are significantly improved compared to the past. That is true, but it most certainly is not the whole story. The part they don't tell you is NOx and NMOG emissions, as well as PM (Particulate Matter), are still sub-standard. That emission rating of "Tier-2 Bin-5" is only a minimum, not even remotely close to the clean delivered by the "PZEV" rating. And fortunately now, use of those identifiers have become common. Awareness has been raised.
Forums & Blogs. Since the very beginning, we knew they were be monitored. Of course, back then there were two executives that actually participated in discussions and the word "blog" hadn't even been coined yet. The point was that our candid comments made their way to people with decision-making power. So when that reality was printed in an article published today about Toyota, it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. In fact, enthusiasts would have been disappointed if somehow their voices weren't being heard. Whatever your perspective, the concern is how literally some people take what's written. Believing everything you read verbatim isn't smart. There's always a degree of distort. Some is an innocent a matter of brevity, simplification for the sake of clarity. Some is intentionally being vague, with the hope to mislead. Can you tell the difference? Most people can't... hence the monitoring. When incorrect information gets out of hand, an official response of some sort is released... as we very recently witnessed from GM for Volt. The auto industry isn't in a "business as usual" mode anymore. Change is here. It's good to see efforts like this to embrace that.
30 Years Later. Pathetic is the only way to describe the situation. Remembering back 30 years ago, I recall talk of the new Dodge Omni. It was an economy car designed to be practical, affordable, and efficient. With MPG in the low 30's, that was indeed what the market needed. Fast-Forwarding to today, we are still accepting the low 30's for MPG. Why? Now vehicles are cleaner, safer, and more powerful, but no improvement whatsoever with respect to filling the tank (dollars per distance) is... pathetic! After those 3 decades, you'd think all of the improvement criteria would have been met. So what if the EPA estimates for Vue will increase from 23 to around 32 going from traditional to hybrid. Low 30's isn't something we should have to settle for anymore. Having to accept that in the 21st Century would have been horribly disappointing news for those back in the 1970's looking forward to advancement. This is the time which 50 MPG should have already become realistic. Clearly, some automakers don't want consumers to realize that.
Eerie Quiet. Many of the Volt enthusiasts have grown silent since the recent release of those details. Why? Their hype was clearly based on incorrect information. So could it be that they've come to terms with that reality? Or could it be that they have finally realized just how long 3 years really is? The 6-month wait for Prius that the first owners had to endure was horrible. In fact, helping to ease their pain was a fundamental reason for establishing my website. Those hoping for Volt have a significantly longer test of patience. How in the world are they going to tolerate it? Seeing Prius everywhere in the meantime could bring about a mild psychosis. The rollout of the new Prius will make that even worse. This calm is bound to transform to sometime. I wonder what?
100,000 Sold. That's the hybrid milestone now being celebrated for Europe. In that land of diesel, it's a really big deal. Gas is quite a bit more expensive there. So the financial appeal of diesel has out weighed the emission penalty for a long time. Overcoming that is a challenge. But those tired of the smog problems are deciding to try the newer technology. It's no longer a choice of diesel or traditional. The option of hybrid changes everything. Sweet!
Summer Stats. Statistical data for the warm season is looking pretty good. True, my Prius actually delivered higher MPG averages the first 2 years of ownership. But at least this year is working out better than the last. May through September are the months which reflect the closest to ideal possible here in Minnesota. The calculated results so far are: 51.3, 51.4, 51.2, and 52.0 MPG. I have absolutely no idea what to expect in the coming few weeks. But I'll make the most out of it. Cold is on the way.
Volt Details, charging. What the plug will actually look like remains a mystery. None of the automaker designs have ever been in the form of a conventional cord & socket. All have been a propriety adapter, a paddle or nozzle shape coming from an off-board transformer. That makes a huge difference in how recharging takes place. The propriety approach is favored due to liability concerns; it also eliminates the issue of storage space and weight burden. But those hoping to charge up the battery-pack at work or a friend's house would be out of luck. Enthusiasts have yet to even acknowledge this issue. When do you think we'll get some automaker detail?