Prius Personal Log #353
October 24, 2007 - November 4, 2007
Last Updated: Mon. 1/21/2008
page #352 page #354 BOOK INDEX
Production Plans. The numbers from GM are now available. They are planning for 10 percent of their Tahoe & Yukon production for 2008 to be hybrids. The enthusiasts haven't voiced an opinion yet... possibly because I did ages ago. That volume is like Camry-Hybrid, not revolutionary as they had taunted. Making a difference takes time. Their expectation of overnight success is totally unrealistic. Fortunately, Ford isn't following suit. The upcoming debut of Fusion-Hybrid has been long awaited and quite void of hype. It's a family sedan. For that consumer base, there's the potential for strong sales long-term. But that type of vehicle isn't sexy. Being practical doesn't generate a whole lot of attention. Buyers won't care though. That hybrid will reduce consumption & emissions while also targeting the majority market. The nonsense from GM focusing on expensive niche vehicles is disturbing. When the heck will we finally get a "full" hybrid version of Malibu or Aura?
Grille Blocking, data gathering. Now, I'm curious as ever what the real-world long-term data will reveal. The Multi-Display is currently showing a 52.6 MPG average after 242 miles, despite it being cooler. That's what I'd expect to see during the Summer, not Fall. How much influence is the warmth from that foam making? There must be some due to the temperature now being 10 degrees colder than that first week of blocking. Perhaps air-intake for the engine is warmer. I have no idea, nor a way to find out. All that's available is the coolant temperature shown on the ScanGaugeII, which confirms all is well. Most of the time, it reads 186 F degrees. At times, the thermostat will open when the occasional spike to 193 F occurs... just like in a traditional vehicle. I suspect that will happen less often as Winter approaches. For now, Fall data gathering continues. In about 6 weeks, temperatures below what the other states experience could arrive. Then I'll know. This 8th Winter driving a Prius will likely be unlike all those in the past. I'm very excited.
Grille Blocking, aerodynamic. With the exception of a single day of "Indian Summer" bringing a daytime high close to 70 F, all the others during those first 2 weeks were colder than the prior 2. Yet, the MPG was higher. I was most definitely captivated by those results. But that wasn't from the cooling benefit of a less air blasting onto the radiator. It had become evident that it was mostly from aerodynamic improvement. Blocking the upper-grille created a seal, allowing air to flow smoothly over the car. Nothing was going inside from above the bumper anymore... and the data was clearly showing an efficiency gain. I was delighted.
Grille Blocking, experimenting. When daytime high temperatures dropped to 50 F degrees a few weeks ago, I got excited. By extraordinary coincidence, my prior two tanks both calculated to 46.8 MPG after driving 376 miles. That remarkably consistent data was my queue. The opportunity for comparison had come. I began with blocking the upper-grille. Just one dollars worth of 1/2-inch pipe insulation foam squeezed into the two slots was the extent of my first attempt. 10 minutes of work for each, with nothing but a knife for a tool. Now when driving, just like those first owners last season, I was observing a surprisingly stable temperature on the gauge... and a very intriguing increase in MPG.
Grille Blocking, temperature. Living in Minnesota and having already experienced 6 Winters driving a Prius, it was hard to take comments about "cold" temperature concerns seriously. Other owners have a much warmer definition than I do. And having no season-related Prius problems whatsoever, I saw no reason to experiment. But upon closing of the 7th Winter, things changed. ScanGaugeII became available. Owners now had a very convenient way of monitoring the cooling system. We had a coolant temperature reading, clearly showing how little help from the radiator the hybrid system actually needed. Experiments began. But it warmed quickly. Spring thaw came too soon.
$95.93 Per Barrel. Reality is beginning to come crashing down. With all vehicles suffering an image problem due to EPA estimates now being lower, there's a new factor at play. It gives the rising gas prices more potent of an impact. (Here, we are now at $3.09 per gallon.) So the attitude on the big GM forum is changing. They look at efficiency in the mid 30's as a proud achievement. Needless to say, nothing I could attempt to say there would be interpreted as constructive. Having a Lifetime MPG value of 48.4 puts me well beyond anything they could hope to achieve for the next few years. Their automaker of choice did not take the warning signs seriously. In fact, it was less than 4 years ago that GM spoke out against hybrids, declaring they don't make sense. Isn't it amazing how the higher price of oil is influencing what's deemed important?
Here's Some Perspective. Camry is the industry leader. Last month, there were 33,728 non-hybrids purchased. Corolla sales were strong too, in the top-seller list at 25,815. To reach that magic 100,000 annual level, an average of 8,333 must be sold monthly. Prius easily made it with 13,158. GM's popular Impala did too with 20,791. But then their numbers start to thin. Tahoe was obviously a candidate to be hybrid at 16,066. But how many will truly be interested in that option? The 3,511 Camry-Hybrid sales last month were less than 10 percent overall. That's puts weak sellers like Vue at 5,995 in a position of obvious struggle. Malibu is a problem too at just 5,975. Aura is even worse with only 4,425. How much advertising of the new models coming out that will also offer a hybrid option will be needed to draw enough consumers to justify production? Heck, only 10,805 of the much talked about G6 were purchased. Needless to say, wanting annual sales of 100,000 for Volt is going to require quite a bit of change. It won't come easy for an automaker so heavily focused on aspects of appeal not related to efficiency.
Following That Success. This quote from they latest GM hybrid advertisement has some of the Prius owners shaking our heads in disbelief: "Three years ago, Chevrolet introduced the world's first full-size pickup with a hybrid powertrain. Following that success, three new hybrid models are scheduled for introduction in 2008 and 2009 model years." How do they define success? It was a complete flop as far as standard industry measurement is concerned. Sales numbers were well below the norm and the vehicle was discontinued shortly after release. They must really be setting expectations low to give it such a positive spin.
Pretty Prius. A press release from GM today included a comment about the production model of Volt looking different from the concept. They said it would be toned down, to more closely resemble the looks of the current market. Suddenly, the look of Prius was no longer ugly. Quite a number of Volt enthusiasts started posting messages saying how they like it. That is a very, very different message from what we heard last spring... a complete reversal, in fact. No more mocking. Now they welcome it. Isn't that the definition of hypocrite? Personally, I don't care how they finally see the light. I'm just glad they are no longer focusing so much attention on look. It was a huge distraction away from the goal of improving emissions & efficiency.
German Cities. Next year will bring a ban to older diesel vehicles in central areas. An option available to allow use of them still is to install particulate filters. The cost of that is subsidized, but owners will have to pay higher road taxes. That sounded like an acceptable approach... until testing of some filters revealed that the minimum of 30 percent particulate removal wasn't being reached. Instead, scores were from 10 percent to no improvement at all. Needless to say, installations have been halted until the situation can be resolved. In other words, the long time acceptance of diesel there is waning. After decades of tolerating those smog pollutants, appeal for the European equivalent of SULEV is now growing. And fortunately, that cleaner market is exactly what the hybrid system is designed to target. Good timing, eh?
LOD. Playing with my ScanGaugeII aftermarket add-on device that plugs into the ODB-II port to display system data normally not available to drivers, I stumbled across the option to monitor Engine Load. I was immediately fascinated. With a PSD, the engine RPM has no relation to how hard it is actually working. MPG is the clue. But like gears in a traditional vehicle, even knowing vehicle speed too isn't enough. That value is unique. Now I can see it. I wonder what it will end up teaching me. Hmm?
The ending of a seemingly positive hybrid article today was great: "In light of all this, it seems as
though hybrids are definitely still fighting an uphill battle to prove
themselves as the near-term fuel-efficiency technology of choice."
Pretending there isn't enough data available yet to draw a conclusion with is a
popular antagonist technique. But it simply won't work anymore. There are too
many Prius on the road now. In fact, it has already begun year 5 for the HSD
model. That means the coveted 100,000-mile mark will be hit by owners on a
routine basis. When will they finally accept that hybrids will have a
strong presence in their future? Their resistance to change is
Just Kidding. It's easy to accept that response in the Prius forums. Unfortunately in others, it's not. Rather than acknowledging how much fuel is actually being USED in the first place, those others focus entirely on what will be SAVED instead. That sure sounds like an excuse to continue guzzling. After all, it still boils down to whether or not a vehicle is driven for the purpose it was designed. Are they really towing trailers that large? Driving a monster-size vehicle to the office empty simply doesn't make any sense, especially at 22 MPG. What you consume is the proper measure. But the joking attitude toward dismissal of that is troubling... and still quite easy to find examples of.
History Reminder. We need to be reminded of Prius history now that Two-Mode production has begun. The Original model (1997-2000/1) was not profitable. It's an aspect of the Classic model (2000-2003) that most people often aren't aware of. That upgrade repositioned the technology to a state which could justify mass production. In other words, it was no longer a money loser... and the following HSD model upgrade obviously proved that. How long it will take GM to achieve the same vital stage is the big question. Lutz has repeatedly stated (his CAFE increase argument) that their current design is way too expensive for the general market. So all we get for now is limited volume rollout. The challenge to overcome that is the next step. How aggressively will that be pursued?
Prius Wagon. The latest concept vehicle to get attention by the press online is a future wagon model of Prius. For the services industry, there's lots of potential. Fleet hybrids with tall cargo areas are a sensible approach for both automakers and businesses. I wonder how that will actually play out. There's always waiting involved though. But we have already seen a sedan and hatchback Prius. So later... why not a wagon too?
Wallpapers. Reusing the 12 new calendar pages, I
converted those printable formats to files that can be used as background images
on your computer. Being able to offer such a variety of Prius stuff that
features history long past is very exciting. I can't imagine what it will
be like looking back at all this many years from now...
wallpapers 4 &
New Calendar. Adding to the collection of four calendar templates that were already available, I created an entirely new one this week. This calendar should really make 2008 refreshing for those looking for a twist on the Prius photo album. Rather than like those collages from the past, this one was built with the brand new document format from Microsoft. It provides a wealth of special-effect tools that simply weren't available in the past. The result 12 pages are something I'm quite pleased to share. It was a lot of fun reminiscing through those old photos. Hope you like looking at them throughout next year... Calendar "E"
Projector-Beams. That was interesting. I drove next
to a car equipped with projector beams instead of reflective headlights this
evening. Over those few miles, I clearly saw just how much the HID
technology trumped what once used to be praised as the next standard. (I
installed a pair on my first car, back in the early 90's.) The
projector-beam used a lens & shield to create a highly focused beam. Using
55 watt bulbs, the illumination was much less than the 35 watt bulbs in my
Prius. Isn't it amazing how technology improvements come about? The
new, more efficient lighting system does a better job. I wonder what the
cost difference is.
$91.86 Per Barrel. Makes you wonder how much worse oil prices will get, eh? Expecting this new reality to be reflected in gas prices a few weeks from now should be what's on people's minds. Unfortunately, the timing of that coincides perfectly with the upcoming holidays... which will naturally bring about higher prices anyway. Obviously, consumers will have what's going on pointed out to them by the end of the year. That's when the Auto Show circuit kicks off. I wonder what the reception to hybrids will be then. Waiting for the competition to deliver something equivalent to Prius or Camry-Hybrid will be an interesting topic. The higher prices go, the less patience people have.
Snowflake. It's getting colder. Of course, for
Minnesota seeing that "road may be slippery" indicator illumination doesn't mean
much. 37 F degrees is still warm as far as we are concerned. For me
personally, I don't even consider it cold until the temperature drops below
25... since seeing temperatures 30 degrees colder is quite routine here.
Anywho, it came on today. That's like watching the trees turn color...
another seasonal cycle taking place. After awhile, it will come on and
stay that way for weeks. Eventually though, temperatures will warm again
to make it go away. I look forward to those changes.
Avoiding Hype, production cost. Sales price can vary wildly. After all, hype is the very nature of advertising. Unfortunately, far too many focus on that anyway. Look at production cost instead. The upcoming models of Prius will feature the next generation design... which focuses heavily on cost reduction. That translates to a stronger business case for production expansion with less at risk. The transition from modest profit to one similar to traditional vehicles of the same class is a really big deal. It increases choices for both dealer & consumer. This is the phase of rollout that makes the number-crunchers excited... not the popular media. So naturally, the automakers just beginning to offer hybrids are really going to feel pressure to move forward quickly. Whether or not anyone else notices will be interesting to find out.