Prius Personal Log #382
August 2, 2008 - August 13, 2008
Last Updated: Weds. 9/22/2010
page #381 page #383 BOOK INDEX
It's Getting Ugly, part 2. Remember Two-Mode last year? That also follows the very same pattern. It's amazing to witness such idealism playing out. Some intentionally misrepresent the competition and shy away from details about the design they promote. Others are completely unaware of events which have already taken place. It's history repeating itself... hence the "ugly" outlook. There's a huge difference between a product for the mainstream and one doomed to be only a niche. Think of it this way. Niche vehicles cater to want. Mainstream vehicles fulfill need. Like those fierce debates from years ago, that difference is not being taken seriously.
It's Getting Ugly, part 1. They just don't get it. No matter how many hints are dropped, all we get are blog entries from the Volt enthusiasts. Sound familiar? That's the same problem many others have had. Remember the Civic-Hybrid hype? It went no where. Nothing ever emerged to actually help with the market penetration of the vehicle. Forum posts was all that was ever offered. No effort from owners to share anything else. No offerings from the enthusiasts either, despite the raw content being discussed by them routinely. The same fate happened to Escape-Hybrid. All these years later, not even an expansion of online presence. The diesel enthusiasts fit that pattern too. They talk up their preferred technology, but contribute nothing to promote it. Downloadable educational materials are priceless. Yet, only stuff from Prius owners is available. The competition simply isn't interested. They don't understand the opportunity they are missing.
Extra Fuel Economy. It's promoted as "XFE" for special models of GM's newest vehicles. The Sierra pickup will be included. That improves fuel efficiency by 1 MPG on the highway. Put another way, that's half of what Two-Mode provides. What the heck? How are they going to promote their upcoming hybrid now. It was suppose to be so much better, yet the efficiency increase is only 1 additional MPG and there's a towing-capacity penalty. The much higher price will be quite a challenge to convince consumers to buy. Nothing they've delivered lately lives up to the hype. It's tough to remain objective with so much not working out as hoped.
Commercial during the Olympics. It portrayed a scenic vista obscured by the "progress" of man, where the development taking place there included the erection of an iconic gas station patronized by familiar vehicles of the past. As the decades proceeded, it changed. You know, the usual symbolic remembrance of history. But then, it vanished, replaced with that same vista from long ago. With mountains in the background and a Chevy Volt sitting in the foreground among the grassland of the valley, the message was clear... at least to me. We are painting a pretty picture because our reality is quite ugly, we won't have anything substantial to sell you for many years to come still. I'm getting tired of this nonsense. All bark and no bite. You get a good feeling without anything actually changing.
Smaller. This online comment really got me going today: "...simply making smaller much more fuel efficient vehicles (they don't even need to be hybrids) will go a long way to mediate the demand for oil..." I interjected with this... That's not even enough to maintain status quo and does nothing to address the problem of smog-related emissions. Don't forget about the needs of the entire world. Half-Baked solutions are what got us into this mess in the first place. In fact, it's the reason there is support for Volt now. Of course, E-Flex won�t be a high-volume technology (at least 25% production) for a very, very long time. That�s why FULL hybrids are a must. They fill in that large & lengthy gap and make the option to plug easy for both automaker & consumer.
Perspective. A rather large dose of it was needed today. Seeing gas prices drop just a little is causing people to think the problem is resolved... Remember $1 per gallon? It wasn't that long ago. The attacks for using $2.50 for gas in cost analysis for Prius aren't that hard to find still. Heck, there are fresh memories of speculation that oil could eventually reach $100 per barrel. Some insisted it was crazy to suggest prices could get that high. Now people are finding relief from $3.50 at the pump. Talking about greenwashed! That lack of perspective is scary. No wonder history has repeated itself. Makes you wonder what things will be like 2 years from now, when plug-in vehicles hit the market.
Road Noise. Mine was considerably reduced with the new tires. Replacing them with the same the Prius had before (Michelin HydroEdge) was a great way to confirm that noise does indeed increase as the tread wears down. I just hadn't realized how much. Hearing the same improvement on my mother's car recently really conveyed that message. Depth of tread makes quite a difference... and it makes sense that design optimization was with new being best. After all, wear depends on several factors which vary upon vehicle, driver, and even maintenance (pressure & rotation).
Minor Tweaks. A friend recently went on a trip. He
rented a Prius while out there. It was 2 years newer than his at home.
Comments about improved performance were just like I made when I got the
opportunity to drive one that was more recently produced. We have to wait
for major upgrades. But when it comes to minor tweaks, like optimizations
in the software which controls interaction of hybrid components, those are
rolled out right away. That makes the new owner experience more exciting.
We routinely get newbie reports of MPG even higher than they expected.
It's pretty sweet!
Oil Down, Gas Up. Over the past week, the price of
a barrel of went from $125 to $115. The reasoning for that seemed to be a
drop in demand (consumer wallet pain) combined with less worry about the economy
(business speculators). Both are volatile factors. We have a market
with too many influencing factors now to rely on trends anymore. Gas
prices seemed to be going down ($3.50 here), then they suddenly and without
explanation shot back up ($3.69 here). Our economic stimulus checks don't
appear to have improved anything. Promotion for "saving gas" fiercely
continues, with little attention to how much is actually being used or the
emissions caused by consumption. And the political rhetoric is mostly
talk, with almost nothing that really makes a difference. What happens
over the next six months should be very interesting.
Saving General Motors, demand. It changes like the weather now. People cut back on their driving. That causes a temporary drop in demand for oil, which results in lower gas prices. People stop holding back vehicle use. Demand goes up again, price goes up. In the past, cycles like that took a half year. Lately, we've seen that over the course of a few weeks. Does that mean the market efficiency will gain priority? The upcoming availability of more monster-size hybrid SUV models make you wonder. How much will they be depending upon those sales? Will they be attentive to the growing demand for smaller hybrids too? So far, they've basically ignored the need from those consumers entirely.
Saving General Motors, urgency. The time available for
required adjustments is gone. It's too late for a smooth
transition. This will be painful. The need is already urgent. When an automaker produces over 9
million vehicles per year and a vast majority of profit came from the type that
few consumers want anymore, that's a very big problem. To make matters
worse, the vehicles most desired now are only available from competitors.
Plans must change to deliver something that will actually sustain the business.
Expectations for the long-term mean little when market share of the automaker is
shrinking at such a fast rate. What will they do in the meantime?
Saving General Motors, design. This got little attention. The special did point out how Toyota hybrid sales were significantly better than GM's, but glossed over the reasons. And from the comments posted online, that's pretty clear why. Even those actively discussing the hybrid choices have only a minimal idea of how they actually work. Those of us that do know are out-numbered by such a degree it's almost impossible to provide operation clarification. Fortunately, the market has basically stopped fighting hybrids. Unfortunately the differences in design are being spun as just promotional deception (greenwashing). Thank goodness Prius has a wealth of real-world data available. Some will discover the hard way why their preferred hybrid isn't as competitive. Oh well. At least some are receptive to our attempts to spread the knowledge.
Saving General Motors, cost. It was essentially ignored. The perspective portrayed was that those initially high production costs associated with any new product would somehow rapidly diminish... forgetting that the auto industry doesn't update design anywhere near as fast others. Getting the next generation digital camera or MP3 player is usually just a matter of waiting until the following year. But for vehicles, the cycle is typically 6 years and the investment at risk is far greater. So, under normal circumstances that's a big problem. In this case though, automakers like GM & Ford don't have the capital available in the first place. They're stuck with inventory few want and have no clear direction of how to use their remaining resources.
Saving General Motors, news. That much-advertised cable special aired tonight. The hour-long show was a lot for me to absorb, because what they said was vague and filled with generalizations. I wonder what the typical viewer thought. The picture painted about the automaker's financial woes gave the impression that time would heal those wounds... without revealing the reality that it will require far more change and take much longer than many are willing to tolerate. Unfortunately, I am well aware of all that. I knew it would take an entire life-cycle for Prius to prove itself. Waiting the years it takes for owners to drive at least 120,000 miles not something this "quarterly results" industry wants to do. In fact, that's the last thing those supporting the SERIES hybrid development want to hear. We need solutions now, not 7 to 8 years after the market starts to fall apart.
The Problem. With GM being both the biggest automaker and
the one falling into financial disaster the fastest, it's difficult to sound
objective no matter what you say about them. But some of us try.
Today, it was reflection upon the past... The problem with GM is their mocking of hybrids years ago, proclaiming them
a wasteful "stop gap".
In other words, they broke a fundamental business rule by not staying diverse. Now they are paying the penalty for putting all their eggs in one basket.
If they would have also been developing a high-efficiency technology while
selling large quantities of monster-size guzzlers, things could have been
different. But instead, they delayed taking any action until it was absolutely
necessary. Now, something to competitive to sell is still years away.
Economy Down, Oil Down. The demand for oil has subsided. The reason is obvious... people don't have money available like they did in the past. Driving less is a simple fix for quick saving, but is most definitely not a long-term solution. It gives us a moment to think about the inevitable increase. Worldwide demand continues to grow. So a cut-back by Americans only temporarily keeps supply in check. Put an entirely different way, don't expect price drops to be permanent. Planning for gas being at least $4 per gallon is quite realistic.
Tire Gauges. Both political parties are now bringing attention to them. One suggested routinely checking your vehicle's tire pressure to ensure MPG isn't lost from being too soft. The other mocked that message by passing out tire gauges to voters. That's just plain weird. Why in the world would you make fun of such great advice? It's amazing how some twist good intentions for their favor. But in this case, it does get people thinking of their tires. So, there is likely a benefit... regardless of how issue is taken with it.
Economic Opportunities. Those in the vicinity of the new plant being built in Mississippi, which is now intended for Prius production, are getting excited already. Work there and for near by suppliers equates to opportunities to boost their economy. Isn't that precisely what certain politicians claimed wouldn't happen? Remember how they insisted that hybrids meant job losses? In a way, they were right. Guzzler production is collapsing. But in its place, high-efficiency vehicles will be emerging. It's really just a shift. We still need to produce cars & trucks for people to buy. They'll just be different from what the status quo had been for years.
Unrealistic Projections. When Congress passed the Energy Bill last year, those fuel-economy standards were based upon projected gas prices... which have since been revealed to be quite unrealistic. Believe it or not, the forecast values were $2.42 per gallon of gas for 2016 and only $2.51 for 2030. Needless to say, they were recently dropped in favor of a "maximum feasible" scenario, where $3.14 for 2016 and $3.74 for 2030 would be used instead. Supposedly, that helps justify cost-effective analysis of technologies. I still think that's totally misleading. How & Why would gas be so cheap that many years from now?
2009 Jetta TDI. The long awaited new diesel is having yet another problem. The planned United States allocation of 12,000 (which itself is a very small quantity) has been reduced to 8,000. Needless to say, those who once jeered Prius claiming this vehicle would crush its reputation have grown totally silent... as if none of the taunting had ever occurred. I can't imagine how disenchanted they must feel. After waiting so many years for this opportunity to spite, then finding out performance isn't as anticipated and that so few will be available. It's one more victory for the hybrid technology that took smog-related emissions into account too.