Prius Personal Log  #388

September 22, 2008  -  October 4, 2008

Last Updated: Sat. 10/18/2008

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10-04-2008

MPG Plunge.  I've grown use to seeing it.  Driving from the Twin Cities to Northern Minnesota with either bikes on the back or kayaks on top along with lots of cargo inside takes a "huge" hit on efficiency.  In perspective though, dropping to 38 MPG is hardly anything to complain about.  That's better than most vehicles ever get anyway.  Heck, that's almost twice as much as Two-Mode owners have been reporting.  It certainly enforces the fact that my Prius isn't babied.  The 70 MPH cruise home with a nasty headwind pushing against the bikes certainly made that clear today.  It was totally worth it though.  The colors of Fall had just peaked and the weather the day before was practically perfect.

10-04-2008

New Tax Credit.  The new bill was passed.  The most notable element is the fact that money won't be handed out to each automaker evenly.  That aspect of the prior credit failed miserably... as some of us had worried.  There was no incentive to stimulate the market, no sense of competition.  But now with urgent need to repair both the industry & economy quickly, Congress saw the need to push.  A market total of 250,000 vehicles will trigger the phase-out (50-percent reduction the following 2 quarters, then 25-percent).  That means the automakers will who drag their feet will lose out this time.  There is genuine incentive to respond quickly.  The credit will have a base of $2,500 with the minimum qualification of 4kWh battery-pack capacity.  Each additional kWh above that earn an additional $417.  How this will affect vehicle prices is a big unknown.  And of course, with AMT still a mess, you may not get the entire amount back on your taxes.

10-02-2008

VP Debate.  This evening's debate of the vice-presidential candidates demonstrated extremes when it came to the topic of energy.  One spoke words that I'm sure most Prius owners were be delighted to hear... actually doing something now by taking many steps forward.  The other, to my shock, sounded exactly like the current administration... drill, drill, drill with no concern at about the resulting pollution.  Fortunately, the moderator jumped on that obvious problem and asked about climate change.  It's really sad when a "solution" is presented as something helpful for our immediate woes with no future consequences.  Regardless of where the oil comes from, its consumption causes smog & carbon emissions.  More is bad.  We must reduce oil use.  Investment in technologies that result in reduction must be supported.  One candidate expressed concern.  The other didn't even sight it as an issue.

10-01-2008

Prius State-Of-Mind.  You know it has become a cultural icon when this expression is just casually used in dialog on a prime-time television show: "Get in touch with your inner Prius."  Upon hearing that, I shouted with joy.  It's a perfect example of being a game-changer.  Penetration so deep into our society that it has become a state-of-mind ends all doubt of its significance.  I was simply hoping for mass-acceptance of the technology itself.  Who knew that the vehicle itself would emerge as symbolic of the times.  Sweet!

10-01-2008

September Sales, numbers.  The slow start for Two-Mode saw a boost, but not by numbers GM was hoping for.  The hybrid Tahoe, Yukon, and Escalade sales were 636, 374, and 91 respectively.  That would be on-target if maintained.  But this market certainly doesn't support that.  And such a small quantity overall won't really make much of a difference with a market begging for relief from the pump.  It's not like 6 years ago when gas was still really cheap.  Time's up.  Solutions are needed now.  So when you look at BAS sales, you get the picture.  They were 443, 382, and 31 for the Vue, Malibu, and Aura hybrids.  Toyota did much better.  Though, I'd love to see the growth planned for next year possible now.  Stable is a good way of describing the situation.  10,873 for Prius puts things in perspective.  It's much better than the competition, but no where near enough to reduce overall demand for oil.  2,785 for Camry-Hybrid helped.  921 for Highlander-Hybrid should give GM concern.  And the 820 combined for all 3 Lexus hybrids was nice.

10-01-2008

September Sales, status.  The month is over.  Numbers are in.  Economic status for just about everyone in all industries is unfortunate.  For automakers, that meant much lower sales than the same period the previous year.  Basically, consumers are holding off major purchases for now.  What they'll buy later when better times return is a mystery.  It seems unlikely that they'll choose guzzling SUVs anymore... based on the increased frequency of "24 MPG" television commercials, since promoting such a poor efficiency as a solution is an obvious act of desperation to reduce inventory.  The desire for 40 to 50 MPG cars is growing.  That's undeniable.  How quickly large quantities will be produced & sold is the unknown.  The pain from the current economy is really hurting hybrid growth.

9-29-2008

Volt Groups.  It looks like enthusiasts (those hoping to buy) on the Volt blog have decided to embrace the production-intent model, abandoning the unrealistic features once flaunted about the concept model.  That's good news.  Unfortunately, their step forward has been met with a step backward by antagonists (those wanting to brag) on the big GM forum.  Insults toward Prius owners certainly have been easy to find there recently.  Their posts are attempts to make the situation personal, hoping to discredit.  With a practical design for Volt now, that dream of a dramatically better hybrid has vanished.  And thought of the new model Prius drawing a lot of interest adds to their discontent.  It appears as though two distinct groups are emerging from the chaos.

9-29-2008

FOB Battery.  The first one was replaced 6 months ago.  It made me wonder when the second FOB would need its original battery finally replaced too.  Today, the need became apparent.  I got tired of the extremely slow hands-off response and sometimes having to manually push the button for entry.  For just $3.59 (plus tax) and a few minutes of effort, that was totally worth it.  Replacement brought immediate improvement.  Perhaps I should have just done both at the same time.  Oh well.  Lesson learned.

9-28-2008

$25 Billion Loan.  Federal money (taxpayer funds) for domestic automakers is defiantly being called anything but a bailout.  Arguing semantics is pointless.  Quibbling over labels is spin.  Reality is that they need help.  They have... again ...been caught not taking the efficiency market seriously.  History has officially repeated itself.  Now aggressive retooling investment is required for them to catch up.  How that money is actually used and what criteria must be meet is quite unclear.  With the insincere efforts currently taking place, it's hard to imagine them taking the big steps necessary.  But with so much money being lost still (GM & Ford lost almost this much the second quarter of the year), something drastic much be done.

9-27-2008

More Arithmetizing.  Reverse calculating public-relation releases to determine MPG only works if the numbers match.  But when you dig, you find that those numbers conflict with other GM reports.  I figured something else would emerge to reveal the problem with such an approach.  Little did I realize that it would be the very next day.  Oh well, the emotion stirred will help make that prior event memorable.  Having to repeat it certainly wouldn't be good for anyone.  Anywho, it really doesn't matter.  Real-World data from a consumer owned & driven vehicle is only true measure of efficiency anyway.  All else is a sampling, not representative of actual long-term experience.

9-26-2008

Accounting Problems.  It hadn't crossed my mind that common practices in accounting were not well known.  I assumed and the outcome got ugly.  (Of course, it was interesting proof that I got more out of those college classes than realized.)  Anywho, when you determine Per-Mile cost, factors such as maintenance are included in those calculations.  This is especially important for a vehicle like Volt, where times when the engine is not in use can be withheld if stated explicitly (as the original source did).  Then there's the standard amortization for the vehicle as a whole, where other costs like vehicle price, finance charges, insurance, tax, registration, and stuff like tire replacement must all be included too.  In other words, you can't just take quoted a Per-Mile vehicle and reverse calculate it to determine MPG.  The value is not just fuel quantity only.  But a forum member didn't know that and got very angry when twice confronted about it.  MPG has always represented distance divided by gallons of fuel consumed.  But this was an attempt to express it as an "equivalent" without stating that purpose.  So, you got the impression that the MPG represented actual efficiency of the engine itself.  This over-simplification to state costs of the many different configurations of hybrids in terms which consumers can easily compare clearly doesn't work... and this particular encounter demonstrated how extreme feelings can be hurt when a misunderstanding occurs.

9-26-2008

100 MPG Limit.  The criteria used to provide generalized efficiency estimates is very confusing already.  In fact, many consumers still misinterpret meaning... despite new information provided as a result of the recent revisions.  Attempting to more accurately portray real-world experiences for vehicles with a plug introduces added complexity to the extent that nothing related to an average for "city" or "highway" driving could be depicted properly.  So, the EPA is now considering a "100 MPG" category label instead.  A new rating process may emerge later.  But for now, attempts to measure are misleading at best.  The criteria is simply too involved for consideration of FULL and SERIES hybrids with plugs and varying battery configurations to establish a standard quickly.  After all, the estimate system for traditional vehicles was in desperate need of updating for years before that finally happened.

9-24-2008

Needed Education.  Think about how much the Volt enthusiasts have been pushed to provide educational materials.  It almost got to the point of being antagonized.  Yet, nothing happened.  Well, now they are wishing they has heeded that advice.  Word got out that the SERIES hybrid "sustains" the battery-pack after the electric-only capacity is consumed.  Newbies were assuming it "recharges" like FULL hybrids do.  As a result of learning that isn't actually the case, there's a big negative backlash.  How about that?  Those of use pushing education as a need have been vindicated.  Of course, not allowing any opportunity for assumptions to occur should be obvious.  They did nothing to prevent.  Now, there is a mess to deal with.

9-24-2008

Diesel Desperation.  It's hard to believe... no inconceivable... that a "Fuel-Economy Marathon" winner would be proclaimed without taking into account the amount of fuel that was actually consumed.  I was truly amazed that a popular publication would even try something so absurd.  A diesel Jetta was placed against a Prius for close to a 500 mile drive.  In the city half of the competition, Prius delivered 44.7 MPG and Jetta only 32.0 MPG.  That's a pretty drastic difference, totally offsetting the Prius 44.8 verses Jetta 45.4 results of the highway half.  Overall, the fuel consumption was Prius 10.63 gallons and Jetta 12.68 gallons.  How could they possibly declare the outcome in favor of Jetta?

9-23-2008

Cost Argument.  Some enthusiasts continue to insist that they'll be able to convince people, despite the higher initial cost, that Volt will be favored over Prius without actually providing any numbers.  So, I ran some ballpark calculations (using somewhat optimistic values)...  $40,000 vehicle price plus 7 percent tax is $42,800.  A 5-year loan at 6 percent interest calculates to a $49,646 total, which is a monthly payment of $827.  $22,500 vehicle price plus 7 percent tax is $24,075. A 5-year loan at 6 percent interest calculates to a $27,926 total, which is a monthly payment of $465.  The cost of driving 15,000 miles per year with the current 48 MPG real-world average at $4 per gallon comes to $1,205, which is a per-month amount of $104.  The $465 plus $104 is $569, which leaves a difference from $827 of $258.  So, how are they going to convince the typical consumer to pay an extra $258 per month, plus whatever gas & electricity Volt uses?  Heck, even if the owner qualifies for a full tax-credit (no AMT penalty), that would only drop the expense by $125 per month to $133 more than Prius.  Of course, the Prius available then will deliver an efficiency improvement, maybe 4 MPG real-world average.  That's a monthly improvement of $8, bringing the Volt disadvantage to $141, plus gas & electricity.

9-23-2008

Hybrids From Chrysler.  Yup, just as expected, it will be the SERIES type.  The surprise part is that there will be three.  The reveal today included a sports car, a minivan, and a jeep.  Descriptions of the latter two resembled Volt, both 40-mile electric and 400-mile overall range.  The sports car on the other hand only mentioned up to 200-mile range overall.  Details beyond that simply weren't available.  Price?  When?  Quantity?  Whatever the case, that spotlight held by GM alone will now have to be shared.

9-22-2008

Escalade-Hybrid Commercial.  Saw my first on television this evening.  And of course, it was as demeaning as you'd expect it to be.  Size was the theme.  Bigger is better, if you couldn't guess.  The chosen market approach was to mock the smaller hybrids.  It was pitiful... because they were serious!  Being stuck with a technology intended for the largest vehicles is a big problem.  The destiny is an outcome not supportive of the business model planned.  Selling enough to sustain continued production will be one heck of a challenge.  Do you think the advertisement I saw made any difference?

9-22-2008

Biodiesel Support.  Did you know that it is only minimal?  Just blends of 5-percent are what have been supported by many automakers.  So, those running their diesel vehicle on pure vegetable-oil are voiding their warranty.  In fact, even a 20-percent mix is too much.  Next month, a national standard for B20 takes effect to help promote sales of it from diesel providers.  However, VW still isn't prepared to support its use yet.  I wonder why.  Hmm?  Could it be the gel effect cold temperatures cause?  I'd expect the standard to address that.  But does it work well under all conditions and are refineries in a position to deliver biodiesel complaint meeting those requirements?

9-22-2008

Biggest Oil Spike Ever.  We saw a record-setting $25 spike today, all the way up to $130 per barrel.  The reason was because speculators waited until the very last moment before placing orders for delivery next month.  They were gambling that the price would finally fall... which didn't happen and the response to the sudden demand was an abrupt price increase.  This level of uncertainly is a bad sign.  Remember the good old days?

9-22-2008

When Prices Drop.  They (many Volt enthusiasts) still aren't seeing the big picture.  When battery prices do finally drop a substantial amount, that will basically eliminate the premium for some FULL hybrids... especially if 6-speed automatic transmissions become standard in response to the upcoming efficiency mandate.  That will significantly increase demand for the FULL hybrids.  Production at very high volume is needed already.  Now is when affordable high MPG solutions are wanted.  Not having to pay anything extra for that will be a very compelling draw.  How will they attract buyers for SERIES hybrids in a market embracing a much less expensive solution instead?  Sure, vehicles like Volt will deliver as promised.  But paying more is a hard sell.  What will supporters do to convince the mainstream to spend the extra money?

 

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