Prius Personal Log #389
October 5, 2008 - October 14, 2008
Last Updated: Sun. 10/24/2010
page #388 page #390 BOOK INDEX
Watershed Year. This was an interesting question posed
today: "How did the year 2010 become such a watershed year?" I
wonder how my response will be considered:
That's obvious to those that have been driving hybrids for at least 6 years.
Back when we endorsed our favored technology with our wallets, the nonsense
about Fuel-Cell vehicles was pretty intense. They were heavily promoted
along with hydrogen for availability in 2010. But since those unrealistic
goals won't be met and hybrid technology did indeed deliver as promised, it only
makes sense that some automakers are now struggling to deliver something
worthwhile by that same date. And the fact that most are far from being
able to build & sell hybrids in high-volume, they are choosing to deliver a
small amount of vehicles that "inspire" instead... since delivering
nothing would be not be looked upon kindly, even by the most forgiving.
Saved By Zero. People are getting worried by that slogan in Toyota's latest advertisements. No interest financing indicates inventory is building up. Last month's sales report certainly showed that could become a problem, especially since the other automakers were already dealing with having too many unsold vehicles. The entire economy is slowing. In fact, that's why gas prices are dropping. They also have unintended supply growth. Demand simply isn't there anymore.
Plant Closing. Today's announcement was for GM's plant in Janesville, WI. The result will be 1,200 people out of work the end of this year. Remember how claims were made that hybrids would cause jobs to be lost? That spin gives the impression of being substantiated now. But in reality, it would have happened anyway. The SUVs produced there were already losing appeal and the fact that Two-Mode is now available has done nothing to circumvent that. It's sad that retooling to more practical vehicles instead wasn't possible. The importance of substantially better efficiency (in other words, 40 MPG or higher) is quite obvious now.
Required Progress. I asked this question of an antagonist yesterday: "What will 50 percent of each automakers product-line consist of a decade from now?" The response wasn't the slightest bit constructive. It made me wonder why. The need to reduce emissions & consumption was obvious 8 years ago when Prius sales began here. Now it's absolutely blatant. Changing the word "will" to "should" was my response today, but that was basically to just see if I could get anything thoughtful in return. I doubt it. Progress is required. Look at both Ford & Honda as current examples. Both automakers know they must increase volume of their hybrid production very soon. They can't afford to remain stagnant any longer. GM will be facing the same situation in a year or two with their hybrids. Growth is essential. That means increased quantity of existing models and expansion to others.
Economic Downfall. Some of us have been complaining for years about how short-sighted the obsession with quarterly returns was. Now the long-term consequences of that poor choice are emerging. It's ugly. The DOW dropped all the way down to a 8,451.19 close for the week. That's a 5-year low. Oil is down to $77.70 per barrel, mostly due to abrupt consumer consumption reduction. As a result, the over-supply of gas has dropped prices all the way to down to $2.84 per gallon here. The price of diesel didn't change though; it's still at $3.96 per gallon. The world is suffering as a whole, with each stock market seeing huge losses. Automakers are now seriously considering even more closures. Heck, even talk of GM and Chrysler merging has emerged. Those are definite signs that change is coming.
Defrosting Problem. The use of a heat-pump isn't a good idea in extreme conditions anyway, since efficiency drops the colder temperatures are outside. So my push to find out if the usual electric-coil (resistance) heater would also be included resulted in an "it would have to be" conclusion (from the Prius gurus, the Volt enthusiasts refused to respond). That's not a solid answer, but the ability to defrost pretty much confirmed the need. In other words, each time you take a deeper look into the design of Volt, the less realistic that original "nicely under $30,000" price estimate becomes. It sounded too good to be true. How could GM deliver what engineers have dreamed about for decades even though we still haven't had that major battery cost/capacity break-thru yet?
Volt Defroster. Some enthusiasts are already disenchanted from learning that Winter will require the engine to run, wrecking their "no gas ever" hope. Li-Ion requires warmth. Frozen from sitting in a parking lot without a plug available while you work for 9 hours means heat is needed quickly from something. Gas will be consumed to provide that. Anywho, the problem gets worse (reinforces the clever design of Prius) when you ask the next question: How will the system provide defrost for the windows in the Winter? If the A/C operates in reverse as a heat-pump to provide warmth, what will dehumidify the air so condensation doesn't build up on the glass? In both traditional vehicles and FULL hybrids, this is accomplished by running both the Heater and A/C at the same time. If Volt only has a single system available, how will it condition the Winter air to deal with both cold & moisture?
Weakening Market. It's getting worse. GM fell dramatically today, all the way down to where stock was back in 1950. Ford isn't doing much better. The desire for much improved fuel efficiency combined with economy failure spreading across the world makes the future is quite uncertain. Thankfully, the automotive industry doesn't have to search for solutions. We already know that investing in hybrids is a wise choice. The FULL type has proven to deliver reliable efficiency & emissions improvements at a reasonable price. Not having that doubt to deal with should help a lot. But when other industries are suffering, especially banking, the effort to take the steps necessary will be a challenge. This is a very interesting time in history.
Core Business. A troublemaker from the past re-emerged recently on the big Prius forum and started preaching to us about core business. His argument was that a new hybrid brand will be a horrible choice, if made. I begged to differ by pointing out the needed transition away from traditional vehicles with this... Things are different now though. When GM exploded into many brands, the products were basically just copies of models available elsewhere. For a "Prius" line, that wouldn't be the case. The vehicles named "Prius" would be successors, long-term planned replacements intended to phase out non-hybrid vehicles once sales justify the shift, which is what the core business will become.
Apartment Dwellers. That fundamental shortcoming of
relying on a plug finally got some attention again. The suggestion today
was absurd though. It was a proposal to establish charging-stations
controlled by credit-card transactions. Why in the world would a landlord
spend thousands of dollars for the sake of providing only a few dollars worth of
electricity? Tearing up parking lots to install outlets is expense enough.
But then when you factor in control & liability overhead, the situation becomes
too much to bother. And of course, here in Minnesota, you've got snow &
ice removal as a major obstacle as well. In boils down to plugging in
being totally unrealistic for a chunk of the population.
Making Sacrifices. My favorite question from the second
presidential debate (which was this evening) was on the topic of making
sacrifices. Despite the demand on resources from our military overseas and
the economic burdens we face here now from other problems, we haven't followed
responses of the past. The first candidate totally disregarded that
history, focusing entirely on "government program cutbacks" to deal
with the situation. I was pretty upset after hearing that. No sense
of participation to help out would be asked of us, even though doing our part
has always been a fundamental part of the American way. Arrgh! The
second candidate didn't disappoint. He stated making "personal changes"
as a major part of his solution. I was delighted. After all, doing
things like reducing our dependence on oil isn't actually a sacrifice anyway.
It's just a matter of accepting change for the greater good.
Hybrid Type: "Combined" Honda has always went out of
their way to avoid using the hybrid identifier of "parallel" knowing that it
would only lead to confusion (or worse). So, the system they offer was
labeled as ASSIST since the very beginning. In fact, that's how the label
of FULL came about. Preventing misunderstanding was a big deal for all
supporters back then. But now, those promoting the SERIES type are
intentionally taking advantage of that confusion by calling all the other
hybrids "parallel". Deceiving people like that is terrible, yet they
continue to do it anyway... even when confronted. Needless to say, Honda's
newest educational materials try to stay out of that mess. They use
"combined" to express FULL, pointing out how it sometimes acts like a "parallel"
type and other times like a SERIES. Not calling it FULL makes sense for
them, since then people might call their type PARTIAL.
Global Economic Meltdown. A status of "the sky is falling" might not be severe enough to properly describe the situation. Response on Wall Street to the bailout plan has been quite negative. It looks like the delay before our market gets that money and the fact that foreign markets are also started to show undeniable signs of suffering makes for a grim outlook. It's bad. Really bad. However, it is necessary. The inappropriate practices needed to finally be dealt with. Unreasonable risk will no longer be taken. That means a better market... eventually. But getting from here to there won't be without some pain. I can't imagine how this will play out in the light of the upcoming election.
New Logo Debut. We got our very first taste of the new
model Prius today. It was only a small teaser photo of just the assumed
new startup-banner for the Multi-Display. But at least it was something.
The wait until the Detroit Auto Show kick off early next year would be painful
without anything at all. But for those like me that will have to endure
countless more months for delivery, it's 2000 all over again! This will be
the third time having to wait for a Prius. The outcome is totally worth
it. But the time until then seems to drag on forever.
Tipping-Point. A report on public radio this morning
brought up an interesting bit of statistical measure. There's a
tipping-point that can be conclusively identified when it comes to topic
popularity online. Enthusiasts in dedicated forums embrace new ideas &
products during the initial stages of market penetration. That type of
activity is isolated, just a niche. The shift to mainstream is when things
become important. Manufacturers need to know this so they can reasonably
predict upcoming demand. This can be clearly be detected by search-engine
data. When ordinary consumers seek out the information, that's when it is time
to take that next rollout step. I concur. That's exactly what those
of us supporting hybrids have witnessed firsthand.
Quoting Errors. The very thing I had feared has indeed happened. Remember that recent accounting misunderstanding about Per-Mile computations? Sure enough, someone stumbled across that "information" and quoted it as if the value was a genuine fact. I've seen that occur with other statements, where it gets picked up and shared as if it was data from a credible source... rather than the unverified assumption it really was. I intentionally didn't mention the value itself for that very reason. It was a claim that Volt would only get 30 MPG when operating in depleted-mode (when the engine runs to supply electricity after battery-pack charge-level drains to the normal depletion threshold). If that were the case, it totally contradicts both what GM has been claiming all along and the efficiency of SERIES hybrid technology in general. That would give Plug-in FULL hybrids an undisputable advantage I've never heard anyone ever mention. It's just too far fetched to accept without any data to support it. Even treating that as a particular-condition sample wouldn't be appropriate when there's no detail available. Yet, it happened anyway. That's how greenwashing propagates. An innocent reader picks up on something originating from an assumption and unknowingly spreads it to others.
Believing What You Read. Some people do, at "face value" without questioning. That thought is scary. This is nothing new though. People have done that for decades. Only with the internet, it's even easier to come across a source with a mysterious purpose. So, you really do have to take some initiative to at least confirm that others are saying the same thing. For example, an article about the next Prius popped up today from a source claiming to support the move away from petroleum. It seemed sincere. But what was written was loaded with errors. With a writer so poorly informed about that, what other errors might their be elsewhere? Or was that information intentionally wrong? After all, undermining can be more effective than dismissing. Could that actually have been an attempt to mislead? Will people discover that this source was saying something different from others? Hopefully, having the internet available will empower consumers to do some research on their own and not just blindly believe everything they encounter.
$93.88 Per Barrel. Seeing that as this week's closing price for oil certainly was interesting... but not as much as the $3.21 per gallon for gas here (well actually, E10). The kind of effect that will have on the consumer isn't expected to be much though. Too many other economic factors make wallet pain still feel like $4 per gallon anyway. Fuel efficiency has elevated up to the top of the priority list now. Those carefree days of waste are long gone. Having a big & powerful SUV is far from something to envy anymore. In fact, guzzling has turned into a nightmare that has many drivers leaving them garaged, preferring something that sips instead. It's about dang time!