Prius Personal Log #433
September 12, 2009 - September 18, 2009
Last Updated: Sun. 10/25/2009
page #432 page #434 BOOK INDEX
Marketshare. The latest spin is rather thought provoking. Prius sales are now being portrayed as flat, no growth despite the 2010 model. That's fascinating. The desperation makes antagonist nonsense increasingly clever, yet still shallow and easy to disprove. In this case, the overall market has contracted dramatically. Sales from all automakers are dramatically less than we've seen for a very long time. Yet, Prius remained unaffected. Stable numbers actually translate to growth. What was once a modest number is now enough to put it in the top-10 list. Of course, continuing to maintain that rate will break the pattern, since the year-to-date total is smaller than what the year-end total will come to. The key to spin is to disregard the big picture and be vague. People like me easily avoid that, by stating the actual quantities. 180,000 is the target. That's a lot, nowadays. Ever better is that the current pace puts projections in the neighborhood of 225,000 overall for the first 12 months. Cool, eh?
7th Coldest Summer. I figured
this one was heading for the record books. Sure enough, this Summer was
the seventh coldest in the history for Minnesota. Barely getting any
opportunity to enjoy kayaking was quite frustrating. Not seeing the
effects of the solar-panel in an extreme was disappointing. Though, I can
report that it was nice during moderate conditions, in other words the low 80's.
Higher temperatures simply never materialized. It was a warm season with
clear mornings and afternoons that were almost always overcast. What a
pain. Of course, it should make the MPG statistics for my 2010 rather
interesting if the Winter is on the warm side. Though, I would have rather
had higher MPG from a warmer Summer. Oh well. Cold hopefully won't
be the trend next year. My first Winter with a Prius was abnormally cold
too. The next was much better. If nothing else, it is good for
Superiority. The discussions
have turned into pointless arguments. I stress the MARKET need and the
troublemaker (an antagonist undermining a Prius thread) posts about ENGINEERING
superiority claims for Volt. We all know that for enough money, great
technology is available. But being the "best" only earns you a trophy, not
a paycheck. We need a vehicle that can be produced & sold in large
quantities. This particular individual doesn't care though, he simply
wants bragging rights. Ironically, this is the very same "smug"
attitude he made fun of years ago. Now, he himself is guilty of acting
that way. Why? Superiority is a terrible way of running a business.
There is no balance when cost is dismissed. A vehicle which costs $40,000
is clearly too expensive for middle-market.
Capacity Growth. The well-proven business practice of capacity growth over time has been ignored by GM marketing. Volt has been portrayed as meeting the "40-mile range need" without regard to price. Imagine how unpopular a computer or handheld device would be with that approach. Rather than targeting a price that will result in a large sales quantity, a premium configuration is the only model being planned. Not even getting a choice of large or small doesn't make sense. One size most definitely does not fit all for those electronics, why would it for vehicles? After all, vehicles have been offered with more than one engine size for decades. Heck, try to find a popular vehicle that doesn't give you a choice. We've seen how well accepted the capacity options for music/video players have been. Different consumers have different needs & wants. And the move to larger for the manufacturer is a matter of shifting up models, making the larger now the price the smaller had been. Then each larger next generation model offers greater capacity for a similar price as the previous. Why can't a plug-in hybrid be like that too?
Nicely Under $30,000. Remember that comment from 2 years ago? A certain GM executive made it, now everyone who supported the idea is haunted by it. The announcement of an upcoming plug-in Prius with a moderate upgrade capacity actually meets that price-point. Using a lithium battery in place of the current one, changing the side panel, adding a few wires, and updating software isn't a big deal, especially since Prius is now mainstream. The much larger battery for Volt in a niche vehicle is a big deal though. A survey sent to key people today clearly confirmed that. The target price listed was between $32,000 and $38,000 after the tax-credit. The message forum discussions saw from this was a concern about that price and worry about what perception will be on it when the tax-credit ends. The competition is giving price a much higher priority.
HS Commercials. The new Lexus hybrid sure has been getting lots of exposure lately. I'm seeing a surprising number of television commercials for it now. Being the first dedicated hybrid-only luxury vehicle makes it quite unique, and that is a rather effective way to get the word out about it. The catch is, the content of the promotion itself. Toyota's advertising focuses on the advanced technology features... which just happen to be the very same options available on the model "V" version of Prius. Getting to see & hear about them presented as luxury items really reinforces the reality that Prius is offered in a wide array of configurations. It makes you wonder how long it will take for stuff like collision-avoidance and dynamic-cruise will take to catch. For that matter, what about the "EV" button? Whatever the case, I'm enjoying the HS commercials. They are a dramatic departure from the horrible Hummer nonsense we were forced to endure.
Li-Ion. It's coming.
Cost is still a problem. Yield & Quality are improving though. We
heard from Toyota that their testing didn't reveal much benefit for the non-plug
model of Prius, so they'll be sticking with NiMH for that. For the plug-in
model, that's different. The greater energy-density does indeed justify
taking this next step in automotive electrification. I'm pleased so much
can be done with the stock configuration. By just adapting the Prius in
high-volume production, cost can be kept lower. Using a considerably
smaller capacity than the most direct competition (about 5 kWh instead of 16)
will help a lot too. In fact, I probably already sound like a broken
record repeating the importance of affordability so often. But to achieve
that ultimate balance between consumer & business need, it makes sense...
especially considering the reduced risk. It's an easy step that can
quickly lead to wide market acceptance.
60-Day Guarantee. I'm not sure what to make of this.
Supposedly, you can now purchase a GM vehicle and return it for a refund if you
are dissatisfied within the first 60 days. This is definitely something
where the devil is in the details. My guess is they'll have to finance
through the dealer and will not be eligible certain other promotions. That
could make a trade-in situation extremely difficult too. You may be
obligated to purchase something else instead. No one really knows.
This has never really been done before. Online discussions give that sense
of unknown as well. We aren't sure what to think or have any idea how
consumers will react. Whatever the case, the outcome is thought to be
short-term. Who knows. At least we can give GM credit for trying.
The circumstances of their bankruptcy point out a number of interesting
problems... some of which they are still struggling to overcome. I guess
we'll find out in about 60 days how this is working out.
Worried. It's intriguing reading about how worried a
certain Volt enthusiast is about how a smaller-capacity battery could destroy
the plug-in market. He doesn't believe it will simply draw sales away or
prolong widespread acceptance. He is honestly worried... to the point of
it mutating into an irrational fear... you know, where everything less must be
fought against with no regard to any reasoning. It's making constructive
posts impossible. There is no consideration of market need.
Traditional vehicle production is totally ignored. The only consideration
of competition comes from other hybrids considering a plug option. I
foresee a collapse of discussion. Nothing constructive can come from such
doggedness. I suppose that's just another reaction possibility to change.
At least being worried means that the underlying problem of oil dependency &
consumption is being acknowledged.
Stripes. I don't even think I've seen a Prius with large lateral stripes. You know, the kind found on racing cars. That's what "Herbie" had too. Anywho, I saw two recently... one yesterday and one today. What are the odds? The first was a Classic Prius and the other the Iconic. Too bad I wasn't able to get photos. Both actually looked pretty good. That's something I would have never thought of. But I suppose when you are looking for ideas to make an older vehicle stand out still, that could do it. Of course, the size and color you choose makes a big difference... not too obvious or not too subtle. There's a happy balance with the vehicle's color that both seemed to find.
Shade Storage. The almost non-existent hump on the floor
in back passenger area sure is nice. Between that and the natural void
created from the seat, the roll-up shade for the hatch almost completely
disappears. It's the ideal place to store it. I wonder if that
convenience was intentional or just a lucky coincidence for the 2010. With
my Iconic model, that wasn't possible. So, I had to be careful with it
when loading the car heavily with cargo & people. It's refinements like
this that often go unnoticed... unless you take the time to think about it.
Unfortunately, that typically doesn't happen until years into ownership.
Stuff like this never crosses the mind of someone researching a purchase.
Fortunately, the active online owners do try to point it out though.
80's Flashback. A bunch of "economy" vehicles are on the way. Several automakers have announced intentions to deliver models that deliver much higher MPG by means of size & power reduction. Remember when that happened in the 80's? Fortunately, it is somewhat different now. The existence of Prius certainly puts a new twist on this old methods of meeting efficiency needs. One of those upcoming vehicles is Chevy Spark. Its larger 1.2 liter engine accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 12.4 seconds. The smaller 1.0 liter engine power is unknown, but we can safely assume it's at least a second slower. That translates to a 0-60 MPH of about13.5 seconds. This market won't be too tolerant of that. Heck, some here even consider 10 seconds a compromise. So between the power downgrade and the subcompact size, it doesn't take much imagination to see sales being a challenge in this market. That could make it a terrible choice vehicle to offer a EV model of. Yet, that is exactly what's being considered. Odds are that it may never happen here. The market in India is getting attention for this first. Whatever the case, these changes in the auto industry certainly are not what was being considered just a few years ago. It's amazing the influence $4 gas and a few bankruptcies can have.
Counting Prius. I see several Iconic models every time I drive. They are quite abundant. Counting that many would be pointless. 2010 on the other hand, that's a big deal. I saw 2 on the drive to the grocery store yesterday. Those are rare still... no where near as rare as Insight though, which I have only seen twice ever. Anywho, the second 2010 sighting was quite amusing. I had the roof open and took advantage of the opportunity to wave through it, as I made a left turn in front of a full 2010. Several of the people inside cheerfully waved backed. That was quite exciting! Of course, last weekend was hysterical. The other 2010 driver was turning and the sudden sight of mine caught him totally off guard. Being in rural Minnesota at the time, we were probably the only 2 for quite some distance. So, you could imagine the expression on his face, realizing he only had that very brief moment to exchange a greeting. But as fun as though sightings are, I look forward to the time when this new model becomes common too.
Choice. Any mention of Volt with a battery-capacity less than that of the "40-mile" configuration is considered a hostile threat now, a suggestion with only the purpose of discrediting. Paranoid is an understatement. But considering the bankruptcy pressure and the attention other upcoming vehicles are getting, that's understandable... but still quite inappropriate. I find it absurd that a choice won't be offered. The approach of one-size-fits-all isn't a good business practice, but to sacrifice affordable so blatantly is self-defeating. Anywho, it doesn't take a rocket-scientist to notice that the computer industry didn't force such limitations. I pointed that out too: Consider the evolution of computers and handheld devices. Our market is already quite accustom to progressive improvements. The next model being an upgrade is an expectation. Heck, we even welcome the choice of storage capacity sizes. Your worried feeling and resulting actions are clearly unnecessary. In fact, the one-size-fits-all approach is pretty much doomed. History is loaded with failure examples based on not being given a choice.
The CS question. This was
asked about again today, in a list of unknowns GM refuses to provide any detail
for "MPG when operated on gasoline." It was on the big Prius
forum, of course. On the GM sites, they considering that question an
attempt to discredit. I chimed in with: It's been a month since the
"230 MPG" announcement and well over a year since some of us starting begging
for the answer to that question. After all that time, the MPG during CS
mode (Charge Sustaining) remains a complete mystery. GM simply does not
what to tell us. Why? It would indeed make matters easier.
After all, the decision whether to keep driving or run errands later focus will
on that MPG value, not the overall efficiency. B ut then again, purchase
decision is overall based.
On-Going Announcements. There's been a steady flow of announcements for upcoming "electric" vehicles. The variety of configurations is extreme. Some are electric-only with substantial range (for a substantial price). Others are some type of hybrid with plug option. None are easy to understand. Just like with the computer industry, the measure of "better" is no longer based on simple factors. Remember when the processor speed was a good indication of overall computer performance? There's literally nothing to base quick comparisons on anymore for anything coming from the automotive industry. I'm hoping it will ultimately boil down to battery kWh and motor kW. Those components tend to tell the story of how the vehicle will operate. Unfortunately, most of the announcements lately tend to gloss over those points. All we are getting is basic "something good is coming in the next 2-3 years" type articles. Oh well. Every little bit helps to change the overall market mindset.