Personal Log  #436

October 11, 2009  -  October 20, 2009

Last Updated: Sun. 10/25/2009

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Other Markets.  Both South Korea and India are quite unique.  Toyota just announced their intention to offer hybrids in both.  For South Korea, it will be a model of Camry.  For India, it will be a model of Prius.  Size, Power, Efficiency, and Price expectations are quite different than all the other markets we have become acquainted with.  Their desire to embrace change and competition with their own local automakers make this effort to expand very much an unknown.  Going hybrid makes sense though.  That's a new category, rather than being just another choice in a market that is already deeply entrenched with traditional vehicles.  We'll see.


Toyota Sai.  This hybrid was announced today.  It doesn't have a traditional counterpart and will only be sold in Japan.  The vehicle system & body is similar to the new Lexus HS250h hybrid we have here.  The expectation is to sell 36,000 of them annually.  Much like Estima or Auris, I wouldn't expect to hear much about this other than it being available.  Prius is the premiere hybrid and the one which is being push hard into the high-volume production category.  Toyota's goal is to make it an everyday choice, transforming it from new technology to a standard for the next decade.  Diversity is very important though, so keeping up the demand for a variety of models remains a priority.  Someday, they'll become common too... making traditional offerings just a memory of the past.


Measuring Equivalent, enigmatic.  The level of uncertainty is quite high.  Today, we got the 100-Day report.  Response to it was like the others, you're more puzzled afterward rather then finally getting some answers.  GM's points out accomplishments, but expectations for the future are quite vague.  Supporters are harsh to criticism, not wanting to hear anything negative.  Everyone wonders what will happen next.  That's why I push for some sort of direction.  What do they want?  The general feeling is that change is occurring fast enough.  The hope is that recovery will somehow result just by the smaller actions taking place, rather than from any particular effort.  Meanwhile, the price of gas & oil continues to rise.  The barrel is just 15 cents shy of $80 and the gallon is now at $2.59, both enough to stir concern.  Pressure is building.  The entire industry is struggling.  This is not a time for perplexing messages.  That measure of equivalent is more important than ever.  Consumers understand and respond to MPG.


Measuring Equivalent, realistic.  Despite that optimistic presentation, they still didn't like seeing the detail.  It should have used GM's own estimate.  15,000 miles at 230 MPG is 65.2 gallons.  And that's for city driving.  We've been told highway is quite a bit lower.  So, instead of that 40 gallons per year, it could be 80.  That means we could actually looking at something around 2 Volts sold for every 5 Prius... just to break even.  To really make a different, it have to be 3 Volts.  That's why I've been pushing so hard for something efficiency of substantial quantity.  In fact, I have repeatedly stated 60,000 for the second year of production... pointing out that's what GM has planned.  How is the big question.  Being realistic, you have look at how similar new technology confidence was praised for Two-Mode before debut and actual results fell far short of expectations.  Is GM really going to offer something else in the meantime, allowing them to still compete during the long wait required for the battery cost to drop?

10-19-2009 Measuring Equivalent, optimistic.  Over a month ago, I posted the following on both the big GM forum and the dedicated one for Volt blogs:  If consumers don't buy a Volt, what do they buy instead?  30 MPG cars will cancel out the benefit of Volt.  Volume is the problem.  Consider what's being offered overall.  It's easy to see the difference that the small quantity of Volt makes will be offset much easier by a far less expensive 50 MPG car instead.  Volt will optimistically use about 40 gallons of gas for 15,000 miles of travel per year. Prius will use about 300 gallons for the same distance & duration.  A guzzler (30 MPG) will use 500.

Consider big picture sales, for 500,000 vehicles...
50,000 Volt + 450,000 guzzlers = 227 Million gallons
250,000 Prius + 250,000 guzzlers = 200 Million gallons

Consider big picture sales, for 5,000,000 vehicles...
200,000 Volt + 4,800,000 guzzlers = 2,408 Million gallons
1,000,000 Prius + 4,000,000 guzzlers = 2,300 Million gallons

Consider big picture sales, for 10,000,000 vehicles...
200,000 Volt + 9,800,000 guzzlers = 4,908 Million gallons
1,000,000 Prius + 9,000,000 guzzlers = 4,800 Million gallons

Notice the pattern?  Even if 1 Volt was sold for every 5 Prius, it still wouldn't be meaningful.  That's why I'm so persistent about GM also offering a lower priced model of Volt.  To really make a difference, high-volume is essential, regardless of electric-only range.


Learning From History.  We've got two distinct groups of GM enthusiasts emerging from the bankruptcy mess.  One is the big forum, which has become unashamedly hostile to anything Toyota.  You don't even have to mention Prius to get a receive an insulting reply.  Competition in general is feared.  The opposite extreme is the dedicated forum for Volt.  They actually welcome the constructive discussion.  Some there don't like it, but they still try to make you feel welcome.  It's amazing to witness such differences to the very same ideas.  One is receptive, the other dismissive.  The latter is in complete denial of Two-Mode, pretending price was never an issue and will not be for Volt either.  The other is concerned.  Whatever the case, both are well aware of the significance of 2012.  Toyota will be offering a plug-in Prius.  Nissan & Ford will be offering electric-only vehicles.  Chrysler, BMW, Hyundai, VW, and others are hoping to have something available too.  Then there's the aftermarket upgrades for FULL hybrids along with new companies like Tesla with EV aspirations.  Just the thought of next year stirs wonder.  It sets the stage for the big change coming.  That's pretty much the only thing everyone can agree on.  History will be made then.  If they didn't learn from the past, that certainly will teach lessons of what was wise and what was...


Driving Modes.  It has become overwhelmingly obvious which reviewers of the 2010 Prius actually took the time to research.  We are constantly having to put up with the "3 Button" observation.  They see the 3 and simply assume those are the only modes available.  Having a 4th mode of using none of them is rarely ever thought of.  Odds are, some never even try the basics during their testing.  Because if they did, we'd likely hear about the 100 MPG driving.  That's the 5th mode owners call "Stealth".  You'd think they'd notice after complaining about EV only going to 25 MPH.  Beyond that up to 46 MPH, the engine remains off and you can clearly see it on the MPG gauge just an inch from the speedometer.  It never ceases to amaze that they wouldn't think of a mode being automatic.  Aren't they supposed to be automotive experts?  Shouldn't they expect something automatic, like an overdrive?  Don't they notice that the engine is off sometimes?  It's been 9 years now.  What the heck have they learned about hybrids in that time?


Economic Recovery.  That was the theme in the media this week.  The DOW finally climbed above 10,000.  There's an odd resemblance back to 1999.  A similar consumer confidence rise, without solid reasoning, happened then too.  Of course, gas is 2.5 times more expensive and will inevitably go higher.  Oil closed at $78.53 per barrel.   That's steady growth beyond the stable $70 we saw throughout the warmer months.  That could in part be due to the recent change in season.  On the GM side, there's a state of panic.  The worry really did end up transforming to fear for Volt enthusiasts.  That likely came from the 90-Day report combined with the end up pre-production and the beginning of public road testing.  Whatever the reasons, the outcome is irrational arguing.  The pressure from the wait must really be building up.  Hearing about the 500 plug-in Prius being delivered to Japan, Europe, and the United States for fleet testing before the end of the year must be looked upon as a threat, rather than helping to establish the plug-in market.  That's too bad.  This economic recovery depends upon cooperation to build a better future... not fight those that are trying to help!  Oh well.  They'll eventually figure that out.


Blocking Data.  With the temperature here struggling to reach 40F now, I'm getting a sampling of cold weather improvements this new generation of Prius has to offer.  Last year was my first to block the grille for the entire season.  Prior to that, it was only some testing near the end of Winter.  The heater had always been warm enough and the MPG still well above all the other vehicles on the road.  But with the 2010, the design has been improved to really deliver.  So, it was back to basics for me.  In the 80's, I remember it being common practice to block the radiator leaving just a small opening for basic cooling and for the engine to breath.  With the underneath of Prius sealed so well and the lower-grille so perfect for nearly invisible blocking, I figured leaving the small upper-grille totally open would work extremely well.  Sure enough, the coolant and intake-air temperatures (visible using an OBD-II aftermarket gauge) are behaving the same way they did during the warm season and MPG is holding strong above 50.  I'm very excited about the data.  This blocking approach is working wonderfully.


AdBlue Expense.  Remember the arguments a few years ago from the diesel supporters, who claimed the chemical additive used to cleanse diesel emissions (convert NOx) wouldn't be a big expense?  Well, they were wrong... very wrong.  It was their way of competing with hybrids directly.  Rather than the expensive non-additive system, they'd favor the type that required a periodic liquid refill.  The special tank to hold the AdBlue must be refilled every 20,000 km (12,427 miles) with 15.5 liters (4.1 gallons).  The cost to do that is an amazing $140.  That's over $34 per gallon, way higher than the $4 expectation!  To make matters worse, I could remind them about the need for a heater below -11C (+12F) to prevent it from clogging the lines much like biodiesel does in the cold.  It's an approach to dealing with emissions that sounded non-competitive & impractical from the start and is proving to be exactly that.


Heater Confirmation.  The heater discovery a few days ago had me yearning for the opportunity that presented itself today.  I got to confirm the 114F under real-world conditions.  About 10 minutes into my commute home, I simply pulled over and parked.  Sitting there with the heater set to HI, the fan-speed set at medium, and the system in ECO mode, I waited patiently.  Sure enough, the engine stayed off until the coolant finally dropped to 114F.  I didn't pay attention to timing of how long that took or how long the engine ran.  The thought hadn't occurred to me.  Because at 39F outside, it was quite warm by Minnesota standards.  What I did observe was the shut off threshold.  That appears to be 128F.  The engine RPM dropped significant then; however, the gauge revealed 130F by the time the engine had stopped entirely.  Not having the engine start back up at 145F anymore sure is a nice improvement.


Fall Colors & Snow.  I had no idea just how amazing my photo taking experience was until afterward.  Looking at the results, seeing those colored leaves covered with snow, is quite a rare thing.  I certainly hasn't happened over other 9 years I've been driving a Prius.  It was very unexpected.  I'm sure glad I took advantage of the opportunity, but regret not having taken more photos.  Oh well.  What I did get turned out great... photo album 140


Prius Winterizing.  Dropping temperatures indicated it was time to winterize.  For my Prius, that means putting a brush & scrapper inside and blocking outside (to reduce the amount of cold air that enters the engine/motor area).  I ended up blocking the entire lower-grille, all 4 slots.  I used the squeeze method, simply pushing a length of foam pipe insulation tightly into each opening.  The resulting small size and no need for any fasteners makes it a very appealing-to-the-eye approach.  And for just $2 and the amount of time it takes to listen to an episode of Click & Clack, why not?  My winterization for the cold season here in Minnesota was complete.  The result is less of a MPG drop from Winter influences and a heater that works really well.  But to convince other owners it's worth a try on the 2010, I needed photos.  That moment came remarkably quick.  We got a bunch of snow today.  My digital camera was ready.  Now, you can see my grille-blocking too... photo album 140


Harsh Change.  That troublemaker on the big GM forum is really taking a beating now.  His focus only for the long-term without regard to price and no concern for GM being competitive & profitable in the meantime was obviously frustrating those trying to help the new GM get established.  But that wasn't enough for them to turn on him.  After all, they recognize the old GM thinking and still support certain portions of it.  What set them off was his continuous personal attacks and distortion of intent.  Those other members on the forum wanted no part of that.  It gave them an excuse to bluntly point out the problems with his posts, even though he was once regarded as a voice for them.  Change is proving to be harsh.  I'm quite sure he didn't see this attitude shift.  Those other members genuinely want GM to recover, emerging a much better automaker.  They means doing what needs to be done, even if it requires turning on him.  Mass penetration of hybrid technology quickly is becoming absolutely essential in this new market.  That means being flexible, which clearly he was not.  I wonder how he'll ultimately respond to so much negative criticism.  Hmm?


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