Personal Log  #437

October 21, 2009  -  November 1, 2009

Last Updated: Sun. 5/23/2010

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Second Oil-Change.  This time took what seemed like forever.  I was looking forward to a routine change.  But with so much interest for the topic, it was necessary to investigate the many aspects of the process in great detail.  I wanted to make sure I hadn't missed any nuance the previous time.  It's easy to overlook a subtle instruction when you've been changing your own oil for decades.  Turns out, the ramps weren't as tall as I had hoped.  That isn't a big deal when working with such a clean engine though.  The encasement of plastic sure makes the effort dramatically nicer.  That protects for dirt & salt wonderfully.  The catch is less room to work; however, that overhang makes for a very convenient place to set a small flashlight.  So, it balances out.  All went well.  This time the cartridge was on sale and I already had the wrench, so cost was less.  I used precisely 4 quarts of oil this time too.  It came to $33.84 total.


Dose Of Reality.  That summarizes this week's automotive activity related to GM.  Not much happened with the other automakers, they're waiting for month-end sale's counts.  Residual of the clunker activity had subsided and 2009 inventory thinned by October.  So, it was a fresh outlook for many.  (Chrysler is a mess, with much of its efficiency development programs dead.)  GM is unique.  They still position Cruze & Volt as premiere new vehicles; however, both are now not expected as soon or as efficient.  Cruze (traditional compact) will be delayed from Spring to Fall next year and the 44 MPG combined is reduced to 40 MPG highway.  Volt (plug-in serial hybrid) will now be delivered by the end of 2010 rather then by November and the hope for 50 MPG in charge-sustaining mode has faded away.  Of course, many of us suspected the reason for fierce adherence to the 40-mile capacity was due to sub-Prius highway efficiency.  Now, that is all but confirmed.  Debut price near $40,000 has been set as an expectation.  Being realistic has become the theme; otherwise, that first year could be filled with disenchantment.  I think it's a great move for New GM.  Old GM certainly wouldn't have done that.  Remember Two-Mode?


B-Class Vehicles.  They are still quite rare here, with little success in years past.  In Europe & Asia, it's an entirely different situation.  They purchase lots of small, efficient, less powerful, less elegant vehicles.  In fact, the almost unheard of Fiesta in the United States is selling wildly there.  Ford has sold 470,000 of them through September of this year.  So, you can imagine how curious some of us are about the October results.  Strong demand means profit.  Part of the recovery effort planned for Ford is to push B-Class vehicles here.  What will consumers think of that?  How will they respond after a decade of being convinced to purchase large, guzzling SUVs... especially after being led to believe small equates to dangerous?  Maybe their low-cost is enough of a draw.  It should be interesting to see what happens, Prius is extremely well positioned for those who are looking for a reasonable choice in the A-Class vehicle category.


Questioning Intent, part 3.  This next post was more of the same, me arguing for needs of middle-market.  It was in direct response to this "Actually, its smart of GM to sell the SUV's with the hybrids systems first...".  We all know how that turned out.  There was very little demand for those giant SUV hybrids and focus was diverted over to Volt instead.  Still nothing is planned to target the consumers who would like a Malibu delivering a competitive price & efficiency, despite the success of Ford's hybrid Fusion and the 2010 Prius.  Couldn't they see the demand rising, how the market was accepting hybrids as mainstream.  You'd think the years rolling by, proving misconceptions false, would lead an understanding of demand increase.  Preparing for that should have been planned.  Instead, there is nothing competitive and an extremely expensive hybrid not ready mainstream volume for many years still.  Oh well.  At least I can stir up that long silent thread to answer these questions posted on in my response:  Ok.  That's fine, now in 2007.  But what about 2010?  There is growing market for a car priced in the low 20's that delivers around 50 MPG, especially when you look outside the United States.  What will those consumers be offered?


Questioning Intent, part 2.  The following post example I came across was from July 2007, back when the intent of Two-Mode came to question.  Remember how supporters were arguing that it was best to start with the largest vehicles, then later deliver a configuration for the smaller vehicles?  I was so tired of hearing that, not believing it could be competitive with the midsize designs both Toyota & Ford offered.  Now, some claim that was never said, that there were never any such claims for future Two-Mode offerings.  Changing stories after discovering the technology was ill-balanced (over-powered & too expensive) for consumer needs is disheartening.  I can imagine how some who believed those supporters now feel.  Anywho, at least I have proof of understanding middle-market, as this post from then confirms:  This hybrid is too small... Volt.  This hybrid is too big... Tahoe.  This hybrid is just right... Malibu.  High volume sales will come from midsize cars.  That's where the market is strongest and where the gas prices are driving demand.  Whether automakers like it or not, that reality is coming.  Offering the other sizes is fine, but don't neglect the middle.


Questioning Intent, part 1.  That comes up a lot.  When a discussion goes bad, the antagonist likes to spin your purpose into something that appears to undermining.  It's quite frustrating.  Recent revelations with Volt have been exacerbating that.  So, just an a confirmation for myself, I looked up posts from posts from a year before the $4 gas... back when the automotive industry started to fall apart... when the extreme discounting began.  That was the Summer of 2007.  To my surprise, some of my posts on the big GM forum read exactly as if I had just wrote them today!  That's quite vindicating, seeing that I stuck to my purpose without allowing all the attention diversion to misguide or dilute.


Volt Pricing.  Lots of attention is being paid to GM lately.  It seems as though they are taking a sincere response to it too.  How about that?  The quote today we got from the new CEO was: "The price is still to be determined.  I have a policy of pricing the vehicle when I get close to the market.  I know the cost is close to 40 [thousand]."  No spin!  That's impressive.  The original goal of "nicely under $30,000" was incredibly difficult to accept.  Enthusiasts accused those questioning that as intent to undermine, rather than an attempt to be realistic.  Now, we've been vindicated...  but without apology, of course.  Oh well.  At least the situation has been resolved long before rollout actually began.  The bankruptcy has allowed GM to distance itself from those unfortunate chapters of the past.  As for this Volt pricing revelation, what do you think the dependency on tax-credits will do to being competitive?  Time is short and funds are limited.


Cruze Delay.  The news about Cruze being delayed from April to August or September next year really stirred the forums today.  Europe has already had this GM replacement of Cobalt (a traditional efficiency compact) for awhile now.  Taking even longer to finally be available here has obviously frustrated supporters... it worries them too.  If this premiere vehicle is taking so long to come to market, what about GM's other plans.  Production of Volt is much more complex.  Taking the time to do it right is very important.  But the promise of delivery by November 2010 was pledged years ago and continues to be confirmed.  Will this be yet another example of the "over-promise, under-deliver" problem?  For GM to be upfront about Cruze delay, it could be a change for the better.  That would be a genuine difference from prior to the bankruptcy.  Was this announcement a sincere effort to set more realistic expectations?  That sure would be a nice change for the better.


MPG Compares.  Anyone else sick of the Highway MPG advertising?  Totally disregarding the City MPG is just plain wrong in the first place.  But then when you look at the advertisement itself, the sincerity of the intent becomes questionable.  The compares are only for the most efficient models.  For example, the 4-cylinder Malibu delivers an estimated 33 MPG where the comparable Camry is 32.  Then when you look at the 6-cylinder models, Malibu is 26 and Camry 28.  The advantage is reversed.  So, it is very much dependent on the engine size... just the opposite of what the advertisement leads you to believe.  To make matters worse, the isn't any difference for the 4-cylinder model when you look at the combined Highway & City estimates.  Both get an average of 26.  So, even the original impression of "more efficient" is disingenuous.  It's quite frustrating, seeing misleading like this.


$2.69 Per Gallon.  The price of gas continues to climb up.  What does that mean for the shrinking guzzler market?  The promoting of 30 MPG is still frustrates.  We know that is primarily to make the 25 MPG not look so dismal.  Don't those automakers see how much the pain at the pump hurts?  No matter how they spin such low efficiency numbers to look more appealing, a 15 gallon fill up at $2.69 is still over $40 and it's hard to overlook the frequency that is needed at 25 MPG.  Consumers won't want to purchase a new vehicle with only a modest efficiency increase.  They'll be stuck with it for the next 8 to 10 years.  Gas will obviously climb higher.  There's a very high probability of another spike during that time too.


40-50 MPG.  More attention is being put to CS (Charge-Sustaining) mode efficiency.  The 32 MPG conclusion drawn the other day was an interesting provoke.  From an automaker who promised unparalleled transparency, not hearing anything despite all the cries for info, does provide cause for concern.  Here's the exact quote we got from Lutz in response: "If you have a 60 mile commute, you'll have 40 miles purely electric, the remainder of the mileage on very good gasoline mileage, and your average fuel economy will be somewhere between 120 and 150 miles per gallon."  That of course was an indirect answer.  GM is still trying to divert attention away from CS efficiency.  That's frustrating, but acceptable.  We can still do the math to see the 40-50 from that.  But what I especially liked was the overall value provided.  Considering a friend averaged 129 MPG for the year with his second-generation Prius upgraded to a plug-in, it does make you wonder how Volt will actually be marketed later.  What MPG will they focus on?


Global Warming.  This is among one of the topics getting attention.  Rather than the proper term of climate change and the addressing of carbon emissions, we get endless "warming" debate.  Of course, that's only here in the United States.  The rest of the world recognizes how warmer temperatures are only a small part of the equation.  We get cold as a result too.  It just matters where you're located.  We get greater extremes, as well as more frequent storms.  But some of that is lost within averages and the forgetful memories people have.  Whatever the excuse, there really isn't any for not trying.  Our children won't look highly upon us for having the technology available but not using it.  In fact, when they become adults, they could be down right angry at us for not doing more sooner.


Discussion Topics.  The lack of content about GM vehicles is becoming increasingly obvious.  Even the "230" campaign is fading away.  So much attention is being placed on the politics of the automakers survival that the products themselves are becoming an unknown.  What they produce is suppose to be at the core of what an automaker is all about.  Concern is growing that this isn't the case for GM.  Unfortunately, when that concern is expressed from someone outside it is perceived as an attack and responded to with hostility.  It's getting ugly.  The "too little, too slowly" assessment from the task-force is now being noticed by some consumers.  Mere survival isn't enough.  Opportunities will be missed if an aggressive stance isn't taken.  GM could again be struggling to catch up at this pace.  Online discussions have served as a good gauge.  Topics posted by enthusiasts indicated where focus was.  And currently, they show almost no interest at all in vehicle production & sales.


It Snowed Again!  This time, it was faster, heavier, and wetter than before.  By the time I was able to slip away from work and get to the scenic location I thought would look best, the temperature had warmed and changed the precipitation to rain.  Fortunately, it looked great still... a light layer of fresh snow covering the colored leaves of the trees.  Unfortunately, the rain meant wiping off the lens every other shot and having to struggle with an umbrella in the wind.  It was worth it though.  Unique opportunities like that are nothing to complain about.  That combination of circumstances is quite rare.


Volt MPG.  This quote about Volt MPG from the line-director of the Volt development program sure stirred attention today: "[It will be] better than any conventional car, and we're trying to figure out how close, or if it will actually be better than any hybrids."  That made me where the pressure is coming from.  As successful as Prius is, it could be the fact that the Fusion hybrid has won the hearts of many.  Of course, it could be both Toyota & Ford.  Regardless of where or who, the question has always been the same:  What is the MPG while driving after the battery is depleted?  GM absolutely refuses to reveal this, despite their promise for unparalleled transparency.  It's a fundamental aspect of Volt still completely unknown, after almost 3 years now.  Needless to say, the media used that quote for speculation.  One actually proclaimed only 32 MPG.  Most of the better informed, including myself, deduce (based on engine, weight, and conversion factors) it will be somewhere in the low to mid 40's.


Plug-In Details.  We had a hint of what was to come back with the previous generation.  That was just a prototype though, this was the real thing, a validation build.  The plug-in Prius details we got today was the plug-in model intended for production.  500 will be delivered worldwide before the end of the year.  Exactly as anticipated, the top electric-only speed will be 100 km/h (62.1 MPH).  Faster is when you'll get the serious MPG boost.  The lithium-ion battery will recharge in 90 minutes using a 220-volt connection.  Pricing information wasn't provided, but the smaller capacity of the battery (20 km, 12.4 miles) was a clear indication that the design had lower prices as a high priority.  The electric-motors and gas-engine were the same.  The only real difference was the electricity supply and the information on the displays inside.  That's very exciting!  Now, it's just a matter of demonstrating patience.


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