Prius Personal Log #441
December 4, 2009 - December 16, 2009
Last Updated: Sun. 1/03/2010
page #440 page #442 BOOK INDEX
Song & Dance. Believe it or not, GM has created both a song and a dance to promote Volt. It's footage on YouTube that you will make you wonder. What in the world were they thinking? Even if it was impressive, how would that help sell a vehicle? At least the useless promotions of the past, like climbing a rocky mountain or sliding sideways across a desert, had something to do with the vehicle itself. Song & Dance is pointless... or perhaps not. What we saw and heard was so bad, it definitely did draw attention. Maybe they were intentionally trying to get some negative publicity. After all, that kind of response has proven effective in other markets.
Eco-Meter. I didn't take advantage of that new standard information gauge... until recently. Having an aftermarket one and wanting to do direct comparisons to my previous Prius prevented me from doing that. Fortunately, I've learned the patience required to resist goodies like that. Time came though. I finished observing Summer & Winter performance with the 2010 the same way I did with the 2004. This new meter is surprisingly informative, despite being a digitally presented non-linear analog gauge without any numeric values on it. The bar displayed informs you of the energy being consumed. You can actually see the electric draw... to the point of knowing precisely when the engine will start back up. In other words, when the ECO section exceeds the green zone into the white, the engine is needed. You can push right up to the threshold, keeping the Prius in Stealth (engine-motionless driving), much easier than in the past.
Eco-Mode. We are getting snow now. That's providing opportunities to find out if the increased pedal-play from the ECO button provides any benefit with traction. Initial impression is that it doesn't matter, since the traction-control is improved so much anyway. Whatever the case, when in ECO mode, you will notice that the heater runs longer without needing to restart the engine. Even those really nasty, long stoplights are accommodated for now... in sub-zero Fahrenheit temperatures! Of course, the engine must first be warmed up. It's the threshold that's lower. Switching back to normal mode (pressing the ECO button again) is how to observe this without an aftermarket gauge showing coolant temperature. In short, the new mode works really well in Winter.
Plug-In Details. They are better than expected. Rather than the anticipated target of 20 km (12.4 miles), it looks like the upcoming plug-in Prius will offer a range/capacity of 23.4 km (14.5 miles). Perhaps that's due to the improved Li-Ion battery Panasonic will begin producing soon. Based on the Japanese testing-cycle, it works to an efficiency estimate of 57 km/l (134 MPG). Also, the number of plug-in Prius that will be provided for fleet testing next year has been increased to 600. The real-world data (specifically the results of consumer usage behavior) should be quite revealing. Testing of this nature is always a challenge. Automakers need outside input like that. Sales to the general public are planned for sometime in 2011. I can't wait!
Charging Time. We got some interesting numbers yesterday and today, the kind of detail which makes supporters stop to think. That was most definitely the case with these. The electric Cooper Mini currently being tested offers 28 kWh of usable capacity from its 35 kWh battery-pack. That takes a little over 21 hours to recharge using a standard 110-volt, 12-amp home plug connection. The Nissan Leaf offers 19.2 kWh from its 24 kWh pack. That can be recharged in about 14.5 hours. The Chevy Volt offers about 11 kWh from its 16 kWh pack, recharging in about 8 hours. For the upcoming plug-in Prius, you get 3.56 kWh from the 5.2 kWh pack, which takes 1.5 hours to recharge. Notice how the amount of time required could become an issue at some point. I bet that isn't always taken into consideration. For a solution to be realistic, it must be both affordable & practical.
Mega-Sighting. Speaking of ubiquitous, at what point do you think Prius will become that? By lucky coincidence, this weekend's busy holiday schedule started with a run to the drive-thru. I obviously wasn't the only one with early plans. On that 2.6 mile drive to get my breakfast, I saw 1 Classic, 2 new 2010s, and 15 Iconic models, Seeing 18 Prius in such a short distance is truly amazing! For so many to be sighted like that, what other reaction is there except one of wonder. Someday, that will be the norm. Someday, there will be so many on the road it will be hard to believe hybrids were once ever questioned as the next logical step in automotive evolution. This newest generation certainly is helping to solidify that history. Someday isn't too long away.
Nothing Now. Talk of Volt has almost vanished entirely. The hype of the auto show in Los Angeles seems to have had the opposite effect GM had intended. We went from seeing the vehicle in action, to hearing about advanced new interfaces, to rumors of early rollout, to those rumors being squashed, to financial problems, to arguing politics. It all just fell apart. Why? How come attention waned? What does this mean for the upcoming auto show in New York? We know that Toyota's system isn't as flashy or sexy. Attention isn't the point. It's an affordable option that will appeal to those who don't want that, those who favor ubiquitous vehicles like Camry & Corolla. Could it be that Volt enthusiasts are finally beginning to realize how important market penetration is? Something comparable to a Camaro, but with a plug, isn't what will sustain the business. After all, how much excitement do ubiquitous vehicles stir?
True Winter. Whoa! My jump onto the highway for what I had hoped would be a typical morning commute was everything but. I certainly wasn't expecting the bottom to drop out so quickly. The mess remaining from the winter storm which had just passed was now frozen solid... making a slippery drive for all of us. At -2 F degrees, the snow transforms to ice quickly. That's not exactly a welcome sight for someone driving a new Prius, still discovery want has changed from the previous model. It was a slow crawl. I got to witness many differences. Heat management has changed a lot. The engine seems to start back up more often; yet, efficiency is better. Both acceleration & deceleration improvement are easy to notice. Winter has arrived. These sub-zero temperatures are the ultimate proof of a well thought out design. I'm enjoying it.
Climate Conference. It's really weird hearing about the world governments getting together this week to speak about big environmental concerns knowing that your own (the United States) hasn't been willing to cooperate. Not only should we be part of that, we should be a major participant... since we are a major pollutant contributor. Talk of rapid renewable increases combined with phasing out of the inefficient & dirty technologies is, fortunately, something this administration is actually embracing. That sure is a welcome change to the past. Our prior stance of not doing anything until more evidence is available was a crock. Why shouldn't we try? After all, won't those new efforts create new jobs? Fortunately, those other countries are already investing in efforts beneficial to the environment, especially climate change. Change is the theme... there, at the conference... unlike here, where we still have quite a bit of resistance to deal with.
Small Car Oversupply. It's very strange hearing about concerns like this already. But the entire industry is facing the need to deliver more efficient choices. The easiest solution is to build up the "B" class segment. Elsewhere, those vehicles are already a typical sight on the road. So, enhancing that market to broaden appeal isn't as big of a deal. Here though, that's a nightmare scenario. The obsession with size & power in the US impaired the "B" class from becoming much more than just an idea. The hope was that innovation would come to the rescue, rather than embracing cost & consumption improvement by just significantly reducing vehicle power & size. A flood of new "B" vehicles consumers aren't really interested in will bring tempting incentives to prevent over-production problems. What that means for hybrids like Prius is anyone's guess. Next year will be very interesting.
Winter Driving Observations. The MPG hit from warm-up is
still a shocker for some, but not as nasty with the 2010 model. The first 3 minutes are
generally under 30 MPG. It climbs to 40 something that 4th minute.
On the 5th, that's when 50 MPG is finally exceeded. By around minute 10,
coolant is reaching the hot level, so the heater feels nice. This
obviously varies a lot based on outside conditions and how fast you are driving.
Highway speeds provide melting heat, keeping coolant between 191°F
and 195°F like normal during the Summer. Suburb performance was what I was quite
curious about. I knew toasty warmth was the result, but hadn't thought
about what exactly that meant for the coolant. Turns out, the system
delivers that by maintaining a range from 141°F to 163°F. For driving
speeds of only 30 MPH, resulting in an overall of 20 MPH including stop times,
that's not bad considering how long the engine stayed off. Now, I'm ready
to take on Winter. Not having any real-world data available yet was making
starting to make me a bit crazy... there was nothing to respond to those
researching a 2010 purchase with.
First Winter Commute. It was a fascinating opportunity.
This was my third generation of Prius about to reveal it's worth. What had
Toyota improved? How would those differences translate to behavior changes
of the hybrid system. I already had a brief taste of the improved
traction-control. So, what I was most curious about now was how the
heat-retention equipment would respond in real-world slow & slow traffic in such
cold temperatures. I jumped in the Prius and started my intense
observation of the coolant reading. How much heat would I get in the
cabin? How much would the engine & emission-system need? How far
could I drive without using any gas? After all, there are electric-heating
elements and running the engine isn't always a bad thing. It's that magic
balance engineers strive for. I stopped for gas, after crossing the river
and warm-up was complete. Those 13.5 remaining miles to drive in heavy
snow & traffic should still be very efficient, despite it being 21 F degrees.
Sure enough, the result displayed as I pulled into the garage at home was 51.8
Older Model Reviews. It's hard to believe we are still seeing a few new articles being published that pretend the next-generation model of Prius hasn't been introduced yet. Since most consumers don't expect 2010 models of vehicles to be available until the end of 2009, those hopefully for one last opportunity to undermine are taking full advantage of that. It's the same old greenwashing we've seen in the past. But this time, they are really pushing the ignorance of the market. People naive enough to believe what they read without question will see these and simply dismiss Prius from consideration. The data is real, but is now outdated. Those attempting to deceive don't tell you that. They hope you'll just assume it is current.
Next Few Months. Ready for them? It certainly will be intriguing to see what the upcoming auto shows bring and how consumers react. It's much like the good old days, where there are lots of prototypes with very little promise of them resembling that when they finally make it to market and not much chance of growing beyond a niche. They certainly do stir excitement... though, now they have a theme of responsibility rather than the obsession with size & power. It sure is nice that those days are actually over. Turns out that the predictions of change at the start of the next decade were quite correct... despite who & what were way off.
Saying Hello. Leave it to my mother to point out the obvious. I completely overlooked this opportunity to be silly. She capitalized on it. Having driven an Iconic model Prius for 5.5 years, I got use to seeing "MAX" as the highest temperature setting available for the heater. So, when it switched to "HI" for the 2010, the message itself didn't stand out. She, however, did notice and nonchalantly asked why the Prius was saying hello. Huh? That left me befuddled for several moments. I finally noticed it myself. How silly! I hadn't realized the sight of that "HI" could be interpreted as a friendly greeting. Why not? After all, the displays always had a welcome screen.
Sales Expectations. What contributed to the change of GM enthusiast attitude likely came from Lutz, the GM executive who is now drawing much attention. He stated the total market (worldwide production) expectation for plug-in vehicles would only be 250,000 to 300,000 per year by 2015. The die-hard supporters of Volt hoped for that quantity from their vehicle alone. With the multitude of anticipated pure electric choices combined with the high-volume potential from Prius, that's obviously a let down. Large numbers are essential. But with a design that cannot be profitable until the second-generation, that simply isn't realistic. By 2015, I see Prius as so deeply entrenched into the mainstream that the plug-in model has become a common choice... much like the high-end option packages purchased today.
Volume Fear. That's what my guess is as to what GM enthusiasts are thinking. Prius never really had a "green halo". That was something the competition made up to draw attention away from Prius itself, claiming its very existence contributed to sales of Toyota guzzlers. Now, ironically, that is the very thing they seek. As supporters of Prius, we've pointed out sales of the actual vehicle. They absolutely detested that. Now, real hate is growing. Having an engineering trophy is something to be proud of during strong economic times. But now in this age of business struggle, consumer purchase of that praised vehicle are absolutely vital. Profit must come from something. Using less fuel is a very easy benefit to see. But it requires an affordable vehicle to achieve that. Waiting for a second-generation Volt before prices become competitive will harm business in the meantime... and they know it.