Prius Personal Log #444
January 7, 2010 - January 12, 2010
Last Updated: Thurs. 2/11/2010
page #443 page #445 BOOK INDEX
2009 Totals. There were 10.4 million vehicles purchased
in the United States last year. It's remarkable to think that number once
almost reached 17 million. The market is clearly much smaller now.
Fortunately, the number of hybrids held strong at 290,280. That's
interesting when put in perspective with the 59,850 diesels. This year
should be one for the history book. Plans are to significantly increase
production of hybrids. Traditional vehicles will continue their decline through
daily hybrid sightings. There's nothing more potent of an endorsement
message than to actually share the road with what had once been only talk of the
future. The close of an odd year has brought about 2010. It has
Battery Facts. I stumbled across these automotive battery
facts today... The original Saturn EV1 had a lead-acid battery-pack that
weighed 1,310 pounds and offered 18.7 kWh of electricity. The improvement
to EV1 which came later was a NiMH battery-pack weighing 1,147 pounds offering
26.4 kWh. The battery-pack Volt will uses weighs 375 pounds and offers a
capacity of 16 kWh. That's quite impressive, technically.
Unfortunately, price is still a major drawback to mainstream acceptance.
How many more years will it be until that aspect will no longer be an issue?
At least they are proving robust in the meantime. Reliability is the
ultimate proving factor, even above price.
Lost Two-Mode. Long overdue is the much touted smaller version of Two-Mode. By smaller, they meant a 6-cylinder engine instead of an 8. That means you only 350 horsepower. In other words, we get another gross overkill vehicle they'll only be able to sell a few of... especially since it will be made available in the body of a Cadillac XTS. To make matters worse, it looks like this system will only be offered with an 8 kWh battery-pack and a plug. Think about how incredibly expensive this vehicle will be. It could make sense if there was an affordable counterpart and this was the luxury version. But instead, all that we get is the luxury. What is the point when middle-market gets nothing?
Ever-Changing Plans. How many times will we hear about different intentions for Volt? Now, GM is considering a pure electric version (no engine). This was flat out dismissed as a possibility before. Now, it isn't. Alternative models, including one offering a diesel engine, have been on & off too. Plans keep changing. It's just like what we heard about Vue over the years. It would be a FULL hybrid... then an ASSIST... then back to FULL... then there would be a plug-in model... the engine size would repeatedly change too. This lack of devotion is the very same counter-productive behavior we saw before the bankruptcy. Tell me how this is any different now. Stop the madness! Continuous plan changes confuse the heck out of consumers and send a terrible message of purpose. What is it? What are they hoping to achieve?
Winter Reduction. We are all well aware of the efficiency
reduction caused by Winter for traditional and hybrid vehicles. Since the
engine is the thrust & heat source for both, seeing the seasonal drop in terms
of MPG is an easy one. Even inattentive drivers will notice that, though
the actual magnitude is often overlooked. Anywho, for plug-in vehicles,
the impact is unknown and rarely addressed. Unfortunately, for the first 3
years of Volt development, enthusiasts absolutely refused to even acknowledge
the topic. Well, give GM credit for being transparent on this particular
instance. We actually got a real-world example today. Over the
Thanksgiving weekend in Detroit, back when the Midwest was enjoying an
abnormally warm November (freezing point), the range dropped from a 40 miles to
just 28. That's well below the optimistic guestimate of 35. And
considering how much higher that temperature compared to what I routinely
experience throughout Winter here in Minnesota, it's pretty darn safe to use 30
miles in calculations now. That's really going to upset those who refused
to accept the reality of factors like needing to power a heater.
Selling At A Loss. To establish a reputation with new
technology while gathering real-world data at the same, in addition to refining
production and educating employees, it is a wise move to limit volume.
After all, that new technology is usually too expensive to make a profit from.
However, promoting the heck out of it long before anyone has an opportunity to
purchase risks disillusion. That drives up expectations while you scramble
to reduce costs. Selling at a loss will only take you so far. How do
you make the best use of the limited time available? GM plans to offer
just 10,000 of their upcoming Volt the first year. Following that, they'll
limit it to 50,000 or 60,000 for the next few. What else will they sell in
the meantime? Won't hearing about Volt and having to get on a lengthy
wait-list become to difficult to bear after awhile? Is it worth losing
sales to the competition then, or is it better to accept losses by retaining
consumers through increased production? That is what Toyota did. In
the early years, there was barely any Prius advertising and much of its funding was
diverted from profits other vehicles provided. Of course, back then times
were good. There are no high-profit vehicles selling in large quantity
anymore. What will GM do?
Smaller Prius. Toyota officially announced a new dedicated hybrid at that same auto show in Detroit today. The concept model is known as FT-CH. And with an efficiency expectation higher than the current Prius due to the compact size, the dismay about Honda's plan becomes clear. This hybrid will be about 22 inches shorter than Prius, making it pretty easy to understand why it's thought of as a smaller model. It will use a similar FULL hybrid system too. Price is expected to be well under $20,000. That sure will shake up the market. Time will time. Concepts don't represent change, sales do.
Honda CR-Z Hybrid. Remember the CR-X from 20 years ago. Honda announced a successor today, in the form of an ASSIST hybrid. That left a lot of people scratching their heads, wondering what the point was. Configured with a 1.5 liter engine and a 10 kW motor, efficiency for the CVT version is estimated at just 36 city and 38 highway. There will be a manual transmission available too, but its estimate is just 31 city and 37 highway. Who is this hybrid designed to appeal too? It seems bizarre that a small hybrid would offer such log MPG.
Japan Numbers. The market there has been far more active
for hybrids that our market. 208,876 Prius were purchased last year in
Japan. That's quite a bit more than the 139,682 we saw here. Of
course, keep in mind that Prius was also the best-selling vehicle there.
Overall volume is larger here. Obviously, that's a first for a hybrid
anywhere... a rather significant milestone. Breaking the top-10 is one
thing. To become the most purchased of any vehicle is another.
Insight even did well; there were 93,283 of them purchased there making it the
fifth most popular vehicle. This year should be interesting. What
happens in the second year for new vehicles reveals much about their future to
Substance. The number of Prius already on the road is an underlying source of frustration for some. Regardless of how good their favored efficiency technology is, that constant visual consumer endorsement is difficult to overlook. To make matters worse, right about when the first real-world reports of Volt begin to trickle in is when the 2 millionth sale of Prius will likely occur. That's a difficult reputation to compete with. Ford may like that though, since it could represent market-demand for expanding their hybrid offerings. Diesel supporters won't be happy. Their inability to expand hurts more and more as hybrid counts grow. Substance is sales. No amount of publicity can cover up that reality... which is becoming obvious as time progresses.
Questions & Speculation. That appears to be the approach GM will take for Volt, my prediction for this year. With the extremely low sales numbers of their once much touted Two-Mode hybrid system (only 15,500 in 2 years), they have lots of damage control to tend to. Pushing publicity for their next hybrid attempt using a technique similar to "raising doubt" could be effective. With that, they simply prevent questions from ever being answered definitively, keeping speculation lively. But rather than causing concern, this will stir interest. Only trouble is it could backfire horribly. Interest in Volt is great if gas prices remain relatively stable and the competition doesn't experience rapid market growth in the meantime. Not having anything to actually buy is the problem. With planned production quantity so low and availability limited to just select areas, efficiency technology purchases will occur elsewhere... unless they are able to retain curiosity long enough. Expect lots of publicity with very little actual detail.
Best-Seller for 2009. Over in Japan, the market for Prius
was secondary. Up until last year, it was always the United States drawing
the strongest interest in hybrid technology. 2009 represented a major
change. But rather than interest dropping here, it surged there.
Believe it or not, Prius was the best-selling vehicle in Japan for the year!
We are now witnessing a huge shift in their home market.
208,876 on them were purchased and there is a
six-month waiting list still. That kind of demand sure makes "had been"
references realistic now. It makes plans for production increases far less
of a risk too. Seeing so many of the new model on the roads sends a clear
message of technology maturity and mainstream acceptance. This certainly
is great news for the start of 2010. It sure looks like this year is going
to be very fulfilling.
Misleading Comparisons. We are seeing quite a few posts from Volt enthusiasts comparing the most expensive most of Prius to the anticipated base price of Volt after subtracting the federal tax-credit and without taking the state tax or financing into consideration. That's wrong on so many levels, I don't know where to begin. They pretend as if the Tech & Solar packages for Prius represent the majority, where in reality they are quite rare. They simply dismiss the approximate $500 you'll have to pay in state taxes from that $7,500 federal return. And the charges your bank will add to the loan for that extra $7,500 you have to finance in the meantime are ignored entirely. They also only annual cost estimates based on distances easily falling within the electric-only range. In other words, only 12,000 miles per year. More than that or with gas at a price less than $4 per gallon skew results in favor of Prius. That of lack of objectivity is revealing the desperation. You'd think support would become more constructive as the rollout date approaches; instead, it's just more of the same greenwashing.
Losing Attention. This is the peak of Auto Show season. Even now, we are seeing GM fighting to keep attention on Volt. Consumers are already losing interest in a vehicle of limited quantity priced well beyond their reach. They are dismissing it much like other niche vehicles... where they'd love to have one, but it simply isn't realistic. The large quantity of blog posts focusing on price clearly confirm that. Yesterday was the 3-year anniversary, highlighted by assembling the very first production battery-pack. That event didn't stir much attention though. In fact, it was over-shadowed by all the price discussions... debates... arguments. If this happening now, what comes next? That original goal of "nicely under $30,000" is coming back to haunt already. How will they keep attention from wandering over to the other choices that will be available?
Diesel Particulate Filter. It's information like this
that diesel supporters go to extremes to steer you away from. It never
crossed my mind that the DPF would need to be replaced in some vehicles.
Turns out, a hybrid owner came across that particular bit of juicy rebuttal
material during a debate which led him to read through an Audi owners manual.
Clear as day, there it was. Upon reaching 125,000 miles the filter must be
replaced. And since their argument for diesel is that the engine will
easily deliver 200,000 miles of use, it looks like replacement of this component
is pretty much inevitable. A quick search online reveals prices between
$300 and $600 for passenger vehicles.
AdBlue Expense. Remember how those diesel supporters
absolutely insisted this emission-cleansing agent some diesel vehicles require
(the engine will shutdown without it) would be cheap? That claim never
really made any sense considering how much effort some automakers were expending
with their attempt to avoid ever needing it. Turns out, it's still really
expensive. In fact, Consumer Reports recently got charged $241.50 by a BMW
dealer to refill (7.5 gallons) the AdBlue tank in their vehicle they were
testing. And that was just for the fluid itself. The labor was an
additional $75.49. Having to pay that much every year (they were at 16,566
miles) sure is something owners certainly won't care for. Of course, even
at a tenth that cost would add up after awhile.
Commute Horror. I can't imagine what those around me were
feeling. This evening presented the worst traffic delay I had ever
experienced. The stop & slow traffic was backed up way further than I
imagined possible. The fresh snow had caused a big truck rollover
accident. None of us knew that though. We probably all believed it was
the typical congestion caused by particular ramps. It obviously wasn't.
I enjoyed myself. It was the first opportunity to witness the 2010 Prius
deal with an extreme. At only 10 F degrees, I was curious how long the heater set on
low could remain warm with the engine off and if it could revitalize itself
while the engine ran to replenish the battery-pack. Turns out, the system
managed 8 minutes of electric-only driving. Then when the engine fired
back up, I cranked the heater fan to high. The engine ran for 3 to 4
minutes, bringing the charge-level up from 2 to somewhere comfortably above 3.
When the engine shut off, I turned the warmed heater back down to low and the cycle
began again. 8 minutes later, same thing again and again and again...
I was absolutely thrilled at how much less gas I was consuming than everyone
else. (Keep in mind, that even when the engine runs it uses less gas than
others that same size.) So, it wasn't exactly a horrific commute like it
was for my companions sharing those same terrible few miles of wintery highway.
New Hybrid. The rumors seem to be pointing in the direction of something based upon the Scion IQ. That small frame isn't used for any Toyota brand vehicle and you get the impression a hybrid system could fit well inside it. We'll find out soon enough. Supposedly it will use a 1.5 liter engine and deliver efficiency in excess of 60 MPG. Price target appears to be around $15,000 for this unique 2-seat hatchback hybrid. With smaller cars being much more popular overseas, whether or not it does well here isn't necessary. I have a feeling it will anyway. At that price-point, people can hold onto their guzzlers (like in the past, when they were used only for utility & recreation), using this new hybrid as a commute and driving around town vehicle could work well. After all, we already see lots of Smart cars in the suburbs. So, it's realistic to see others joining in. And if gas prices shot way up in the next few years, having a FULL hybrid that size & price could be a huge hit.