Prius Personal Log #459
May 11, 2010 - May 15, 2010
Last Updated: Sun. 5/23/2010
page #458 page #460 BOOK INDEX
Too Bad, rollout. It does make you wonder what will end up happening. A number of the enthusiasts who blog heavily have already said they will not be getting a Volt due to the pricing. What kind of message does that send? What will be the source of real-world data? Will a newbie be welcomed into a group who isn't accepting of outside opinion? They certainly haven't been reception to constructive comment. What if an owner creates a new forum to share information from? Those wanting to provide genuine support will gladly abandon a daily chatter website for one that is actually productive. We have already seen how powerful of a draw that can be with the generations of Prius. The usual greenwashing propaganda will be easy with rollout starting only limited areas. Focus on the concept rather than the outcome.
Too Bad, competition. Looking back at yesterday, considering the enthusiast point-of-view, it's easy to see why the are so dismissive. After waiting over 3 years, having the rollout of Volt obscured by competition like Leaf and the plug-in Prius must really be frustrating, especially with Swift suddenly entering the picture. Their assumption of having the market to themselves and having lots of time was always naive. But the not-so-subtle assessment coming from the task force should have been a wake up call. Yet, they still haven't reacted. They don't even see the need. Read the blog posts. Comments focus around Leaf and Prius losing sales to Volt. Market growth is not a concern, it's a niche mindset. Why not push for more? After all, the purpose of Volt is... hmm... what the heck is GM hoping to accomplish?
Too Bad, approach. I followed up by also posting this: GM's one-size-fits-all approach has always been a big concern. It's 40 miles or nothing. Changing cell count changes the overall voltage. You cannot just plug in another module or add multiples. You can with the plug-in Prius though, since each runs totally independent of the others. It's not just one big battery-pack supplying power all at once like Volt. Not meeting basic design requirements for market growth is a big purchase deterrent. Another is not being able to easily reduce capacity to reduce price. Too much is being gambled on a design that doesn't support multiple configurations. Offering a plug-in model as just a high-end package on a hybrid that is already part of the mainstream makes for a very strong business case, reducing risk significantly and using a platform which could draw a lot of consumer interest very quickly. It also lowers price by taking advantage of high-volume production. That's great for Prius configurations. What about Volt? Being only available with a plug in itself is limiting, not getting a choice of capacity limits it even more. Think about the MPV5 concept with its larger cargo area and seating for a fifth person. It would use the same powertrain as Volt, but the increased vehicle mass reduces EV driving range to 32 miles. Too bad just plugging in another battery module isn't supported.
Too Bad, actions. We've seen almost nothing from Volt
enthusiasts beyond just daily blogging. In fact, the activity on the topic
from the day before dies a quick death as soon as the new one is revealed.
Those topics often aren't even about Volt either. Posts stray very quickly
too. So, most become just a collection of random thoughts within hours.
Forum discussions have never emerged. All is lost in the chaos after only
a few days. It's pretty sad. Lack of action on the part of
participants is what killed other hopes of the past. Why can't they see
that pattern? They wait to see what GM will do next. They claim they
have no power of influence. They complain, yet do nothing but blog.
Oh well. It's not like I didn't try to point out the history being
repeated. Today, it was with this: Waiting for the automaker to take the next move after rollout begins is
certain doom. Studying history reveals that success up to the consumer, not the automaker. You
must transform from a reactive enthusiast to a proactive supporter.
Will you be purchasing a Volt, routinely posting your experiences with it, then
push GM for modifications that will contribute to market growth?
Too Bad, business need. How can a response like "too bad" be even the slightest bit constructive? That attitude is what got GM into trouble in the first place. As much as they want to build & sell vehicles like Camaro & Corvette, that simply isn't realistic. They serve only a niche market, clearly confirmed by the low-volume sales. Modeling Volt after them doesn't make any business sense. It's just like targeting Two-Mode at the large truck buyers. There are so few of them, what's the point? The choices are already spread too thin. There are lots of trucks to choose from and the argument in favor of diesel instead is a fairly strong one. Why would you invest so much on a new technology where so few sales are expected? As much as a 40-mile range sounds appealing, achieving that by sacrificing affordability doesn't make any sense. The business need is for a high-efficiency vehicle priced similar to what middle-market currently spends. You target the mainstream, not niche buyers.
Too Bad, consumer need. As exciting as a superior driving experience can be, that isn't actually what most people need. Just ask anyone if they'd prefer a Lexus over a Toyota. Of course the choice will be the luxury vehicle over the mainstream... but that isn't what they end up buying. They don't need the lavish improvements. They want them though. So if you ask, you can easily predict the response. But when they sign the dotted line for a purchase, that's an entirely different matter. That's why vehicles like Camry & Corolla sell in such large quantity. They represent a well-balanced configuration of performance verses cost. Their success is why Prius is configured the way it is. Toyota targeted the same market... middle market... the bulk of the consumer base. They designed a vehicle people need, one that can be produced in high-volume and deliver a business-sustaining profit.
Too Bad, parting thoughts. I tired of dealing with it. They've sealed their fate. Learning from history... the Volt enthusiasts haven't. They simply dismiss your references to the past. The very same pattern we saw in the past with diesel and several hybrids is repeating. Heavy emphasis on either the engineering or business is a key that something is jeopardy. That lack of balance is the problem. In the case of Volt, exactly like it was for Two-Mode, the business with respect to market need was almost non-existent. Rather than actually focus on what consumers actually need, all attention is placed on what they want instead. The situation is so misguided, they cannot even tell you what the difference is between want & need. When you point out the "too little, too slowly" assessment now, all you get in response is "too bad".
Prius is Top-Seller! It's official. The numbers have been tallied. Prius was the top-seller in Japan for 12 months in a row. Maintaining that highest-count title for an entire year is fantastic! Makes you wonder if that could ever happen here with such a diverse market. Local production would help. Inventory shortages are just a gas crisis away. Of course, there they've been more tolerant of long waiting lists. That helps. Paying a true price for gas, rather than the subsidizing we have here, would make a difference too. So far this year in the United States, there have been 40,793 Prius purchased. For perspective, the 5 models of Two-Mode combined (Escalade, Yukon, Tahoe, Silverado, Sierra) over the same 4-month period have only resulted in 1,904 sales. So when you think about Japan selling twice as many Prius, it really makes you think. The newest generation is drawing more attention. Priorities are changing here. Time will tell.
Sigh. Do you like when this question gets asked: "Is the Prius slowly just becoming another car now that it's been around for awhile now?" Different people ask it at different times. Today, it came from a newbie with basically just an ownership excitement. Passion of the past is long gone, since that often originated from understanding the engineering itself. Now, it is perceived from a more simple perspective of improved emissions and real-world sightings. Aspects of design are lost due to not needing that knowledge anymore for purchase. I find that confirmation of Prius becoming mainstream. Hasn't that been the point all along? Don't we want it to be thought of as just another so-called "boring" family mover like Camry, a profitable top-seller so common it becomes part of the roadscape? After all, when the plug-in model rolls out, it will be looked upon as a new high-end package option rather than an entirely new concept. That will make it easy to sell. People will see that the plug offers a MPG boost. Simple. So simple, it kind of makes you sigh. Intentional fading of enthusiasm is a strange sign of success. Ubiquitous products blend in, so popular they are purchased without question. That status is starting to emerge. Yeah!
Suzuki Swift. This fall, testing of 60 of them begin in Japan! Reading that sure was a surprise. How did this plug-in hybrid come about? Currently, it's a traditional vehicle about the size of a Cooper Mini available elsewhere in the world. It hasn't been in the United States for over a decade. Will it come back as competition for Volt? That's right, it is a SERIES type hybrid using a 54 horsepower engine (0.66 liter) as a generator power source and a 74 horsepower (55 kW) electric motor for traction. The battery-pack is just 2.66 kWh. That's interesting. It's tiny compared to the 16 kWh in Volt and almost half the size of the 5.2 kWh in the upcoming plug-in Prius. So, you could imagine this particular plug-in as quite affordable. Oddly, the smaller size engine and vehicle size overall doesn't help with efficiency in regular hybrid mode. 60 MPG is the combined estimate on the JC08 (Japanese) testing cycle. That's sounds good, until you discover the plug-in Prius estimate is 72 MPG. Estimates when measured with the plug taken into account are 88 MPG for Swift and 134 MPG for Prius. With the numbers so much in favor for Prius, it looks even more like competition for Volt. After all, some people have a very short commute. The price could make it worthwhile for that.
8-Speed Transmission. When will the insanity stop? Adding more and more gears to squeeze out a minor efficiency improvement at the expense of increased cost & complexity doesn't make any sense. Yet, that's what Audi plans to do with their A4 sedan, A5 coupe, and Q5 crossover for 2011. The Q7 already has it. At what point will they no longer be able to avoid substantial redesign? It's bad enough that quite a number of vehicles now have very large tires, allowing them to gain highway MPG by sacrificing city MPG. The way fleet averages are calculated, that works out to an improvement. But in real-world driving, it can be a detriment. But consumers don't notice that, so the avoiding continues. Cost of more gears will be difficult to not notice though. The appeal of shifting more often is an unknown too. Maybe we'll never find out. Market growth for Prius and the upcoming plug-in vehicles could draw attention so far away from automakers touting more gears that they just give up and finally pursue substantial efficiency improvements.
$1.2 Billion. Hearing that in a quarterly profit report
about Toyota sure puts things in perspective. That's how much they made
from January through March of this year. All the negative publicity and
the no-interest financing incentives may have lowered the bottom line, but it
still very much was in the positive. Ford is managing their financial
situation as well, avoiding bailout disaster. GM, no such luck. Even
with all the taxpayer help, they are still bleeding money at a horrifying rate.
Supposedly the billions being lost still will end in the next few years.
But how much more of this can they handle. Will offering public stock make
any difference? It will help relieve the burden on the government, but
making profit is still required. In this new age of efficiency being a
priority over power, what will they sell that's competitive?
Oil Nightmare. The testimonies were today. Oil is
still squirting out of the broken pipe 5,000 feet below the ocean surface.
The scale of this disaster is getting very ugly. No one wanted to accept
blame. I can't imagine anyone taking the suggestion of deep-water drilling
plans seriously anymore. For that matter, all types of oil expansion will
face intense opposition now. With no end in sight for the damage, the
impact of this is anticipated to be enormous. The nightmare is massive.
In fact, it puts a whole new perspective on the "too little, too slowly"
problem. Concern about being caught off guard is quite real now.
Certain automakers have nothing to offer. Vehicles providing MPG averages
in the mid-30's are not what people want when the price of gas gets very
expensive. They want affordable vehicles similar to Prius... midsize,
midprice, with a significant efficiency increase.
In The Low 40's. No, not efficiency. That's still in the low 50's thankfully. It's the daily temperature. High's have only been in the low 40's lately. The season of Spring is really mixed up. We got May weather in April and April weather in May. How can they be swapped like that. Will cold & rainy conditions now rather than a month ago help get our crop planting back on track? Seeing a commute temperature of only 39 F this morning sure makes me wonder what's to come. I certainly don't want to have to endure another cold Summer again. Last year, it did warm up until late July. What a pain. When the temperature climbs up into the low 80's, the Prius is really happy. I see some amazing efficiency then. Warm enough to keep the catalytic-converter hot without the need to run A/C to keep you comfortable is the key. Lately though, that seems like just a distant dream. It's a bit nippy here still!
230 MPG, mixed messages. Yesterday's discussion went no where. Again, it needed to be pointed out that the MPG reference itself is fundamentally flawed... which is why most of the rest of the world uses unit/distance measure instead, specifically liters/100 km. That message got lost in the chaos though... as did the understanding of the 230 value itself. So, I pointed out the situation with Volt and the confusion promotion of it brings again: 230 mpg is specifically the estimate for CITY. How come after all this time (9 months) we still haven't heard anything at all about the estimate for HIGHWAY driving? We know that value will be considerably lower. And since we are constantly reminded that Prius has a top EV speed of 100 km/h (62.1 mpg), higher speed travel is apparently very important. Yet, it's never discussed. Either HIGHWAY driving is important or it isn't. Sending mixed messages isn't constructive. Choose.