Prius Personal Log #482
October 10, 2010 - October 12, 2010
Last Updated: Sun. 10/24/2010
page #481 page #483 BOOK INDEX
Niche Vehicle. At first, the overall message conveyed from the masses seemed to be that Volt was an expensive version of Prius. That infuriated the Volt enthusiasts. They have always wanted Volt to be thought of as entirely different... yet have never been able to explain why. After 3.5 years of trying, this desperate final effort just prior to rollout isn't going to help. All they have available for argument points are just faster acceleration and greater battery-capacity... neither of which couldn't be improved by an upgrade for Prius. The problem is, that would push it away from the mainstream. You get greatly improved emissions & efficiency as the benefit by having price & performance similar to other mainstream vehicles. That has been a strength. They portray it as a weakness. Who's going to accept that though? Automakers were able to convince consumers they needed far more power and off-road abilities... but that SUV craze was fueled by high-profit returns and a false sense of greater safety. Would the incentive of extreme efficiency persuade purchases? Since it seems highly unlikely that a lower capacity model will be offered, we're stuck with one that isn't affordable. Annual sales of 60,000 has been the measure of mainstream in this market. Less keeps it a niche. Arguing won't change that... and the recent flurry of insults only make the situation worse.
NOT A "HYBRID".
That was exactly as it looked in the press release finally issued by GM.
The all caps, bold, and quotes sure made the automaker's stance clear. Reading between the lines, what they attempted to convey is a message that Volt is a revolutionary new designed
rather than an evolutionary hybrid. Of course, it implies that a
hybrid like Prius was never intended to support a plug, that somehow the
feature is an after-thought... even though we knew about the ability way
back in 2003 and recognized cost as a major priority. In other words,
it's the spin we expected. Here's the exact text from the release:
In practice, hybrid vehicles typically require both sources - engine and
battery - to provide full vehicle performance capability. In a hybrid
vehicle, the combustion engine is typically the larger of the two propulsion
sources, and provides most of the power during high power vehicle maneuvers
like off-line starts and freeway cruising. A plug-in hybrid operates the
same way, but can be recharged by plugging in. Even with useful energy in
the battery, the engine will often be operating to achieve vehicle peak
loads. The Chevrolet Volt is unique from a hybrid or plug-in hybrid in that
the vehicle's wheels are always driven electrically by an electric drive
Random Thoughts. With the controversy now in full swing, it's anyone's guess what happens next. There hasn't been a press release. That easily could have prevented all this. It's all what can clear it all up. The confusion about Volt is everywhere. Oddly, we know the tax credit isn't affected, since that was always based off of kWh capacity rather than any particular technology. Of course, what still doesn't get discussed is the cost of the charger and the installation of it. The requirement of premium gas is overlooked too. Needless to say, emotion is running very high right now. The situation is a mess. It will be interesting to find out what consumers think after the dust settles. Subtle differences enthusiasts argue won't be realized... so, what will? The impression I get is that the typical person won't consider much more than EV range and price when it comes to any plug-in beyond the usual vehicle aspects.
Wait For Improvements. We're already hearing quite a
bit about Volt only being the first generation. That focus on the
second is growing. Supporters of Volt want you to forgive the
shortcomings of this one. We must wait for improvements. That
sure is going to be one heck of an upgrade. GM must scramble to drop
the cost by $7,500 just to maintain pricing. Since by then, the tax
credit would have expired. On top of all that, somehow they'll squeeze
in all the other promises too. That's going to be pretty amazing from
an automaker that already has a reputation for disappointment. I have
no doubt the next will be much better, but no automaker could achieve that
much in just the next few years. This is the dose of reality I
injected into the discussion:
Gas is now $3 and the way we get it has become an increasing concern &
liability. Emissions (both types: smog & carbon) continue to get worse too.
Automakers also have financial obligations. They cannot continue to fund
research & development while selling a low-volume vehicle which may not even
provide any profit.
Charging At Work. How many times must I endure the
claim that plug-in owners will just be able to charge at work? It's
just plain not realistic here. Yet, some insist they can include that
in their gas usage estimates. Oh well. I guess I'll have to say
my piece each time someone does:
How will the snow removal problem be dealt with? That poses a significant
barrier to providing public electric outlets... not to mention cost. And in
the parking ramps, how would all the wiring be dealt with? Where would you
put an outlet in spaces that are already cramped?
In other words, the infrastructure is a mess and will take a very long time
to deal with. That's why automakers are pursuing a variety ways to deliver
emission & efficiency solutions.
Floor It. Apparently, that's the only advantage Volt has over Prius anymore. Nothing else seems to be sighted as a different. Frustrated by the enlightenment news confirming Volt is indeed a hybrid, they see the advantages shrinking. In fact, some feel consumers will dismiss differences as just automaker vehicle variations as they do now. There's simply not much significant to make Volt stand out anymore. The PHV model Prius is close enough. It's obviously not the same, but the price, capacity, and efficiency are enough to sway interest away from Volt. They don't like that at all. Too bad they didn't want a plug-in ally. Oh well, I jumped in with this: So, the biggest difference is a feature most consumers won't use anyway. How often do you actually drop the pedal all the way to the floor? And so what if the engine comes on briefly? It's a hybrid. Of all the things to surface as the biggest advantage for Volt, that's not encouraging... especially knowing the PHV model Prius provides much more electric power than the no-plug model. Heck, I climbed up a step residential hill (1/3 mile long, 40 MPH, from a dead stop) in the PHV repeatedly without ever triggering the engine. It was only with electricity. Accept the way things have worked out, there will be a selection of plug-in vehicles to choose from. Mainstream consumers aren't interested in extreme performance. They simply want a decent improvement at an affordable price. Their purchase habits over the past few decades clearly confirm that. It's a balance of priorities for them.
Betrayed. Within hours, the internet was flooded with scandalous type reports... and those were the polite ones. The attitude eventually turned toward anger. Some felt what they had been told before were lies. Some even accused GM of a bait & switch. You look back at what had been promised, then compare it to what will be delivered, the claims of vaporware are easy to understand. The "nicely under $30,000" target ended up being $41,000. That goal of 50 MPG fell way short, somewhere in the low to mid-30's. Green emission rating, forget it. And of course, it looks absolutely nothing like what we were shown 3.5 years ago. What a mess. This is the very thing some of us were concerned about. There is a definite sense of being betrayed. Since this is history repeating itself, it's realistic to expect the same outcome. Though, consumer expectations are changing. Other factors are at play now. The upcoming months certainly will be fascinating.
Arbitrary Claims. The nightmare continues to unfold
for the Volt enthusiasts. One attempted a constructive response to my
post with numbers. But they're not fact if it isn't actually data.
He just arbitrarily counted each day of the year equally. From daily
driving data I collected, the real-world values showed you absolutely cannot
do that. No pattern emerged. The distances were all over the place. The
variety from day to day driving simply could not be predicted or planned.
That was very clear. But since most people never take the time to do
that, they just assume some type of average is possible. Ever keep
track of how many times you have to run to the store, do something
last-minute for a child, get the urge for a coffee or food? Anywho,
his entire response was this: "For 15,000 miles
divided by 365 days... Volt = just under 16 gallons." That's a
great example of gross oversimplification. My response had some actual
fact, sprinkled with a bit of emotion:
You can't just generically average like that. Geez!
Again, using the 365 days of odometer readings I collected, you get this for
a daily breakdown count... revealing there is no pattern available that an
average could accurately reflect:
12 = miles 0-9;
14 = miles 10-19;
16 = miles 20-29;
65 = miles 30-39;
76 = miles 40-49;
87 = miles 50-59;
34 = miles 60-69;
21 = miles 70-79;
40 = miles 80-999;
In other words, for 15,000 miles (without Heater, Defroster, or A/C use) it
breaks down to:
EV = 12,156 miles;
CS = 2,844 miles;
At 35 MPG (without any cold starts), annual gas consumption would be 81
Rare Claims. The insults are abundant, but we can deal with that. Though, you do have to wonder if they understand the impression they're making. Some are amazingly harsh... quite explicit too. Emotion is running so high that pretty much any opinion questioning Volt design is considered an act of support for anyone other than GM. It's a tough situation. The best response is to simple stick to facts. So when you read something like this, "Given that CS-mode is rare, and reliance on the engine rare-on-top-of-rare, your trollish objections have little to do with the price of tea in China.", you try to keep comments brief and focus on the data instead. Fortunately, I have that readily available seeing this coming: Since when is it given? For that matter, what does "rare" mean? Using the 365 days of odometer readings I collected, it shows CS is far from rare... even with AER always 40 miles. 253 days at the full measured distance of 19,497 miles the 40 was exceeded. 157 days scaling each individually (by 0.76935) to get 15,000 miles annual. 77 days scaling each individually (by 0.6155) to get 12,000 miles annual. Taking into account Heater, Defroster, and A/C use increases the count.
Recovery. Some are in complete denial. They're providing congratulations, "GM
has done a very good job with Gen-1 Volt design.", with the expectation
of new models and increased range on the way. What the heck?
Haven't they learned anything from the past? The automotive industry
moves at a snail's pace. Each move forward ends up being the smallest
possible step. What seems revolutionary never ends up being easy to
take hold, especially once rollout begins. To make matters worse, this
particular automaker is in no position to advance slowly. They still
have major debt problems to deal with. Staying ahead of the
competition means exploiting an advantage the others don't have.
Producing a low volume of a really expensive vehicle isn't that. Who
do they think the market is for Volt? The enthusiasts are quite
content with niche status. Does that mean Cruze will become the profit
source? Where will business-sustaining money come from, not to mention
funding for those new models? Frustrated, I posted this:
The concern has been for the mainstream... having something very good,
available at an affordable prices, in high volume, returning a modest
profit. Remember the "too little, too slowly" statement from the auto task-force
about bankruptcy recovery?
Direct-Drive. We got
confirmation that there was indeed a power-fade issue at high speeds for Volt. The electric motor running
at a fast RPM wasn't able to deliver much torque. It's not an efficient
use of electricity by simply spinning it faster anyway. The solution
was to provide Volt with the ability to use thrust from the engine directly
rather than converting the energy. That makes sense, but the details
leave you scratching your head. Supposedly, a clutch will alter the
behavior of the PSD when driving above 70 MPH. The utilization of a
clutch indicates a mode. Switching modes that isn't the same as
altering RPM or the flow of electricity. That's an important difference... especially if the
speed limit just happens to be 70 MPH, as it is here. If there really
is a 10 to 15 percent efficiency increase in that mode, as GM stated, what would
mean for driver's obeying the law? No one knows yet. Perhaps it
was a wise choice, since the few areas where you can drive faster you
really wouldn't want a clutch engaging & disengaging frequently.
That should only be for sustained high-speed cruising. It makes you
smile thinking about Toyota's choice. Cutting fuel and just leaving
the engine spinning at a low RPM would allow for immediate power when the
electric motor is operating at power-fade tolerance. Elegantly simple
translates to lower cost and greater reliability. Gotta like that.
Fresh Start. The day began with the daily Volt blog featuring a new topic to discuss the freshly discovered, but not yet understood, powertrain. That enthusiast fear of it having direct-drive had become a reality... making some of the most staunch hypocritical no matter what they say. Now, we know for certain that the SERIES hybrid definition doesn't fit. Sharing of physical momentum to power the wheels makes it a PARALLEL hybrid, the same grouping as Prius. Of course, they'll still be in different categories. But the point is, as GM puts it, the "participation of motive force" makes it a hybrid. Call it whatever you want, just not an EV like they had always hoped. Phew! Glad that nonsense came to such an abrupt end. This is what I had to say about it, which coincidently just happened to be the very first post and received a surprising amount of positive votes: Sure is nice to have an answer to the direct-drive question now. Gaining efficiency through participation is a good thing, despite the "purity" it tarnishes. We finally have something "hybrid" in common. Let the new age of plug-in hybrids begin.
The Surprise. We certainly didn't have to wait long for things to get interesting. Remember the mocking from Volt enthusiasts, exclaiming superiority due to the ability to drive "at all speeds" in EV, unlike Prius? Remember the "power fade" concern at high speeds? Remember the efficiency from having "direct-drive" instead of multiple conversions? Well, it looks they just got one heck of a surprise. The big unknown seems to be the reality that Volt is far more like a Prius than any of them cared to admit. An image of a PSD was published by Motor Trend. Just a quick glance at it is all that's needed to see the similarity. The Ring, Sun, and Planets carry power differently. Connections don't go to the same components. In fact, there's a clutch. Details aren't clear yet, with so many messages frantically being posted. But one thing that is certain is that the design is intended to deal with power & efficiency during highway travel. This knowledge destroys the purity argument. Superiority arguments of the past have fallen apart. Cooperation appears to be next on the agenda. Phew!