Prius Personal Log  #492

November 30, 2010  -  December 8, 2010

Last Updated: Sat. 1/01/2011

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Subjective Measure.  That's all most supporting Volt want to focus on anymore.  I find it vindicating.  Seeing the kWh/100mile consumption-rate of the PHV model Prius at 23.2 compared to Volt's 36.0 is something measured objectively, so is the MPG of 47.2 for the PHV and 31.1 for Volt.  Both are something easy to declare as "vastly superior", but that's not necessary... since those numbers speak for themselves, as does the emission-rating.  Whether or not the feel behind the wheel is "better" is an opinion that differs from person to person in degree and importance.  Ask yourself what the priorities are of those purchasing the high-volume profit-sustaining vehicles.  Isn't the purpose to replace traditional vehicles in significant quantity prior to the tax-credit expiring and the CAFE requirements increasing?


Why?  Now that the Owner's Guide for Volt is available online, some enthusiasts are hunting through it and asking questions about what they find.  This quote especially caught my attention: "Vehicle storage at extreme temperatures can cause damage to the high voltage battery."  Needless to say, it was quickly dismissed entirely and my intent questioned.  I was asked why I would ever want to know about that.  It's the same old shot-the-messenger problem, but this time it was quite impolite... bordering on being hostile.  I spoke up for myself saying:  Some of us aren't afraid to ask the difficult questions and are not deterred by childish insults.  We're well aware that consumers will want to know those answers.  We also know that lithium chemistries & implementations differ.  Seeing the minimum temperature mentioned in the Owner's Manual (14°F) is well above the daily high we routinely experience here in Minnesota makes the question quite valid.  I won't be able to plug-in the entire time I'm at work. 9 hours of exposure to much colder conditions means what?  People aren't going to make such an expensive purchase without knowing.  Getting an evasive response to asking will really make them wonder about that recommendation to plug-in whenever the temperature is below freezing.  Why?


Fading Away.  Watching the hype of enthusiasts fade away makes the previous scramble to document, as events were unfolding, totally worth it.  Many of the hoped for design & operational aspects of Volt came up short.  The over-promise problem played out right before their eyes.  So rather than learning from the Two-Mode outcome, they experienced the disappointment firsthand.  I sure am glad the "vastly superior" nonsense is over.  It's too bad they lost sight of what was actually needed.  All that potential wasted.  Oh well.  It was inevitable that real-world data served as a wake-up call.  Now, it will be the sales which confirm a niche vehicle was delivered, not something for the masses.  Think about who express a passion for what they drive.  How often is it someone from middle-market driving something produced in high-volume?


Honda CR-Z.  It appears as though sales of the hybrid are so poor, Honda is killing it already.  The vehicle itself won't go away though.  They'll just be replacing the hybrid system with a traditional engine & transmission.  Converting it will make it the successor to CR-X, which is what consumers really wanted anyway.  With such disappointing MPG, this decision makes sense.  It's too bad the ASSIST design had so much invested in it, knowing all along there would always be a struggle to compete with FULL hybrids.  Some of us argued that very point an entire decade ago.  Only now is it becoming painfully obvious.  Between CR-Z and the new Insight, the reality that consumers don't understand enough detail about how vehicles operate should be clear.  The fact that automakers are reluctant to abandon such a huge development investment should be too.  But at some point, it's better to cut losses rather than risk losing even more.  So, Honda should definitely be given credit for this choice.


Shiny Clean.  Winter turns all cars a salty color around here.  That whitish layer of crust is something you simply cannot avoid.  It's often too cold to wash off and stays that way so briefly, most people don't bother.  You just get use to the car always being dirty during the cold season.  It's a rare sight to see shiny clean, especially after new snow falls.  But I got lucky last February.  When I brought the Prius in for the brake recall, they washed it.  No charge for the unexpected desalting was a nice surprise.  The dealer just happened to be a only a mile from two scenic locations where I could take great snow photos with lots of trees in the background... while the Prius was still clean!  So, I took full advantage of that opportunity... photo album 159  photo album 160


Settling Down.  The absence of anything in debate anymore marks a sign of change.  Hype about Volt has been replaced by television commercials which really don't tell you anything; they just portray a future where plugging in becomes the norm.  That's it.  Like when diesel got stuck in that very long wait for the reduction of sulfur, Volt is now stuck waiting for improvements from a next generation design.  With orders and demos accounting for production until 2012, there isn't really much for the consumer to do at this point.  That leaves enthusiasts at a loss, especially those who don't intent to purchase one themselves.  Selling the idea is tough.  Pushing the "range anxiety" angle to make Leaf appear less appealing ends up favoring Prius.  And talking down Prius at this point falls on deaf ears due to the huge price disadvantage for Volt.  Then there's the real-world data.  Enthusiasts don't like the MPG estimate, so they disregard it.  They don't like the idea of counting kWh consumed either.  That's why we're seeing things settling down now.  The arguments have come to an end.  Doubt is gone.  We know all the facts now.


Lots Of Snow.  It's coming down pretty hard this evening.  The expectation is to get a least 8 inches... and it certainly looks like we will.  I parked between the hardware and big-box stores.  In both for a total of about 40 minutes, I was greeted with a fresh blanket of snow 2 inches deep on the Prius.  It's a darn good thing driving through snow like this with a Prius is well proven at this point.  Seeing sales slow down below the current rate of 140,000 annually here wouldn't be good in this increasingly confusing market.  Fortunately, consumers do ask normal questions, like about Winter driving, often now.  They take the efficiency & reliability for granted now, despite greenwashing attempts of the past.  I think that's why Prius continues to sell well here, in the heartland.  Being far from either coast means focus on the hostile climate.  Seeing Prius on the road in battle with snow covered roads like everyone else is a strong endorsement.  And today, whether I liked it or not, I contributed to that.


Please Wait.  Finding out that dealer orders (both sold & unsold) already account for the entire 2011 inventory of Volt, combined with the reality of gas prices now exceeding $3 per gallon (due to oil having climbed to $89 per barrel), is putting a lot of pressure on the enthusiasts.  In fact, they're not happy at all about people like me being validated by the "too little, too slowly" concern.  We knew the current design of Volt was far too expensive and waiting for the second-generation would take far too long.  As a result of this pressure, quite a few have joined in the greenwashing campaign to make the PHV model Prius appear to be vaporware.  Since the Volt they were promised was never delivered, they somehow want casual observers of the market to believe the promise for Prius won't either.  Of course, for the PHV model, that's already in the hands of consumers and the next new hybrid from Toyota will use a lithium based battery-pack instead of the current nickel.  So even without the plug, the entire production infrastructure is in place to deliver it.  In other words, by the time GM ramps up production, they'll be in the same position Toyota already has planned.  That's somewhere around 4,000 per month.  Of course, Toyota is also working toward producing around 80,000 no-plug FULL hybrids per month at the same time.  What will the rest of GM's inventory be?  More waiting, eh?


Now We Know.  All those test-drives which didn't allow for anything faster than city speeds... was a major point of suspicion.  Things just didn't add up.  If you had something that really impressed, why not show it off?  Isn't that the point of a test-drive?  Needless to say, now we know why.  A friend of mine put it this way: "Remove the 35 EV miles from the Volt. What else about this car is still appealing?"  How about that for a question to ponder?  It summarize the shortcomings well.  With the engine running, there are a number of other vehicles available which are just as appealing.  You can see why the mere thought of offering a smaller capacity battery-pack resulted in harsh & angry responses.  Volt transforms into an ordinary vehicle as soon as the EV is depleted.  That's not the case with the PHV model Prius.  It continues to be a hybrid, delivering 50 MPG efficiency and PZEV emissions, when there's no more plug-provided electricity available.  Prius gets a BOOST from plugging in.  Volt requires the plug; without, it's similar to many other traditional cars on the road.


10,224 Sold.  Stable is good.  More sales would be better.  During this time of transition, it's understandable though.  Hearing so much about upcoming high-efficiency vehicles, holding off on a Prius purchase isn't rocket science.  With respect to other vehicles in the market, Prius just barely didn't make the top-20 seller list this month.  So, it's still drawing more interest than many others.  As the price of gas goes up and the reputation craziness fades away, the situation will obviously improve.  Until then, sales here continue to be double the minimum for mainstream.  Claims of Prius being just a fad or a niche are long gone, proven well beyond a doubt long ago.  Of course, in Japan the popularity is quite different.  Expectations are that Prius held the #1 position again.  We'll see.


Judging Volt.  This one stirred some emotion: "I just would like to see the Volt judged on it's own merits."  It was a bitter reminder of GM's ever-changing stance throughout the years, the reason why enthusiasts absolutely refused to set any goals.  If you leave intentions vague, there's no such thing as a shortcoming.  Expectations can simply be spun after the fact, which is exactly what we're seeing now.  It's all so vague, the measure of merit could be anything... with respect to design.  I still hold true to sales.  Genuine progress is easy to see if the vehicle is frequently spotted on the road in regular traffic... like Prius is now.  Anywho, this is how I responded:  As constructive of an approach that may sound, it translates to basing measure upon what GM wants to sell us rather than what consumers actually needs.  GM clearly stated goals of 50 MPG and "nicely under $30,000" originally, then ended up giving into the temptation to deliver a niche sports car rather than a family vehicle for middle-market.  Haven't you notice how all the promotion places heavy emphasis on performance (power & handling) while downplaying engine-efficiency and price?


Coolant Observation.  Late in the evening, I was alone on a country highway.  The temperature outside was 18°F.  The temperature of the coolant was 190°F.  With the system toasty warm, despite being cold outside, it wasn't a surprise seeing an average of 50.9 MPG displayed.  Peaking the summit of a very long hill, gradual enough that biking along it during the summer is a pleasure in either direction, I allowed the Prius to slow from 55 to 45 MPH.  The engine shut off.  I thought what the heck, why not enjoy that 0 RPM the entire way down?  I still had a mile and a half to go when it hit me.  That was an ideal opportunity!  How much warmth could be retained while driving that remaining distance using only the electric motor and still have the heater running at the highest temperature with the fan on medium?  The coolant was 186°F at that point.  I watched the degrees drop as the distance passed.  At the bottom, my aftermarket gauge stated 16F.  That's pretty darn good.  I still had enough warmth left to use EV-mode.  It was a great example of how the insulation of the system along with the added grille-blocking really help improve efficiency in the Winter.


240,000 Now.  Out of the blue, this count is what GM is now hoping to deliver for Volt production.  It's yet another chapter in the ever-changing story for the automaker.  They have a long history of expectation changes.  The number is based upon "potential" buyers... which really makes a person wonder when the interest of an individual was expressed.  Remember how much less people thought Volt would cost, just a few months ago?  It wasn't too long ago that people expected much higher MPG too.  The fear of competition may have sparked this particular announcement.  There's always a possibility that the "too little, too slowly" concern is being taken more seriously than we hear about publicly too.  After all, the extra capital suddenly available from the IPO likely stirred plans anyway... especially with the need to make Volt profitable without depending upon tax-credit to help sell it.


Water Pump.  The definition of "recall" has changed.  Until recently, that was thought of as the result of a horrible defect, an urgent required safety fix.  Now, it's often voluntary and doesn't mean the problem is widespread.  In this case, I see it as a proactive move to ensure reliability.  Antagonists will obviously spin it to appear different.  650,000 Prius worldwide are affected.  Here in the United States, that's 378,000 for model-years 2004 through 2007.  The proper term for this is a LSC, a Limited Service Campaign.  The description of the situation is as follows: "A fault in the water pump can cause air bubbles to build up and disrupt the flow of coolant, which can lead to overheating."  If this happens, the check-engine light will illuminate and the vehicle will enter a fail-safe mode to protect the hybrid system.  During the 118,185 miles I drove my 2004, that never occurred.  I haven't ever heard of it happening to any of my friends either.  For that matter, there was no mention of it in the big Prius forum either.  So, I see it as a proactive move on Toyota's part.  We'll see how the media & competition reacts.  They no longer like crying wolf anymore.  Consumer attitude has changed since the craziness 10 months ago.


Logging Suggestions.  Seeing the real-world log featuring daily-driving data from a Volt is holding the interest of many now.  I like seeing that, but also see shortcomings which could be easily be overlooked by the casual reader.  The amount of kWh consumed is missing, so are the losses from charging.  Electricity isn't free.  When the tank is refilled and the price paid is absent too.  Hopefully, some of it will be added later.  But then again, this experience is limited to 3 months.  Here's what I posted about my observations:  Unfortunately, suggestions simply end up getting negative votes.  It's really hard to be constructive when getting arbitrarily dismissed like that.  But in an attempt to make the real-world data more informative, here it goes anyway...  Looking at the daily-driving log, notice how there is no on-going average.  Without one, there's no way of seeing how individual days influence the overall efficiency.  All that's provided is a final total.  And that's based upon computer estimates, not actual measurement at the pump.  Experience reveals the process of approximating the quantity of fuel injected results in several MPG for the margin-of-error.  Also, notice how there's no mention of CS-mode efficiency, nor is there the number of times plugged in each day.


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