Prius Personal Log  #497

January 10, 2011  -  January 16, 2011

Last Updated: Sat. 2/12/2011

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1-16-2011

What If, premium.  When the tax-credit expires, how will consumers react?  Reducing production cost by $7,500 while also delivering higher MPG with cleaner emissions in the short time available seems like a miracle.  It would really be fascinating if middle-market was somehow able to pay that premium GM is asking.  But then again, even a reduction to $33,500 is still beyond the reach of many.  There was resistance to hybrids for years due to price... or at least that was the excuse.  Will people shift priorities that much and pay that much to be green without any "range anxiety"?  What if they could and did?  And how would a battery technology breakthrough affect the approach currently committed to?

1-16-2011

What If, post.  Here's what I ended up posting about this on the big Prius forum:  Stepping back to look at the big picture a number of years ago, it had become increasingly clear that favor for the SUV was taking a negative turn.  GM's proposed solution was Two-Mode.  It would keep the mighty guzzler alive by increasing efficiency to an acceptable level.  But that turned out to be a huge business failure.  The system was expensive and didn't provide enough efficiency improvement.  Fast forward to the end of 2010, when we confirmed that Two-Mode had mutated into smaller system which a 4-cylinder engine could utilize.  Unfortunately, it too was expensive and didn't provide enough efficiency improvement.  But attaching that revised hybrid system to a platform which was primarily dependent on externally supplied electricity would strike a balance.  For those looking to replace their thirsty guzzler with a car, the high sticker-price and 35 MPG estimate is a realistic choice.  GM found a solution to satisfy both their own customers and the upcoming CAFE requirements.  It's not "vastly superior" as enthusiasts continue to claim.  Whether or not it is even competitive remains to be seen, especially as consumers discover just how much EV capacity is reduced by using the heater.  What happens next will be an interesting chapter in automotive history.

1-15-2011

What If, thoughts.  Could it be that as the design of Volt was being tested the results led those making decisions to choose different priorities?  Sales of the SUV were fueled by the false pretense that they were safer.  Guzzling wasn't considered irresponsible by back then.  And of course, gas was cheap.  Change comes painfully for some.  Failure of Two-Mode to stir profitable business meant leaving customers without a replacement option.  What would they buy when the time came?  Since those previous purchases were quite expensive anyway, concern about reaching middle-market didn't have to be paramount.  This would explain the emphasis on drive experience instead.  Knowing the feel behind the wheel would have to compensate for shortcomings of the original goals makes sense.  Switching from SUVs with power & abilities never used for daily commuting to a plug-in that essentially reverts back to traditional vehicle performance after battery depletion would be a discreet way of achieving CAFE requirements.  It's obviously not the best solution.  Getting hybrid efficiency & emissions after depletion is what's still needed... hence: too little, too slowly.

1-15-2011

$3 Gas.  The impression is that price is here to stay, as a new base.  Summer brings higher prices.  People travel more then.  Demand for gas increases.  With oil holding steady above $90 per barrel for a while now, seeing this price for gas now makes sense.  Expecting to see anything below $3 anymore isn't realistic... especially for those vehicle lifetime expense calculations.  Some didn't believe this would happen.  Where are they now?  What will they be driving next?  It's truly amazing how naysayers just vanish.  Regardless, the days of making excuses for carefree guzzling are over.  To think of all the greenwashing we had to put up with.  Sure glad that's in the past.  The hybrid has become so deeply entrenched into the mainstream, it's not going away.  Remember how it was once declared just a passing fade, a niche that didn't make any business sense?

1-15-2011

Anticipation.  I remember discussions an entire decade ago, predicting how the acceptance of hybrids would play out.  Anticipating the rise of gas prices was a fundamental part of that.  How could demand continue to rise and the supply of easy to extract & refine oil shrink without affecting price?  There's the obvious problem of carbon & smog emissions too... not to mention the political concern about the sources.  Finally, every automaker is planning some variant of hybrid & plug-in.  They delayed acceptance as long as they possibly could.  Looking back, it's truly amazing how much resistance to change there actually was.  All those absurd claims that Hummer was better or that all we needed was just a way to make the giant-size vehicles more efficient.  It was denial which ran so deep, the history books will devote much to documenting what happened.  Of course, it's not all well yet.  There's still the issue of misplaced priorities.  Not taking price seriously is the biggest.  Now that gas prices have risen, a struggling & confused market due to an imbalance of competitiveness is what I anticipate now.

1-15-2011

Hype vs. Reality.  What was revealed to us 4 years ago is quite different from what we actually got.  Most just want to move on at this point, especially those who were responsible for allowing unrealistic hope to continue for so long.  Anyone who studied the EV knew very well that demands of the heater reduce available range significantly.  But enthusiasts absolutely insisted the "40 mile" promise took that into consideration.  It obviously didn't... and they know that well, now.  It's a harsh reality they're finally coming to terms with.  Too bad they didn't listen to those sharing that information all along.  Oh well.  It's like the price target.  That was totally unrealistic too.  Yet, that hype remained right up to the price announcement.  As for MPG after depletion, that approach never made any sense.  So, Volt now faces a market rapidly filling with choices.  It's a plug-in hybrid competing against both pure EVs and other plug-in hybrids... not the "game changer" they wanted.

1-14-2011

Negative Reviews.  In the past, it was easy to dismiss anyone posting a negative comment about Volt as someone who hated GM and was being paid by the competition to undermine.  Simply just label them a "troll" and move on.  Now, things are different.  Reviews are emerging from unknown new owners.  A few are quite negative.  It's interesting to read reactions to the over-inflated expectations.  Enthusiasts obviously didn't take the warning to prepare for this ahead of time seriously... leaving them at a loss of how to deal with them now.  I'm quite curious what will happen.  It's too bad the 40-mile EV and 50 MPG efficiency hype was allowed to thrive for so long.  Denial contributed to the problem originally.  Will it continue to?  Are the enthusiasts finally ready to become supporters?  This means real-world data must be shared... something that's been almost totally absent lately.

1-14-2011

Big Picture.  The cannot/refuse to see-the-forest problem is nothing new either.  Examples of how enthusiasts dance around it are abundant.  This is way discussing goals is so difficult.  They simply disregard overall production and overall need, focusing pretty much entirely on engineering rather than acknowledge the realities of business.  Heck, some literally use the "vastly superior" label still.  Anywho, it was time to put out numbers again:  Doing the math, it's easy to see that 1 Volt must be sold for every 2 Prius just to break even.  And that's at the current sales volume, without considering the plug-in model.  Here's the numbers:  500,000 Prius at 150,000 miles each delivering 50 MPG will consume 1.50b gallons of gas.  250,000 Volt at 150,000 miles each delivering 150 MPG will consume 0.25b gallons of gas.  250,000 traditional vehicles at 150,000 miles each delivering 30 MPG will consume 1.25b gallons of gas.

1-13-2011

Magnesium-Sulfur.  Reading about that type of rechargeable automotive-grade battery currently being researched by Toyota was an exciting addition to the autoshow stories.  Unsurprisingly, no detail of any sort... like cost or timeline... was shared.  All we got was the fact that it is capable of holding twice the energy of Lithium-Ion.  Being able to increase EV capacity for the PHV model Prius to about 25 miles without needing additional physical space sure would shake up the market.  And something is needed later to tip the balance, transforming the plug-ins from niche to mainstream.  This could have the potential for that.  In the meantime, establishing proper expectations is still needed.  That's what the real-world data being gathered now will help with.  Whatever the case, the age of gas-only vehicles is clearly in its final stage.  Externally supplied electricity will being playing a role in the next.  Battery technology is at the heart of that.

1-13-2011

Hybrid Premium.  Being horribly vague and avoiding numbers is nothing new.  We've seen it all before, for many year now.  Today, it was this repeat: "No hybrid has yet justified its cost-premium, regardless of..."  I enjoyed responding to that with:  What premium?  Greenwashing of the past doesn't work anymore.  Don't believe or assume.  The numbers simply don't back up the vague claims or the changes over the years.  With a real-world efficiency gain of 15 MPG at $3 per gallon, the difference between 35 and 50 over the distance of 150,000 miles is $3,857.  At $3.50 per gallon, it's $4,500.  At $4 per gallon, it's $5,143.  A new Prius can be had for $25k.  No other gas vehicle that size actually delivers 35 MPG; you have to step down to compact for that.

1-12-2011

Too Little, Too Slowly.  Seeing the reality of that problem finally sink in is quite fulfilling.  All along, that's been the concern.  We expressed it over and over again.  The response was consistently a state of denial.  High gas prices returning in 2011 isn't what those waiting for a second generation plug-in wanted to acknowledge.  Even the difference between getting a new hybrid that offers seating for 7 verses one that will be available in the Summer with the likelihood of strong sales and profitability immediately is an easy argument to win now.  There's very much the feeling of change having arrived.  Heck, those who had just recently attempted to mislead are finding their audience has moved on.  Understanding the difference between need & want is much clearer now.  It sure is nice that the hype is quickly fading into memories of the past.  Too bad certain individuals didn't take the warnings & advice long ago.  Isn't it amazing what a little bit of real-world data and wallet pain can do?

1-11-2011

Hatchbacks & Wagons.  I liked this question about the new Prius today:  "Why bother with an entire new body/hardware to have a new class of car that barely distinguishes itself from the standard Prius??"  Study the market.  Prius drew a number of consumers by being incredibly practical in addition to delivering outstanding emissions & efficiency.  SUV owners looking for an alternative wouldn't be caught dead in a minivan.  Squishing back into a sedan with a tiny storage area in comparison is a turnoff.  Prius is actually a bit too small for some anyway.  Why not offer a wagon version, especially since that's a rapidly growing new market?  So what if it doesn't deliver 50 MPG?  That expected 40 MPG is a huge improvement for those wanting to replace their guzzling SUV.  Of course, some of us saw the 1.8 liter engine as an opportunity to power a larger vehicle, since it really is more than what's needed for the 2010 Prius.  Toyota planned ahead.  Reuse like that is good for business.  Consumers need choice.  And heck, think about how the larger cargo area offers room for more battery.

1-11-2011

Blog Limitations.  The reason why the Volt enthusiasts have been called enthusiasts rather than supporters is all they've ever done was blog.  A new one was introduced each day, they post a few entries, then it dies.  All is lost the following day.  In fact, they actually looked forward to that daily refresh... since certain topics have obviously been difficult to deal with.  Information easily strayed off-topic too, making the hunt for detail later pretty much impossible.  I'd drop hints about the the need for things like a FAQ and the benefits of using the forum they've had available for years.  But the forum just sat there, getting only a few new posts per week.  Meanwhile, the daily blog would get a few new posts every few minutes.  Such a waste.  Prius supporters have been well aware of the power of forums for an entire decade and make reference to them all the time, drawing in newbies with a resource which makes finding facts and contributing information quite convenient.  Well yesterday, it changed.  The homepage on that Volt website reduced the blog section down to just a small single entry, switching heavy emphasis onto the forum instead.  But the initial results was reduced activity on the blog and no change on the forum... which is stunning, since today was the big reveal in Detroit.  You'd expect activity to be buzzing.  On the big Prius forum, activity there was so intense the entire website slowed to a crawl attempting to handle the big jump in post count.  It should be interesting to see how they transition from blogging to forum threads.  At least the webmaster is now making an effort to deal with those blog limitations.  Of course, he ceased sharing real-world data for his Volt over 3 weeks ago.

1-10-2011

Ford C-Max.  Similar to the upcoming Prius V, there's another hybrid in the wagon shape which will be available... except this one revealed by Ford today actually does fulfill the minivan requirement of offering sliding back doors.  Oddly, there weren't any MPG estimates provided though.  The only efficiency hint was that the target is to be higher than 39 MPG combined (41c/36h) the hybrid Fusion currently offers and the CS-mode (for the plug-in model, also revealed today) will be better than Volt.  Details of when, price, battery-capacity, and how many were also left as unknowns for now.  In fact, the only other bit of information which we've come to expect that was shared is the anticipated PZEV emission-rating.  An unexpected bit was the plan for the plug-in to provide a 500-mile overall driving range.  So despite not being told much, it's quite clear that Ford is intentionally besting GM.  Another hybrid that will also offer a plug is great news.  Toyota & Ford will be able to effectively reduce traditional vehicle production.  Who knows what the heck GM will do.  Consumers need no-plug choices offering at least 40 MPG.  Automakers need a platform which easily & inexpensively offers a plug.  C-Max looks to fulfill both needs well.

1-10-2011

Prius V.  The new "Versatile" model was introduced today.  This was my post on the big Prius forum in response to that.  No surprises here.  Driving a Classic model for 3 years then an Iconic for 5.5 years informed me well that the engine in the 2010 was overkill from a power viewpoint.  The thought then was that the same system would be used in a larger vehicle later, especially having driven the 2010 now for 1.5 years later.  Today, we got confirmation.  From a business viewpoint, Toyota has a killer platform.  They'll be able a high volume that's both affordable & profitable.  From an efficiency viewpoint, the 40 MPG combined (42c/38h) is definitely competitive.  Gotta love the emission expectation too.  But what should really make you think is the point that there's nothing to cause an acceptance delay.  Since the same system is already in the 2010 and is already well proven, there shouldn't be any hesitation.  No first-year jitters is a big deal.  Heck, it even looks like a Prius... but it's bigger, fulfilling the wish scores have had about size.  This new choice should make for a very interesting next step.  I'm certainly looking forward to how it will shake up the market.

 

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