Prius Personal Log #505
March 4, 2011 - March 8, 2011
Last Updated: Sat. 3/12/2011
page #504 page #506 BOOK INDEX
Intense Topic. No, it's not being proactive. The enthusiasts on the blog have clearly given up, resorting to just cheerleading (reacting); there still hasn't been a purpose stated either. The enthusiasts on the big GM forum are quite different. Volt has a major problem... price. They acknowledge it, but there is much disagreement about what to do. That's an intense topic now. The need to have something to compete directly with Prius is really stirring emotion. Since Volt is far too expensive for middle-market and gas is rapidly climbing to $4, nothing to compete with is trouble, for some. For others, it's how to quickly reduce the price for Volt. What can be done to accomplish that without diminishing the image already built? Cutting $10,000 is not going to go unnoticed. Compromise is inevitable and no one wants to give up anything. Then there's the confusion about current inventory. In the mist of those arguments, I posted: "Demand is very strange right now. There are claims of a huge order backlog, yet Autotrader has 248 listed as available for immediate purchase. How can that be?" That, along with a number of other posts, quickly got deleted by the moderator. Good thing I hadn't posted anything else. That prediction of fighting from within is coming true. They're getting quite concerned about the changes to come.
Honda 15. Very little was revealed today, but it's
better than nothing. After all, some automakers try to avoid the "over-promise,
under deliver" problem. Anywho, Honda revealed the layout of an
Accord fitted with a hybrid system and a plug. The battery-pack was a
6 kWh lithium-ion powering a 120 kW electric-motor. It will supposedly
deliver up to 15 miles of electric-only driving. The gas-engine will
be a 2-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson-cycle connected to their CVT hybrid system.
Not much else was said about it. The system appears to be two
independent propulsion devices, rather than blending of any sort with a
power-split device. That should make things interesting. The
variety of choices coming are really going to confuse consumers. Will
it come down to the consideration of a minimum capacity/range and a maximum price?
Being Proactive, part 2. Here's what I posted: Imagine what such a feature would have done for Volt here. It would solidify the fact that Volt is a hybrid, consequently wrecking the current market approach, but would have extended the range (pun intended) of the EV ability by offsetting cabin warming. Makes you wonder what the resulting overall MPG would be then. You'd have more EV available, but you'd be using an inefficient engine with a ULEV emission-rating to accomplish that. Hmm? Who's going to bet that GM will change their stance in the US in the next year or so? Most consumers see the engine and call it a hybrid anyway. So, what's the point of EREV marketing anymore? Heck, even Toyota has recently changed from consumer feedback (something this blog should have taken advantage of for Volt prior to rollout) by adding back the EV button to the PHV model.
Being Proactive, part 1. This provides a great example of an opportunity to be proactive: "...the European Volt and Ampera will include a Hold mode, that lets drivers switch to petrol power at will, without the battery being drained, a feature not available in U.S. versions." It was stated during the Geneva showing, an interesting twist on the "extending" ability. People here bought into the GM marketing of "no gas" promotion early on. From the quote, you get the impression GM felt trapped by that but it was way too late to change here. It's really unfortunate enthusiasts took a reactive stance. It was extremely frustrating hearing them claim they had no to power to influence change, even though the Prius owners repeatedly pointed out they did. Now come the consequences of those choices.
3 Million Sold. Toyota just exceeded that milestone for hybrid sales worldwide. 2.5 million of them were Prius. The rest were the dozen or so other variety available. It's fascinating there are so many now and still growing. In fact, this announcement came with the news that Prius-V production has begun. Next month, domestic sales of it will begin. Talking about a short time to wait from reveal to delivery! It's nice to see the use of the technology expand. Even if there are models which don't draw many consumers, you keep trying until another winning combination emerges. If nothing else, it proves the flexibility of the design. That sure should keep the competition thinking. There's little time to wait between rollouts too. We've seen 2 new models recently for Europe, the Prius+ and a Yaris-based hybrid using HSD. Prius-C is on the way too. And of course, the plug-in model. With gas prices climbing, the timing certainly is right for increased choices like this. Remember the goal Toyota set prior to the automotive market trouble? They were aiming for 1 million hybrid sales annually. Though delayed somewhat, that's still a realistic plan.
Losing Touch. If you ever question your priorities, look no further than this example: "Volt draws buyers into a showroom, while Prius is dedicated to the militant greenie who wants a statement car. Greenies are most definitely not mainstream no matter what they may think." It's hard to believe any die-hard GM supporter would still say that. Many years ago, sure. But now, where gas is destined to hit $4 per gallon again, it doesn't make any sense. Of course, the thread topic was about Volt's future and I did point out the "halo" situation. Who would have thought someone on that big GM forum would actually confirm it! Here's how I replied: If you honestly believe that, you're in for quite a bit of disappointment. First, selling other vehicles rather than Volt itself totally misses the point... as well as CAFE requirements. Second, the market for Prius is ordinary families looking for a practical & affordable car which is cleaner and uses less gas... those who would otherwise purchase a Camry or Corolla.
Snow Driving. We got 2
inches of snow this evening. It's still cold enough that the road
doesn't melt it away, so I got my chance to try out the new tires.
Cornering was great, exactly what you'd hope for. Acceleration into
traffic from a dead stop, always an interesting predicament regardless of
vehicle type, was so good you'd forget there were ever any complaints about
all-season tires. The factory ones wear out too soon. Owners are
obviously getting caught by bad timing, where there's plenty of tread left
driving... but with snow, they're going to trigger the traction-control
quite a bit. So, I can contribute my observations to the few owners
currently trying these (Goodyear Assurance Fuel-Max). It's nice having
the option of decent high-efficiency tires that offer treadwear (580) and
traction (A) without being too terribly expensive ($105) or hard to find.
Blog Purpose, responses. The response of one particular individual was to be absolute furious with me, declaring my post "unjustified and unwelcome". Of course, he made no effort whatsoever to actually address the engine issue. So, does that count as reactive or avoidance? I'm done with that kind of nonsense. If enthusiasts are willing to become supporters, finally taking a stance for what Volt should become, great! If they are going to do nothing but make excuses for the extremely expensive design (which makes a number of sacrifices for power instead of delivering a nice balance), then Volt is really in trouble. Owner endorsement is a very important part of growth following initial rollout. Of course, many of the enthusiasts aren't buying one anyway... so, much of what consumers have to base decisions upon is vague & misleading responses. That means I just push... and did, with this: What is the purpose of the blog now? It is really for Volt cheerleading only? Or will the next step (acknowledgement) be taken to make Volt a vehicle for the mainstream?
Blog Purpose, poke. This is what I posted: A blog title with both literal & metaphoric meaning, gotta like that. It is intriguing to observe the discovery process for Volt. Many design decisions were made years ago and only now the payoffs & pitfalls are being learned. The biggest consequence appears to be with the choice of engine. Rather than following through with the original plan for developing one specifically to compliment Volt, an off-the-shelf engine was used instead. That came with the obvious benefit of lower-cost and higher-reliability, but recently an obvious shortcoming from that emerged... the need for heat. Many hybrids have the advantage of using an engine highly optimized for efficiency. A by-product of it running is heat, which will ultimately result in being able to save electricity from the battery-pack for boosting MPG instead. Volt tries hard to avoid using the engine, sacrificing EV range as a result. That wouldn't have been as much of a problem if a more efficient engine were used instead. After all, we know the "mechanical" drive can be engaged at speeds as slow as 30 MPH. So, it's not like there was a power availability concern. But that would have wrecked the "purity" marketing for Volt. Ironically, the happened anyway due to the need for heat. So... is it the heat, the engine shortcoming, or the need for improved efficiency... that are the cause of fire & flames?
Blog Purpose, fire. The reactive instead of proactive
difference emerged early on, then grew. They became less and less
receptive to constructive discussion. Over time, that daily blog for
Volt transformed into a venue for just cheerleading. Posts were in
response to GM decisions, rather than contributing to them. Each goal
not met resulted in more and more defending. They were observers and
their support effort was to make outside opinion unwelcome. How is
that productive? When rollout of Volt began, things got strange.
Then the website with the blog was sold. Since then, we've heard
almost nothing from the new owners. What would be the purpose of the
blog? Finally, I got tired of waiting. It was time to poke them
with a stick. After all, I am proactive. Let's see how they
react. By my good fortune, the latest topic just happened to be
titled: "Putting out fires, stoking new flames." It was
about the actual fire a parts supplier recently suffered from. But of
course, the posts wandered off-topic, then stopped all together. I
Power EV. Hints of Spring are beginning to emerge. Engine coolant is staying hotter longer. I'm finding myself taking advantage of the EV button more often. It took until last Fall for me to discover the WHITE zone on the Eco-Meter was available for electric acceleration when EV-mode is engaged. I had been driving the 2010 just like the 2004 prior to that, but having the benefit of the Eco-Meter displaying the GREEN zone for stealth driving (electric-only up to 46 MPH). It simply hadn't crossed my mind that more power would be available for EV, until driving the PHV model. That made it overwhelmingly clear how much more power the 60 kW traction-motor could deliver. Part of the late discovery was not realizing the threshold was 155°F for the coolant. That's easy to be under and was all too common my first Winter. This time I knew though. And now that it's warm enough to easily stay above that temperature threshold, I've been pushing the EV button in situations which previously hadn't crossed my mind too. Today, it was while waiting at the stoplight of a small country town. With so little traffic, why not accelerate below the 24 MPH speed threshold? The light turned green. A car pulled up behind me. Darn! Oh well. I decided to just accelerate like usual, allowing EV to automatically disengage upon exceeded the WHITE zone. To my surprise, it didn't. Whoa! I had just assumed RED (the power zone) wasn't available for EV. Turns out, it is! Sweet!!!
Cordless Prius. Never really caring for the term "no-plug" but not having any better alternative to distinguish the current Prius from the PHV model, that's what I used. I figured sometime along the line a more meaningful label would emerge. Well, it finally did. And upon seeing it used a number of times in a variety of context, I'm quite happy to embrace it. That new identifier is "cordless". Yes, it seems like an evolutionary step in reverse, but everyone immediately knows what that represents. There is no question of which Prius is being discussed. The meaning is clear. Now it's a matter of seeing if the term sticks. There's always a possibility something else comes about from observation of PHV usage or how the efficiency is addressed or... You get the idea. Gotta start somewhere and "cordless" certainly seems like an excellent idea.
Electricity Cost. The number of new Volt articles not including any reference to electricity cost is increasing. This morning provided a great example: "He leases his for $350 a month but figures he's saving about $100 a month in gas so his true cost he says is $250 a month." Gas is being displaced by another fuel. Electricity isn't free. So how can the "true" make no mention of it? Leaving out vital information like that is greenwashing. It's frustrating to see such attempts grow too. As the price of gas continues to rise, expect more. As the unfulfilled goals continue to reveal their consequences, expect more. As people discover how long it will take to deliver improvement, expect more. The design choice of such heavy dependence on electricity is turning out to be a very expensive mistake. Fallout in the form of misleading & downplaying is what we'll increasingly have to deal with. It's really unfortunate the way things turned out.
Disenchantment. He announced the decision to move on and vanished. It has been over 2 weeks without a peep from him. This was the owner of that daily blog for Volt. He devoted 4 years to the website, became the voice for that technology, then suddenly disappeared. The sale of the website was a complete surprise to us. The transition to the new owners was horribly painful too. You got the impression they had no clue how to do any updates. The blog kept breaking in bizarre ways, things we had never seen before. Suspicion has been growing ever since. He got quiet shortly after driving a Volt daily. Being a person I held in respect for being honest & forthcoming, that change in attitude gave me reason to believe something was wrong. It would be interesting later to find out someone is owned an apology for misunderstanding what happened. But based on the evidence available, it's easy to see a piece of the puzzle is missing. And sadly, that appears to be expectations not having been met. I could imagine the hope for 40 miles replaced with the reality of 25 being quite disappointing. For me, that would be like the PHV ending up costing quite a bit more than expected. Of course, Volt also has a price problem. Sadly, it has trouble with engine-efficiency too. There's plenty to lead to disenchantment of a leader. We've seen that before with other efficiency technologies not delivering as hyped, so it's not unreasonable to suspect it has happened again.
40 from 8. Volt tried too hard to be an EV. We saw that early on, when it was argued that the engine would almost never be used... as if it was there only for emergencies. Then came the technical detail which claimed 8 kWh of electricity to travel 40 miles. Whether or not such an efficiency accomplishment could be achieved didn't matter, due to the complete disregard for cabin comfort. It should have been obvious how much of a capacity reduction that heater would cause. Clearly, it wasn't... as we can plainly see by all the range fallout disappointment. To make matters worse, now we find out the heater itself isn't all that impressive. Ugh. Just think of what will happen this Summer, when owners discover themselves hesitating to turn on the heater late in the evening for warmth long after the sun has set. As hybrid owners, we don't give it a second thought... since there's plenty of waste heat from the engine readily available. In a Volt, no such luck. That comfort is a battery penalty. To further complicate matters, how much of the electricity consumed by preconditioning do you think will be reported by owners? Using the car's heater while still plugged in should count as fuel consumed. I'm betting most will exclude that from their efficiency claims.