Prius Personal Log #514
May 7, 2011 - May 16, 2011
Last Updated: Tues. 5/17/2011
page #513 page #515 BOOK INDEX
Forgotten Purpose. Confirming that something isn't meeting expectations is as simple as not getting an answer when asking the question of purpose. We've seen that evasion in the past... but this time it's really bad. Volt is approaching the six-month mark and talk of rollout expansion about to begin. That adds even more pressure to the already thorny situation. They spin what you say attempting to distract attention and at the same time have a double-standard about when the measure of merit is appropriate. It won't change need though. Regardless of what they claim, a mainstream solution is still needed. We knew the intent of Volt was for 2010. Now, it is supposedly just an "early adopter" technology which will mature as the years progress. None of the supporters seem to remember claims of "leap frogging" the success of Prius anymore. That purpose of becoming a top-selling vehicle has been conveniently forgotten.
Still Going!? It's rather amusing when someone on the big Prius forum is surprised to discover that thread questioning the success or failure of Volt still going... since many have already dismissed it as too expensive, just a niche, or not measuring up to the hype. It's like beating a dead horse. What's the point? I summed it up with this: We saw the same over-promise, under-deliver problem with Two-Mode, enduring years of unrealistic hype and ending up with technology that didn't fulfill mainstream requirements. But back then, gas was still cheap and monster-size guzzlers were patriotic. The situation is different now, same mainstream requirements however gas is expensive and consumers are flocking to compact & sub-compact traditional vehicles for better efficiency. Since some flat out deny past expectations for Two-Mode and are now beginning to do the same with Volt, it makes sense pointing out the issues. Do we really want to watch Volt just be a halo vehicle to help sell traditional vehicles rather than force it to become what middle-market expected all along?
Losing Weight. Analogies are fun to scrutinize. They're similar to the aspect of my career when I design & debug software. The approach depends heavily on what the users actually need to achieve, not necessarily what they want. Today it was an analogy comparing Volt arguments to losing weight, claiming it really doesn't matter since the outcome is the same anyway. I pointed out the analysis difference between an individual (vehicle) and the entire population (market), attempting to emphasize the overall effect of limited choice: Consider the big picture. If a consumer doesn't purchase a Volt, they'll likely choose a Cruze instead. If a consumer doesn't purchase a plug-in Prius, they'll choose another Prius instead. The current cordless gets about 15 mpg more than Cruze. The compact concept could deliver 20 mpg more. The v model will get 5 to 10 mpg better than Cruze and will offer a much bigger interior. In other words, GM will have to sell quite a few Volt to offset the impact Cruze will have just to match the overall efficiency of the Prius family.
Lithium Production. The battery-pack for the new Prius (wagon) comes in two varieties. One is NiMH, very much like what's in the current Prius (hatchback). There are 18,000 orders in Japan awaiting delivery of it. That one is less expensive and comes standard on the basic model. The more expensive model provides a third row of seats. To accommodate the extra space, a lithium battery-pack is used instead and is placed between the two front seats. That model also offers the resin dual-sunroof. There are already 7,000 orders in Japan for that. With production expected to be 1,000 per month, it's going take awhile to fill those orders. Hopefully though, that will make PHV rollout (the plug-in model I'll be getting) easier. Producing that type of rechargeable affordably with automotive-grade reliability at higher volumes isn't established yet. This initial rate of 1,000 per month is a good start... as well as being a clearly defined goal.
Looking Back. Evading questions about goals made it obvious that denial of the situation later was inevitable. They'd simply dismiss hype leading up to rollout and claim promises made were fulfilled. Looking back doesn't accomplish much; it just emphasizes the need to specify the who's & what's. Without a clear purpose, don't expect comprehensive results. Fortunately, those of us supporting efforts like Prius understood the importance of price and the balance of priorities from the very beginning. So the current fallout for Volt isn't a surprise in any way... especially since we saw the same happen with Two-Mode. Looking forward means pointing out that fallout to influence a change in approach. We are seeing strong demand for Cruze now and GM is planning to deliver Sonic later this year. Those are competitors from within. Combine that pressure with that from the other automakers, who already acknowledge price as a high priority, the forecast doesn't look good.
Not Enough. Yesterday marked a big day for Prius;
rollout of the new "v" model began in Japan. That bigger
wagon (known there as "alpha") already has over 25,000 orders waiting to be
filled there. Toyota reassured those in the United States that their lack
of supply won't interfere with the rollout schedule here. Unfortunately,
that will likely result in long delivery waits, but at least some will get
one right away. Needless to say, that certainly emphasizes the situation...
having affordable choices available for middle-market. This is exactly what
the "too little, too slowly" concern was meant to address. When Volt was
promoted as mainstream solution for 2010, the expectation was that's what
would actually be delivered. Enough is when oil dependency, efficiency
requirements, and emission needs are all addressed. $4 gas is here.
Consumers are shopping for a better vehicle now.
Friday The 13th. This was a very strange day. It marked the end of an entire week without anything controversial on that daily blog for Volt. It has become just high-level information articles... no more bold claims... nothing about specific expectations anymore. That source of misleading is gone now. It did indeed fade away. The big GM forum has too, at least in terms of Volt greenwash anyway. The final nail in the coffin there came as from the accusation of well-documented claims of the past being declared outright lies. There is a dedicated Volt forum still, but that doesn't draw attention. Debates don't happen there and the audience is very small. In other words, niche status is now a reality. By pushing the "early adopter" mindset, that idea of being a mainstream vehicle has become something of the future... rather than what they had hope for already. Strange how it all played out, eh?
Propaganda Articles. The article was titled: "Range runs short for special edition Prius plug-in". It went downhill from there. The greenwashing was appalling. The most deliberate example was: "The Volt can travel up to 50 miles in battery-only mode before..." It was followed by: "But the Prius plug-in is limited to a mere 13 miles before..." With the EPA rating for Volt at 35 miles and owners routinely observing low to mid 40's in favorable conditions, how is stating 50 even the slightest bit constructive? It's possible, but hardly what's implied. Notice how the use of the words "limited" and "mere" and the lack of any adjectives for the other show a clear bias. That's sad, but not at all a surprise anymore... especially with "short" in the title. And if you guessed that the depleted MPG was mentioned for Prius but not Volt, you understand the irritation articles like that present. The exclusion of information like that doesn't allow readers to decide for themselves. That's why it's propaganda. You are told what to like without having all the facts.
Online Comments. Observing the online comments about Volt as its rollout advances should give some interesting insight into what the plug-in market consists of. The extreme enthusiasts, now becoming antagonists, posting stuff like this: "Just another anti-EV/Volt/Leaf site hell bent on portraying only the numbers that meet their own twisted agenda." Then there's the opposite extreme, owners withholding comment and simply posting real-world data: "Duration = 30 days; Electric Consumption = 24 kW-hr/100 miles; Electric Miles = 868; Gas Miles = 234; Total Miles = 1,102; Percentage on Electric = 79". In the middle, there's the curious reader asking questions like this: "So with the Volt, is GM trying to provide the masses with an affordable fuel efficient vehicle or just a niche hybrid with the statement like: Hey, look at me, I made something that's more interesting than the Prius!!!" Reading each of those from the same article really makes you think. How will comments change as the year progresses?
Optima-Hybrid. Yet another hybrid to enter the market is the Kia Optima. The price was announced today, it will be $26,500 with a $750 destination fee. Deliveries are expected in June for U.S. dealers. Like the Sonata-Hybrid from Hyundai, it will use a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine and is expected to get an estimate of 37 MPG combined (35c/40h). The design is an ASSIST, the type of hybrid integrating a single small electric motor with an automatic transmission. The Fusion-Hybrid is a FULL type, which is why it gets a MPG estimate of 41 city and 36 highway instead (39 combined). Using two electric motors, with the traction one substantially larger than in an ASSIST, is why the efficiency numbers are so different. The upcoming Prius v is expected to deliver 42 city and 38 highway, for a combined 40 MPG. Anywho, the Optima will also deliver electric-only drive up to 62 MPH. Kia calls this a "full parallel system", which is quite misleading since it lacks a second motor and power-split device... essential components to actually be a FULL hybrid. That's why hybrids like Prius are often referred to a the "power split" type... since there's no way a system without a PSD can do easily provide the same flexibility. But regardless of semantics, it's nice to see the affordable choices expand.
Prius v Photos. I had the privilege of seeing this upcoming new wagon version of Prius today. They allowed me to go nuts with the digital camera... and I certainly did. Over 700 photos are now awaiting my sorting & selection. It was very exciting to see that bigger model. The taller cargo area and the sliding rear seats certainly added to the capacity convenience Prius is already known for. You get even more seating & cargo room. What I take pleasure in is seeing the continuous refinements. Toyota is clearly pushing further with mainstream penetration, reaching out to even more consumers with another affordable middle-market choice. This larger Prius should appeal to those looking for that extra size beyond what the current one offers. The vertical rear window is quite a difference too, no split and the wiper isn't visible. It's a nice balance of features. I obviously like the fact that the design will so easily accommodate a plug. There's no question whether that will be available later on. A nice surprise was seeing that the cargo cover pulls out in both directions, allowing it to expand when the adjustable back seats are slid forward. Now, it's just a matter of waiting the 3 to 4 months it will take for rollout to begin here.
Hopelessness. The national average for gas hit $4. There was a strange rumor based on a confusing language translation about upcoming plug-in options for Prius. A variety of new hybrids are on the way from several automakers. Leaf is getting way more attention than GM had anticipated. Needless to say, the last of the Volt enthusiasts are getting quite desperate. It's a good thing there are so few now. Most have either disappeared entirely, from either disenchantment or falling into their own criteria trap. Some have turned into supporters, taking a more realistic view upon what the next steps should be. A few are still fighting hopelessness. Today provided a perfect example of how hype can set expectations way too high: "The first generation Volt may be $40,000 but the second generation Volt might be $25,000. The electric only range may be 25-50 miles however when the next generation comes out it might be 35-70 miles electric only. Also the CS mode may only get you 40 MPG right now but maybe with the next generation it might get you 60 MPG."
Expectations. Who knows what the spin will be with Volt next year. Each time some off-putting measure of merit comes up now, the enthusiasts just change focus anyway. Timing should be interesting. Availability of Volt nationwide won't be fully established until very close to the same time PHV sales begin in initial rollout states. Since the plug-in model shares much of what's already in the current model, the expectation is that Toyota will be prepared to deliver more than GM has with Volt... despite the disasters and multiple-market rollout. That should make sales results quite revealing. I'm hoping to be among those initial deliveries too. So, I'll be able to answer questions about real-world efficiency expectations right away. I wonder how much that data will differ from the configuration currently being tested. Hmm? Rapid acceptance is expected regardless of reports. We know consumers have been looking for an affordable option to boost MPG... and we have already seen results from how attention to need differs significantly from expectations based upon hype.
Will It Last? Gas prices shot up the same time
as the disasters in Japan. It was also the end season (both Winter and
the autoshows) as well a peak for turmoil in some oil-supplying nations.
That put vehicles offering higher efficiency in a good position. Cruze
was best situated for that... but it's a compact and city MPG is much lower
than the heavy touted highway MPG. If the trends continues, it would
mark the end of the giants. Large trucks cannot remain at a large
surplus in that type of market. Unsold inventory takes away from
profit. Will it last? The answer to that would result in a shift
of production. Most automakers have already made that decision.
GM is a hold out, hoping something will happen in the meantime... like Volt
becomes that Prius killer than had often gloated about. Important
factors like price and seating space have not been a high priority though.
That's why the current spin is being documented so much. It's a
changing story which some are hoping for a miraculous ending.
Only MPG. It's becoming a big problem. Report after report from Volt owners excludes mention of electricity consumption. All we get is distance & gallons. The omission of kWh usage is blatant greenwashing. Having reports of how frequently they plug in would be informative too. But that hasn't happened either. In fact, there's been many posts on the dedicated Volt forum pointing out opportunities where an owner was allowed to plug-in at a business during the day. How are we suppose to understand the efficiency from such random information? Heck, most don't include ownership duration either. Someone driving the standard 1,250 miles per month (15,000 miles annually) will clearly use more gas if only plugging in each night than someone taking twice as long to drive that same distance and plugging in every opportunity they have. Unfortunately, there's no way to know any of that if all that's ever reported is only MPG.