Prius Personal Log #517
June 7, 2011 - June 11, 2011
Last Updated: Sun. 7/17/2011
page #516 page #518 BOOK INDEX
Real-World Data, reality. What will end up being the sales draw for plug-in vehicles? How much of a factor will price be? What do consumers need & want for higher efficiency? And of course, how will the variance between EPA estimates and real-world data influence the purchase decision? Waiting to hear from owners about their actual experiences could be what's currently holding back sales of Volt. Reality can be quite different from advertisement claims. And with so much money involved, making a mistake can be costly. So, does that mean there will be a delay for all plug-in vehicles? Prius already has a strong positive reputation built up. Offering a plug to boost MPG makes anticipating outcome much easier than a new approach like the so-called range-extender. The plug-in Prius will charge just fine using a standard household outlet too. What's realistic? How much change are consumers willing to embrace... and pay for?
Real-World Data, missing. So, where is it? Just like with Two-Mode, silence has come from most owners of Volt. With so many voices prior to rollout, it's not like you'd think the first buyers wouldn't be internet users. After all, there are features of Volt that both interface with computers and smart-phones. Very little real-world data is actually available. So whether or not those current thousand-miles-per-tank measures turn out to be representative of mainstream consumers too, missing information slows progress. Knowing less means more hesitation about purchases. That's actually good for the other automakers, who are just now beginning production of lithium-based batteries. But it certainly doesn't match the hyped expectations prior to rollout. There are many unknowns. Not having data available shouldn't be one of them.
Real-World Data, purity. We know that enthusiasts obsess over points of design which appear impressive on-paper, but sometimes don't deliver. That's the value of real-world data. It reveals what's worthy of praise and what was just hype. Ford announced C-Max would be offered as hybrid-only in the United States, no traditional counterpart as they have in Europe. That led to this from one of the few remaining Volt enthusiasts on what's left of that daily blog: "If I were a Volt, I would be very happy with a competitor that can only do 62 MPH before having to burn gasoline." Seeing that there are now at least 4 automakers focusing on the 100 km/h (62.1 mph) as a maximum without the engine spinning (though not necessarily consuming fuel at faster speeds), that inconsistency makes you wonder what the difference really is from actual driving experiences. I responded with this: If you were a mainstream consumer, you'd be more interested in the outcome rather than a purity point. Avoiding use of the engine at all costs is a waste. Heck, even some Volt owners are now pointing out the benefit of Mountain-Mode. They intentionally fire up the engine early, to preserve some EV capacity for later. And the benefit from using the engine for heat in the winter should be obvious. In the words of a good friend: "It does not make sense for a hybrid to drive with only half the powertrain." Haven't you noticed GM's thousand-miles-per-tank promoting recently? Volt still uses gas. What's wrong with acknowledging 125 to 150 MPG averages? True, that gives the appearance of being bad since it falls way short of the 230 MPG promotions of the past... but get over it already. Geez! Appealing to mainstream consumers means focus on their priorities, not what enthusiasts like to boast about. Remember, most people don't understand how a transmission works anyway. They are only aware of how much they routinely pump into the tank.
Real-World Data, doubt. We've seen this countless times in the past. When a competing technology begins to reveal shortcomings, those in support of it begin to raise doubt about the leader it attempted to dethrone. Today, it was with this: "I don't think this is correct." He already knew it was. He had denied other information in the past too. The best example is how the PHV model Prius doesn't start the engine until only about 1.5 miles of EV range remains. Until then, there's no reason to pre-warm the emissions system. All your suburb driving will typically be electric-only. But no matter how many examples are provided to show that, he continues to raise doubt it could ever be possible. That's the way online posting in daily blogs is setup. Information quickly gets lost in the clutter and cannot be easily found or referred back to like threads in a forum, which is what contributes to lots of posts each day. Watch for it. Those not wanting to be constructive intentionally avoid detail. Repeated vague responses are a dead giveaway they are hiding from real-world data.
Video - PHV Climb & Acceleration. Back in August 2010, I had some opportunities to get behind the wheel of a PHV model (plug-in) Prius. Little did I know my few random bits of video footage would be referred back to later on like this. Had I known, lots more would have been filmed. Oh well. In this, you can see how I effortlessly climbed up the residential hill using only electricity. Then after getting out of the neighborhood, I dropped the pedal all the way to the floor to see what the system would do when hard acceleration was needed. The gas engine joined to help, then shut off when going down the hill afterward. I later discovered climbing from a dead stop to 40 MPH up that same hill could be done with only electricity; just don't drop the pedal like I did in this clip.
No Substance. You can tell the end is near. Desperate calls for attention is all we're getting now, claims with no substance. This one today was great: "LOL, what a smashing "success" this car is! Prius must be running scared!" Yup, that was from a Volt enthusiast... the type with no intention to purchase, just an interest in bragging rights. It was quite predictable the situation would come to this. We saw it before with Two-Mode. Before that, it was belittling Prius as a "stop gap". Neither resulted in any competitive though. Hype is easy to see now. Promises too good to be true have proven exactly that. Does it mean the next stage is constructive discussion? That's highly unlikely, even from an engineering perspective... especially with so much to address, like over 100 different rechargeable battery chemistries using lithium now. And from a business perspective, forget it. Enthusiasm rarely comes from high-volume production. Enthusiasts focus on niche products, things that stand out... not what's common. I ended responding to that substance-lacking post with this: Scared of what? Sales are the measure of consumer acceptance. The choice they make with their wallet is how "success" is determined.
Useless To Me. This was a great example of the kind
of assumptions people make: "Cars like the plug-in Prius that have a
large battery and can only hit 62 before the ICE kicks in are useless to me
and probably most others with a mostly highway commute every day."
It makes you wonder how purchase decisions will be made for plug-in
vehicles. Will people actually look at speed & range that
simplistically, believing there's no benefit whatsoever beyond those
numbers? Anti-Hybrid campaigns of the past were that rudimentary.
They thrive on the way people often just jump to conclusions without any
research. Anywho, I hope this doesn't get too bad. Antagonists
intentionally exacerbate situations like this. My reply was this:
That's a misconception.
The gas engine doesn't necessarily run at speeds faster than 100 km/h (62.1
mph). It spins to balance out the RPM of the power-carriers within
the PSD (Power-Split Device) without consuming fuel.
Think about it. How much horsepower is actually needed to maintain a
cruising speed of 70 mph? The 60 kW (80 hp) electric motor can easily handle
that. True, there is a bit of efficiency loss even with no-compression
spinning (valves open). But the end result is still well in excess of 100
Hybrid Only C-Max. It's official, Ford decided not to offer a traditional variant of C-Max for this market. It will be available as a cordless model and a plug-in. In other words, the engine-only 7-seat model already selling well in Europe won't be made available here... and that's what really upset some people today. Yes, these are the very same people who go on and on about GM being competitive, yet never mention hybrids. The short-sightedness is quite shocking sometimes. Can't they see what's coming next year? Here is my contribution to the topic thread about this on the big GM forum: The catch is, that vehicle needs to be a hybrid... like Prius v, which is already available with seating for 7 in Japan. Doing that in wagon format like C-Max means moving the battery-pack to another location, since the usual spot is where the extra seats go. Toyota accomplished this by using a lithium battery for the higher-occupancy model. Since that type of battery is smaller, it can be placed between the front seats instead. Ford sees how easy it would be to bring that model to the United States and knows it will be recognized as exclusively hybrid. It's not worth sacrificing that competitive opportunity.
eAssist. The price was revealed today. The Buick LaCrosse model offering this second-generation version of BAS will have a sticker-price of $29,960 (plus $860 destination). That's the same price as the traditional 6-cylinder model. So from a competitive point-of-view, it would seem GM set price as a major priority. The efficiency itself is a head-scratcher though. Strictly from a weight perspective, the 25 city and 37 highway MPG estimates are clearly better than the current full-size sedans available. But that's still very much a guzzler. Delivering around 30 MPG overall isn't exactly what we need to reduce oil dependency. It makes you wonder what consumers will think, especially with the majority of hybrids striving for 40 MPG now. What is the market-share of that size vehicle anyway? A big problem with Two-Mode was dropping sales of the traditional model of Yukon & Tahoe. Consumers began downsizing. Does GM plan on offering eAssist in a smaller vehicle, like Malibu or Cruze? If so, when?
Accord Plug-In. We finally got some detail. This will be Honda's first hybrid system using two electric-motors. Prior to this, there was only one, which was too small to do anything more than just temporarily provide engine-assistance. This is eight times more powerful (120 kW) with a top speed of 62 mph. The battery pack is nice size too, 6 kWh offering from 10 to 15 miles of EV driving. How it fits in the trunk remains a mystery. That's a heck of a lot of capacity to squish into the back of a sedan. The system itself is still not well known either. But with the offering of a direct-drive mode, it's easy to deduce that clutches are used to achieve operational states rather than just splitting power as Toyota, Ford, and GM does with their FULL hybrids. In other words, it seems to be an ASSIST type with another electric-motor added on. In the end, it comes down to the efficiency & emissions along with how much it cost to achieve that.
Video - Afternoon Drive. This was the result of my Prius drive in bright sunlight. I wanted to capture a blue sky and all the green of the trees outside. That meant almost covering up the display entirely, preventing most all the light from shining in... leaving a tunnel open for me to see the speedometer. That worked fairly well. It was just about perfect. But the placement of the camera allowed for some vibration and bending of the image. Capture of the outside scenery looks fantastic... despite picking up some vivid reflection from the black fabric covering the dashboard. It's too bad the zoom on that camera got messed up this time. Something always goes wrong with that many variables at play. Fortunately, the consequence of that was just the hood of the Prius showing where I normally place the display overlay anyway. It was a nice drive and the average was 62.4 MPG at the halfway point. The return trip dropped that to 55.8 MPG... an outcome certainly worthy of noting on video.
Video - Evening Drive. This particular drive with the Prius presented a number of problems, but not extreme enough to prevent from keeping. It started with the setting sun shining through the windows, hitting both the screen & speedometer parts of the display directly. The repeated glares were annoying, but brief enough to not be a problem. It does look strange though, since the outside scenery doesn't really provide a good indication of the conditions during those moments. The drive proceeded well, all through town and back without any trouble. Even the amusing turns in the parking lot worked out nice. But then, it started to rain. What does rain look like to an HD camera just inches away from the windshield? What would the wiper look like at 500% the normal speed? What if the current sprinkle turned into a downpour? I pressed on, hoping for the best and just randomly activating the wiper. At that point, I noticed one of the cameras had broken loose. But rather than vibration problems, it was just leaning. I wondered what effect that could have. Will viewers of the video end up leaning to compensate or get a bit sick from the exaggerated road slant? Well, at least it provide a little insight to the complexities of filming all that... see.
Video - Sunset Drive. This Prius video capture was my first attempt with 2 cameras during daylight hours. I really got lucky with this particular drive too. The sunset just happened to be a colorful, turning a deep pink as I began the return part of my round-trip drive. You can see the colored sky especially well near the ending of that drive. However, if you look close, you can also spot the smear of the bug I hit on the way back. Fortunately, it's on the far right of the scene. That could have been much worse. This time, I placed a small piece of cardboard above screen to help prevent moments of bright light from shining in. That worked well, but was obvious that filming in bright sunlight was going to pose a lot more of a challenge than I had anticipated. Fortunately, it was already dark this time... though that's hard to see based upon how well the scenery camera compensated. Notice everyone's headlights are on. Anywho, to see the video, here's the link.
Video - Night Drive. This was my second attempt to
capture all the activity a Prius driver sees, but this time using 2 separate
HD cameras. With all the difficulties light from outside causes, the
decision was to try it at night. I had no idea what it would take to
synchronize 2 individual videos or how nice an overlay would look after
scaling & cropping. And of course, there's always the challenge of
screen-flicker if too dark or washout of detail if too bright. It
ended up working extremely well, though the rendering of the final file took
almost 12 hours. I especially like how the new GoPro camera could be
mounted to the windshield upside-down with a suction-cup mount in exactly
the position needed, allowing me avoid both dashboard-vibration and
lens-bend. You can see it