Prius Personal Log  #525

August 13, 2011  -  August 19, 2011

Last Updated: Fri. 8/26/2011

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8-19-2011

Assumed Experts.  It was nice to hear NPR pointing out what some of us have been struggling to deal with for awhile now.  Comments to articles can sometimes be trouble.  People just assume answers to questions are responded to by experts.  Unfortunately, that's far from reality in some cases.  That other day, I stumbled across this example: "Does this Prius insist upon burning gas just simply to warm up the engine after you fire it up?"  The model of Prius being discussed was the plug-in.  The response wasn't even remotely close to what actually happens.  The person said yes, then went into a detailed explanation of how the engine turns over most of the time and needs warm oil to keep everything from wearing or causing drag.  What the heck!  That was just plain bizarre.  The 0W-20 synthetic oil most definitely doesn't need any heat to lubricate and the engine doesn't actually spin often.  On that round-trip I made for breakfast to the drive-thru, it said 0 RPM on my aftermarket gauge the entire time.  The engine never moved, despite driving for over 15 minutes up & down hills through the suburbs at 45 mph.  It was all electricity, no gas burned.  That assumed expert was either totally clueless or intentionally trying to mislead.  Unfortunately, readers of the comment section won't be aware of that.  They'll just think what was posted was a fact.

8-19-2011

Wrong Direction.  All those years ago, way back at the start of 2007, we were introduced to Volt.  This was the vehicle proclaimed to "leap frog" the emission & efficiency leader then, Prius.  That obviously didn't happen.  Mainstream purchases are still very much led by Prius.  GM seems to have given up the effort to compete too.  The automaker's latest decision is to offer a more expensive model.  The Converj concept will become the Cadillac ELR.  Talking about a move in the wrong direction... or is it?  This could be the excuse needed all along to finally reconfigure Volt to actually be competitive.  After all, that was suppose to be the intent of the Chevy branding from the beginning.  Clearly, the hype steered development in the wrong direction.  This could get Volt back on track.  That obsession will power and a ride superior to mainstream vehicles, yet remaining mainstream priced, wasn't realistic.  This is what explains why leadership kept changing along the way.  Enthusiasts absolutely refused to state goals, deep down knowing they had actually been led astray... but neither wanting to admit it, nor stand up and push for what had been originally promised.  In the end though, that may come anyway... just several more years later than they had anticipated.

8-18-2011

Market Bumps.  Anyone who thought economic recovery would occur in just a year or two clearly hadn't studied history.  Even with dedication, it still takes a painfully long time.  Unfortunately, we're far from anything you'd call dedicated.  In fact, there is still a lot of political & business fighting about what approach to take.  That being said, there was never a concern about the market seriously dropping again.  The thought was it would remain nearly flat (very little growth) for a long time.  It didn't happen that way.  We've been seeing major ups & downs lately.  It's becoming a bumpy ride.  I saw GM stock drop to $23.51 per share this morning.  That's so far below the $33.00 value at the IPO late last year, that it's totally unrealistic to expect a swing to profit anytime soon.  It makes you wonder how automakers will use the cash they have available.  Seeing the inventory at Toyota low still adds to the uncertainty.  How much of that has to do with model-year switchover?  How much is still the result of those disasters in Japan?  What about the price of gas, currently $3.69 here?  The days of selling lots of high-profit vehicles are long gone.

8-18-2011

Oil & Tires.  I brought my Prius into the dealer for a tire-rotation and basic inspection.  It was $21.66 for that visit.  The first 10,000 miles on these tires (Goodyear Assurance Fuel-Max) have proven themselves worthy of recommending to others.  Then back at home, I changed the oil.  On such a beautiful Summer day, it was turning out to be a good one.  Though, the good actually began the night before.  The synthetic 0W-20 oil is now available in 5-quart jugs.  That makes it about $1.50 less per quart.  So, the final cost was $29.87 for this particular oil-change.  Fortunately, I still haven't had any trouble with the plastic door underneath to access the oil pan & filter.  Some owners have had that plastic joint crack over time.  It sure is nice how clean that keeps everything underneath.  The oil-wrench is still holding tight to the canister too.  I love how easy that makes removal.  The next oil-change won't be until early next year.  The interval is every 10,000 miles.

8-17-2011

Campaign Promises.  Remember way back in 2000?  Governor Bush promised to keep gas prices low as president.  I wondered how the heck he would accomplish such a feat.  And of course, he wasn't able to.  The executive office really doesn't have much power over that, other than additional subsidizing... which clearly we don't have money for.  So, how is Congresswoman Bachmann going to deliver on the promise she just made as president to get the price of gas down below to $2 per gallon?  What kind of terrible objective is that anyway?  Wouldn't that just encourage guzzling and contribute to increased smog-related pollution?  Let's not forget that hybrids like Prius deliver cleaner emission-ratings too.  Investing in technology to reduce consumption makes a whole lot more sense than cheap gas now and leaving a mess for our children to deal to with later.

8-16-2011

Charging Stations.  Convenience stores and big-box stores have been tossing around the idea of offering charging stations for customers of plug-in vehicles.  That doesn't make sense.  For that to be a practical draw, the driver would have to stay there much more than the typical 10 to 20 minutes.  Who's going to shop for longer?  The expense of installing charging stations for so little in return seems a waste.  Other businesses could be entirely different though.  It's quite common for a coffee shop visit to last over an hour.  At a restaurant, staying an hour and a half is no big deal.  For places like that, the installation would be much easier to justify.  Heck, most people spend well over two hours at movie theaters.  Then, it's no big deal.  That makes you wonder about Toyota's capacity choice for the PHV.  From a station, you can fully recharge the battery-pack in an hour and a half.  That's a great example of thinking ahead, seriously considering what will be realistic for infrastructure.

8-15-2011

Price Emotion.  A brief article published in a newspaper today started with this: "Interest in buying the $39,995 plug-in car is starting to taper off..."  It's easy to imagine how quickly and the intensity of the emotion that followed.  Whether or not there was a change in interest didn't matter, it was the price which got people responding.  The more expensive Cadillac model, called Converj, was just reapproved for production in 2 years too.  Those in support of GM just "get the wheels on the road" feel price will naturally come down over time anyway, so no need to take steps to make Volt competitive until the next generation design.  Others are furious that GM is letting middle-market opportunity slip away into a niche.  Price has very much become a polarizing issue.  It's not pretty.  Pressure is building too.  Everyone knows the production reveal of the plug-in Prius is just a month from now.  Keeping attention on Volt will be more difficult following that... since its design placed a high priority on price.  And in a struggling economy like this, that makes a well-balanced offering much more appealing.

8-15-2011

Smaller Pack.  It's becoming increasingly more difficult to dodge certain questions about design.  Today, it was asking about battery-pack size on a blog topic from the previous week featuring a new supply contract for GM.  All along, the claim was that Volt couldn't use a pack any smaller than the one now used due to power constraints.  That never made any sense.  One half that size was being tested for plug-in Two-Mode vehicles considerably larger.  This was the perfect opportunity to call them on that fact.  We all know a configuration like that for Volt, though better priced, gives a competitive edge to Prius.  That's because the system in Prius is much more efficient and cleaner when depending upon the engine for power.  It would wreck their bragging rights too.  Of course, this new contract tends to imply more is at play than we've been told anyway.  What size?  How many?  When?

8-15-2011

Young Graduates.  Ever consider their perspective?  Those who just finished high-school are especially influenced by the change of times.  The college graduates have a heightened awareness of this too, even if they weren't affected as intensely.  In both cases, they enter a world where the technology isn't a "decade away" as the rest of us grew up with.  Having a phone with internet access is normal, in fact an expectation.  Seeing a vehicle plugged in will soon be like that too.  After all, many won't be buying a new vehicle right away.  So, there is a very high probability that they'll consider the purchase of a plug-in quite serious.  Why wouldn't they?  The misconceptions we had to deal with are gone.  Expensive gas is a reality.  And these hard economic times hit graduates hard... since there are very few jobs available for them.  Just imagine the influence that will have on their purchase decisions... especially when it comes to a vehicle.  The age of carefree guzzling are long gone, a wasteful past they did not participate in... and now, couldn't even afford to.

8-14-2011

Approach.  I especially like reading this today: "Many Prius Chatters might not want to recognize it, but there are a lot of people that don't care about Hybrids, EV's or vehicle efficiency."  Despite the current member count there of an impressive 79,195 overall, the active member count of 3,552 isn't exactly representative of the Prius owning population anyway.  Nonetheless, it was still an opportunity to remind about purpose & goals with:  That's where the appreciation for Toyota's approach comes from.  They expend quite a bit of effort restraining the technology, by keeping price & power targeted squarely at middle-market.  True, the body chosen for Prius still stands out, but that's simply jumping on the hatchback bandwagon long before everyone else.  It's an extremely practical shape.  Other bodies & configurations are available too.  Look at how much consideration was put into the battery-pack capacity for the upcoming PHV model.  We know more is possible due to the aftermarket offerings.  But that would stray away from (affordable & profitable) high-volume production & sales.  The point is to deliver a technology capable of realistically replacing everyday vehicles like Corolla & Camry.  That's a whole lot more difficult than delivering an expensive trophy-winning niche.  The "don't care" audience is quite a challenge to appeal too, yet Toyota continues to strive for their purchase.

8-13-2011

Production PHV.  The reveal is expected September 15, during the big autoshow in Frankfurt, Germany.  That's only a little more than a month from now.  Current detail is still just speculation.  But it's not long to wait anyway.  Finding out more then should make for a very exciting event.  The biggest unknown is price.  Not much can be said about that until then.  MPG is entirely different though.  I achieved an average of 84 MPG from driving 316 miles with a PHV over several days with several charges.  That seems to fit nicely with the 80'ish others have also observed.  Of course, none of those early models offered an EV button.  Allowing you to delay depletion should boost efficiency even higher, if used wisely.  Many of us have also pointed out the importance of having kWh consumption information.  Enhancements to the display is a realistic expectation; new data deserves new presentation.  Where the plug will ultimately be located is subject to uncertainty still too.  After all, Nissan and GM chose different locations.  No standard for placement has been agreed upon yet, especially with respect to steering-wheel side.  Heck, we still don't know the battery-pack arrangement or even the final usable capacity.  The 600 currently in use around the world could end up being so outdated, this model may be considered the next generation design.  Whatever the case, you can start marking off the days on your calendar.  We're getting close to finding out details for production.

8-13-2011

MPG Reporting.  This topic is difficult enough when comparing traditional vehicles to cordless hybrids, since many consumers don't actually know what their current vehicle actually averages nor are they aware of all the factors which influence efficiency.  Adding a plug really confuses matters.  Some Volt owners are now suggesting they report efficiency before & after depletion separately.  Knowing the engine runs for warm-up in the winter, regardless of charge-level, makes even that approach misleading even for Volt itself.  So for comparing to other plug-in hybrids, forget it.  Operational differences are too great for the typical person to follow anyway.  MPG is how decisions will emanate.  Look no further than the highway-only advertisements for confirmation of that.  With respect to electricity use, the standard will be what has been assumed for quite some time now... most owners will recharge to full-capacity overnight.  Those wanting detail will seek gallon & kWh data.  For the rest, overall MPG will be it.

8-13-2011

Battery Expectations.  It makes you think when a first-time smart-phone owner is shocked to discover the need to routinely plug in every night.  Prior to owning one, they just had a simple cell-phone that could go 5 days between charges.  Surfing the internet, checking weather, sending email, watching video, and other things like that simply weren't possible.  Those power-consuming features are new.  They add an unanticipated dimension to the phone-carrying experience.  Plugging in daily becomes a habit you don't give a second thought to, following that initial discovery.  That's the way plug-in hybrids will become.  The benefit you gain will just naturally make the effort a no-brainer.  Size of the battery itself won't be given much thought afterward either.  You'll just purchase the vehicle for a competitive price, then observe the outcome without any solid expectations.  Consumers generally have no idea what the mAh rating of phone battery or the kWh capacity of a hybrid battery will provide for their own particular usage experience.  Adding a plug to Prius will boost efficiency.  To what extent would a consumer expect that boost to be?  After all, it only takes a few observations behind the wheel of a PHV to realize EV range doesn't actually represent anything with respect to the resulting MPG.

8-13-2011

Base Price.  The argument against hybrids most often used by antagonists is to compare the base price of a traditional vehicle to the hybrid model.  That in itself is misleading, since the typical purchase is a mid-grade model.  What really becomes a problem though is when they intentionally disregard a hybrid like Prius because it doesn't have a traditional counterpart or misrepresent it by comparing to a vehicle in a lower class.  Many of the arguments end up being revealed as red herrings, intentional diversions from the actual topic of concern.  This has been quite apparent with Volt... hence all the extra attention since rollout.  The matter is actually very simple.  Being affordable means offering a base in the price range already well accepted for middle-market.  If average annual driving distance is 15,000 miles, that works out to $100 per month for gas driving a cordless Prius at $4 per gallon.  Switching to a plug-in model, you probably drop that monthly gas expense to about $65, plus the cost of electricity.  For a Volt, it would be around $40, plus even more electricity.  In other words, justifying a huge premium for the sake of reducing emissions & oil-dependency is a tough sale if the price itself is well out of range of what the consumer normally expects to pay.  But if the base price is similar to other vehicles in the same class, that's an entirely different matter.  This is why that "nicely under $30,000" target was deemed so important.

 

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