Prius Personal Log  #529

September 15, 2011  -  September 23, 2011

Last Updated: Mon. 10/03/2011

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PHV Market-Friendly.  It should be obvious.  The design is intended to become commonplace, an everyday vehicle, part of the routine scenery as you drive.  Someone today described it as a cheeseburger, in contrast to Volt being filet mignon.  I thought that was a great analogy.  Oddly, I don't even get any resistance anymore pointing out how the Volt we see now will become a Cadillac model so the Chevy model can become more competitive.  That's progress.  The enthusiasts are showing a hint of understanding how truly important it is to deliver what the market actually needs, rather than what they want.  Otherwise, business sustaining profit isn't realistic.  You can't expect the specialty models to deliver that.  But embracing the common is quite a challenge for the enthusiast.  Cheeseburgers aren't their focus.  My response to the analogy was:  It nicely points out how market-friendly Prius is.  In other words, the market for Volt is clearly not those who would otherwise purchase a Cruze or Malibu.  These buyers are looking for something nicer and are happy to pay for it.  The typical everyday shopper simply isn't even looking for gourmet.  They are not vehicle enthusiasts.  They have a budget and would like something significantly cleaner and more efficient.  Their priorities don't include paying a massive premium well beyond their usual purchase price, regardless of performance traits.


PHV Reality.  Certain individuals are having an extremely difficult time accepting the reality of the situation.  In other words, we see a few Volt enthusiasts still absolutely insisting the only proper comparison with a plug-in Prius is against the advanced model using the tax-credit.  They don't want to acknowledge price of the standard model without depending on taxpayer funding.  That's too close to what they were hoping for with Volt but didn't end up getting.  So naturally, the response has been quite resentful toward me.  My attention to business need spoiled there desire for a high-performance plug-in trophy.  I can handle that.  But when a newbie suggest those same priorities, they are greeted with accusations of being a troll.  Talking about making someone feel unwelcome.  This was what I interjected into one such discussion:  Since the market for PIP is primarily mainstream consumers, the choice of a model well loaded with advanced goodies is a bonus.  It's the standard model to focus on, which itself includes a number of features beyond that of the base regular model.  Remember, the goal of Prius is to replace traditional vehicle production.  That means high-volume profitable sales, not a halo.  The fact that other vehicles can draw attention for specific traits doesn't change the reality that mainstream consumers prefer a balance of purchase priorities, including price.


PHV Thoughts.  The silence has been rather bizarre.  There is a sense of "What now?", knowing that the plug-in Prius did indeed meet its design goals.  My thoughts have been on next year, not too terribly concerned about the inevitable outburst coming.  Simply driving one through my usual weekly activities should be quite enlightening.  The resulting real-world data will speak volumes.  That nonsense of the past won't stand a chance when compared to the reality of what was actually delivered.  True, a plug-in for the common man/woman isn't sexy.  But the MPG boost it provides will draw interest.  This first battery-pack delivering 15-miles of capacity will seem undersized for some.  But then again, how is that any different from the one delivered over a decade ago for the cordless model?  That has become so common, it is now typical for most hybrids intended for high-volume sales.  Anywho, this is what I posted on the big GM forum when I noticed an antagonist attempting to end the silence by provoking those like me who often post about competitive designs:  Dependency on tax-credits and disregard for the choice of a model much lower priced makes the comparison topic a non-starter.  Remember that question asked countless times before rollout...  Who is the market for Volt?  Of course, the goal of "nicely under $30,000" was indeed achieved for PIP.  So, there really isn’t that to discuss anymore.  Question answered.  Uncertainty resolved.


PHV Features.  Looking at the production information provided for the PHV model Prius, it appears the components of the propulsion system are all the same with the exception of the battery-pack.  Of course, we already knew the electric-motor was underutilized.  The big question was how would the next step in electrification be implemented, especially with regard to how that plug-in would be packaged.  Turns out, we'll initially get 2 offerings.  That standard features are pretty nice too.  What I hadn't thought of is that we'll be getting illumination for the charge-part.  Apparently, there's some type of light to help when you're plugging in at night or the darkness of a garage.  Inside, there are lots of goodies.  Besides the improved VF (vacuum florescent) display for all the drive data & info and the touch-trace display for steering-wheel buttons, there's also a LCD screen for the audio, climate, bluetooth, and navigation.  That means it is clearly a step up from the non-navigation models of the regular Prius.  It comes with remote Air-Conditioning too, though you won't get the Entune interface for smart-phones that the advanced model will offer.  The advanced model will also offer an updateable navigation system (since it will be HDD based instead of DVD) as well as a new power-conserving speaker & amplifier sound-system.  Other prominent features for the advanced model is DRCC (dynamic radar cruise control) and SofTex (synthetic leather) heated seats.  The driver also gets 8-way adjustable with lumbar support.  And finally, the advanced will be the first America model providing HUD (heads up display), where information like speed & mode will be projected onto the windshield.  At the reveal, I think I heard them mention the advanced will also offer DRL (daytime running lights) in LED format.  That would complement the LED headlights nicely.


PHV Comparisons.  We got what could be considered the first published comparison review today, now that the debut weekend has concluded and it's time to get back to business.  This was its title: "Will Toyota's new Prius unplug Chevrolet Volt sales?"  I was quite curious what the article had to say.  It seemed reasonable too, at first.  Then came the mention of EV capacity.  Volt's was quoted as 25 more than the 15 from Prius.  Huh?  35 minus 15 is not 25.  Ok.  Whatever.  But upon further reading, nothing else was mentioned about Volt.  The article abruptly shifted entirely over to a Prius cordless verses Prius plug-in comparison.  Huh?  It compared the cordless base of $23,520 to the plug-in base of $32,000 with crude back-of-a-napkin calculations.  Huh?  Wasn't the article suppose to be about Volt sales?  And since when are the two bases even close to offering the same options?  The plug-in comes with many more comforts & conveniences standard, like a multi-display featuring navigation and a backup-camera.  The cordless base certainly doesn't include that.  Needless to say, it was a terribly written article which wandered way off topic.  Heck, it didn't even mention why people would want to use electricity rather than gas... emissions?


PHV Generations.  The topic of "generations" is so subjective, it's almost better just calling them "iterations" instead.  Whatever your perspective, there are already 3 distinct "configurations" of plug-in Prius to point out.  Each got the label of PHV from Toyota upon its reveal.  So, I'm certainly going to call them a generation.  Consider the detail.  What would constitute a major change, enough to call it more than simply a refresh?  I primarily focus on battery-pack improvements, specifically the internal cell configuration and the overall power available.  That's why the Original & Classic cordless models are different generations as far as I've always been concerned.  Here's the information for each of the plug-in models  so far:  Cordless Gen-2 (2004-2009) was host for PHV Gen-1, which used two 1.3 kWh NiMH battery-packs and a 50 kW traction motor.  Cordless Gen-3 (2010-2012) was host for PHV Gen-2, which used one 5.2 kWh Li-Ion battery with three sub-packs and a 60 kW traction motor.  PHV Gen-3 is what we will be able to purchase, which uses one 4.4 kWh Li-Ion battery with four sub-packs and a 60 kWh traction motor.  Note that each model had their own set of user-interface screens as well.


PHV Price.  Making assumptions is all too common when it comes to hybrids.  In fact, some still believe Prius must routinely be plugged in.  So encountering comments like this has been expected: "I admit also being very surprised at the price.  I was really expecting it to be around $27,000 or so, then add tax breaks to make it closer to $25,000."  It certainly would have been nice to avoid such beliefs.  But how do you get the word out to someone not even discussing the topic until after the fact?  I asked:  What gave that impression?  Those early PHV data-collecting models were packaged with features placing it somewhere between package 3 & 4.  Adding the anticipated $5,000 premium for the plug prior to tax-credit would have priced it around $30,750.  Even the spin coming for Volt enthusiasts claim $30,000 was the hope.  I don't understand how some thought price would be quite a bit lower.  Lithium battery production is no where near high enough to support prices equal to the cordless model immediately upon rollout.  Could it have been the initial price of Leaf without the cold-weather package that mislead expectations?  It's MSRP is for the 2012 is $35,200.  Exchanging its larger battery-capacity with a gas-engine and a second electric-motor couldn't possibly have dropped the price all the way down to $27,000.


Stripped Down.  It's easy to see why certain rollout decisions are made, after having already observed 3 distinct Prius generations being rolled out.  But for those who only witnessed the 2010, the business logic seems odd.  Taking so many factors in account isn't easy.  The effort sometimes fails miserably anyway.  Market conditions and competition reaction can be quite unpredictable.  But for the most part, the market for Prius is well identified.  That should help a lot for PHV introduction.  But we'll still get comments like this until initial rollout is well underway: "I wish they gave the option of a more stripped down model (no nav and no heated seats) that hopefully would be significantly cheaper.  But... those in CA or other states that can get HOV stickers for the PHV might snap them up anyway."  This is why focus for Volt was always set on the second year.  Reasons for purchase are easier to see at that point.  I provided this insight:  Initial demand will do stripping, of supply.  Later on when availability no longer requires waiting on a list and sales are steady, it's easy to envision a base model not so well loaded.  I'm happy to see the multi-front approach.  2 very different packages for the plug-in along with the cordless packages is a heck of a lot more choice than is offered for Volt.  And the fact that the US, Japan, and Europe all get rollout at the same time will help progress acceptance faster.  It all contributes to increased production sooner.  Remember that cordless sales will still be the biggest aspect of mainstream penetration for quite some time.  The plug-in model will be paving the way for greater opportunity later.


Dead Weight.  A reminder of what has drawn consumers to Prius up to this point was needed in response to this comment: "The Volt has more torque and will not start the ICE under heavy acceleration.  Zooming up to speed and sliding silently down the highway is one of my favorite things about the Volt."  That clearly appeals to a want.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  But enthusiasts have a hard time accepting mainstream traits, everyday needs rather than traits of desire.  But that certainly doesn't make it a purchase priority for middle-market.  After all, that's why there are upper-market vehicles.  This was my reply to that owner:  Having the engine shut off when not needed has always been a major draw to Prius.  The plug raises the speed threshold from 46 to 62 and noticeably increases electric-only power.  That is what will help sell it, not fulfilling an enthusiast desire for purity.  Remember, some of the consumers who previously decided against getting a Prius used the "dead weight" argument.  That business reality influenced the decision to keep motor & battery size from being too big, which in turned helped to keep price lower.  Other consumers were disappointed with short-trip efficiency, which the plug-in model dramatically improves.  The point is to replace traditional vehicle production with something that significantly reduces both emissions & consumption.  That makes it essential to offer a balance of priorities.  Driving in EV through the suburbs balances well with a steady cruise on the highway at 70 mph in HV.


Charging At Work.  To my surprise, I was able to confirm the rumor I heard last night.  It was too good to be true.  There were two brand new charging-stations in the lot where I park at work.  Whoa!  When I inquired about them, the man in charge said there will be a reserve system available in a few weeks.  I'll be able to sign up to use one.  They'll eventually charge for the charging, but if I had the need right away it would initially be free.  Darn!  That's not going to happen.  But next Spring certainly will be something to look forward to.  As anticipated, that's when the plug-in Prius deliveries will begin.  I'm hoping to be among the first owners.  Who do you think will be charging up there in the meantime?  How much demand will there be once supply goes to a steady flow to dealers nationwide?  When I drove the PHV last Summer, my commute result there was 166 MPG.  This model will be a little bit more efficient and offer a little bit more "range" capacity.  Charging up for the trip home would be just as impressive.  Sweet!  By the way, just down the road from there is where the electricity comes from.  The source is natural gas.  Coal is just a dirty memory now.


Long Wait, part 10.  As we've grown to expect from Toyota, they really delivered.  We got pretty much every other detail today, including price!  The response from Volt enthusiasts was uncanny.  They're celebrating, claiming the price difference is negligible.  That's either deep denial or lying by omission.  True the advanced package for the plug-in Prius has a MSRP very close to the base model of Volt, but that totally ignores the reality that there is a base model plug-in Prius available too.  That has a MSRP or $32,000.  Subtract the $2,500 tax-credit it is eligible for and you get... drum roll please... a price "nicely under $30,000".  Toyota did indeed achieve that goal.  They also achieved an AT-PZEV emission rating.  And since the official weight is just 123 pounds more than the cordless Prius, it will also get an estimated of 49 MPG combined.  The more confusing aspect is there will not be a MPGe rating for pure EV, only a combined, since it is a "blended" plug-in hybrid.  That value will be 87, which is considerably higher than Volt's combined 60.  The final bit of good news is the specifications for the North American version state an EV capacity of 15 miles with a top electric-only speed of 62.1 MPH (100 km/h).  So, no stealth, just EV all the way up to that single threshold.  Lastly, it's important to note that the base model offers quite an impressive array of features standard, including a screen with navigation and backup camera along with a new enhanced multi-information display.


Long Wait, part 9.  No one had pointed out what now seems to be evident.  Prius has always had an electric-only mode, yet Toyota never called it that.  In fact, they didn't call it anything.  So 11 years ago when that topic came up for the very first time ever in America, while a friend of mine in Japan was sharing her drive experience with the first I just had, the word "stealth" emerged to describe driving with the engine off.  The term was born.  Who knew that all over a decade later we'd still be using it!  And now it appears as though the term is relevant for the PHV model Prius as well.  In the current thread discussing why 53 mph is listed as a maximum, I interjected this thought:  Let's not forget about the way EV for Prius has been depicted in the past.  24 mph has been the official threshold noted, but we all know the engine RPM will remain at 0 all the way up to 46 mph.  In other words, that mode we call *STEALTH* could still be alive and well in the plug-in model too.  So for PHV operation during depletion, it would be from 54 to 62 mph.


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