Prius Personal Log  #531

October 2, 2011  -  October 8, 2011

Last Updated: Fri. 10/14/2011

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10-08-2011

Halo Declared, part 2.  The "halo" news wasn't exactly well received by everyone.  A few still like shooting the messenger and pretending the $32,000 base price for the Prius plug-in will somehow never actually be available.  I reminded those antagonists of the past and how it applies to the situation now:  This is precisely why I asked for goals to be stated last year.  Having the president of GM say Volt technology will now only play a small role is quite a change from what had been expected.  The hope was to quickly exceed Prius sales, becoming the dominant player in high-efficiency & clean-emissions.  Instead, we get a halo, a vehicle drawing in new consumers who end up purchasing something other than Volt.  His comment about "decades of excuses" still hasn't been recognized by some yet.  Comparing Volt sales to that of Prius when it was first rolled out is a great example.  It completely disregards the current situation.  42,522 Prius were purchased in September alone, US & Japan sales combined.   Some want those who convey that information to go away. How will burying your head in the sand actually help?  And even if you ignore the competition entirely, watching GM's own Cruze rise in popularity and eAssist become the technology GM pushes instead shouldn't simply be accepted.  What do you want to happen with Volt over the next 2 years?  The high price is a major deterrent.  Will the suggestion of a lower cost model continue to be dismissed?  When the tax-credit expires, then what?  The sales forecast keeps it a niche.  Wasn't the point of Volt to replace traditional production, to be offered in high-volume?  How will Volt fit into GM's product line?  Why are enthusiasts & owners still hesitant about stating goals?

10-07-2011

Halo Declared, part 1.  Many years ago, the label of "halo" was used by GM to describe Prius.  It was meant as a put down, intended to portray Prius as a draw to dealers but not the vehicle actually purchased when the consumer got there.  A few Volt enthusiasts have attempted to redefine that label... now that it applies to Volt... saying sales for it could be strong and still have that label.  Thankfully, the president of GM hasn't attempted such spin.  In fact, he has been rather forthcoming lately.  I particularly liked these two quotes: "Pretending we'll be OK if we sell trucks in the Midwest and South?" and "It's scary, looking back on it.  You can't be a successful automaker selling bad products to people and thinking you can get away with it."  In that same interview, he pointed out how people will see Volt then gravitate to Cruze.  It's no longer downplay.  The technology in Volt is now looked upon as long-term strategy.  Those missed goals of November 2010 are now history and the "vastly superior" claims along with it.  Low sales squashed the hype.  Phew!  This is the beginning of a more realistic outlook.

10-06-2011

Subsidizing Smaller Packs.  A new university study was recently published.  It stated taxpayer money used for plug-in hybrids would be better spent by reaching more people.  In other words, the first 200,000 buyers of Volt each receiving $7,500 in credits won't have as large of a consumption reducing impact as 600,000 receiving $2,500 for Prius would.  Unfortunately, the way the funding is provided, only 200,000 is available for Prius... despite the fact that the total money spent would be far less... only a third that of Volt.  So, why not offer that same amount of money but to 600,000 buyers?  Reaching more consumers will have a greater impact.  After all, if they don't purchase a Volt, they'll end up purchasing something like a Cruze.  Look at it this way: 200,000 Volt plus 400,000 Cruze will end up consuming more gas than 600,000 plug-in Prius.  Fewer plug-ins on the road will have less of an impact shifting the market over to electricity use as well.  Remember, each new vehicle will stay in service for roughly 10 years.  Promoting electricity sources which are cleaner & renewable starts with establishing demand.  Plugging in your car each night most definitely raises awareness & support.  More people doing it will help that happen sooner.  Isn't that a good use of subsidies?

10-06-2011

Assist Bewilderment.  Belief that GM's simple ASSIST hybrid system will compete well directly against Toyota's FULL hybrid system is astonishing.  Who is the market for it?  This particular claim really got my attention: "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: eAssist has hit a cost/benefit sweet spot.  For the price, it does a whole lot for efficiency.  By comparison, Prius-level "full hybrids" and their ability to move on electric power alone start to look like an expensive parlor trick."  Notice how vague comments like that can be.  Anywho, my reply was:  Reality is, eAssist isn't as revolutionary as it needs to be.  The 36 MPG highway estimate for LaCrosse & Regal sounds impressive until you consider the 25 MPG city and 29 MPG combined estimate values.  The combined MPG for Fusion hybrid is 39 and Camry hybrid 41.  So, it really boils down to getting what you pay for.  That begs the question of how much are people willing to pay?  Perspective is changing about what "efficient" really means.  30 MPG is still guzzling with respect to the price of gas and concerns about dependency & environment.  There's the continued advancement of hybrids too.  The upcoming new smaller model of Prius coming this spring will cost less and be more efficient.  Getting MPG in the mid 50's for a price in the low 20's will really appeal to those looking for more than just a modest efficiency bump.  For those looking for more but wanting price within the usual realm of middle-market vehicles, the plug-ins will be available.

10-06-2011

More eAssist.  Talking about rollout at a snail's pace.  Rather than "too little, too slowly" being a concern, it is now a very real problem.  Hearing that Volt's next generation will indeed take 4 more years was bad enough.  Now, the next model of eAssist won't be delivered until next year sometime.  It will be a Malibu.  The following year will be Equinox & Terrain.  Wasn't the point of BAS to be inexpensive and quick to rollout?  And what about Cruze getting it?  Needless to say, I had much to say about the comparisons to FULL hybrids being posted on the big GM forum in response to finding out the eAssist schedule today:  Reality is, eAssist isn't as revolutionary as it needs to be.  The 36 MPG highway estimate for LaCrosse & Regal sounds impressive until you consider the 25 MPG city and 29 MPG combined estimate values.  The combined MPG for Fusion hybrid is 39 and Camry hybrid 41.  So, it really boils down to getting what you pay for.  That begs the question of how much are people willing to pay?  Perspective is changing about what "efficient" really means. 30 MPG is still guzzling with respect to the price of gas and concerns about dependency & environment.  There's the continued advancement of hybrids too.  The upcoming new smaller model of Prius coming this spring will cost less and be more efficient.  Getting MPG in the mid 50's for a price in the low 20's will really appeal to those looking beyond just a modest efficiency bump.  For those looking for lots more but still wanting price within the usual realm of middle-market vehicles, a few plug-ins will become available.   Finally, let's not forget that the definition of FULL hybrid isn't just the having the ability to move on electric power alone. It must also have the ability to both generate & consumer electricity on-the-fly.  The ASSIST hybrid type doesn't have either a second motor available or a way of splitting power, preventing it from being as flexible... hence, not full.  Fewer efficiency opportunities means lower MPG, which is clearly what the estimates reflect.

10-05-2011

The Silence.  No, that's not a reference to "Doctor Who".  It's what we're hearing about Volt sales now... absolutely nothing.  That was a hot discussion topic just a week ago.  Countless venues spanning a variety of demographs all had something to say about their expectations for the month of September.  With production increased significantly, enthusiasts knew at least double what actually happened was needed and they were hoping for triple.  The very same situation played out with Two-Mode.  There aren't any excuses left anymore and an unavoidable milestone is rapidly approaching.  Supporters don't want to say anything about October.  The fear is obvious.  Another month without a major increase in sales will make achieving the year-end goal extraordinarily difficult... and they are well aware how this first full Winter will result in a lot of negative attention placed on how much the heater reduces EV range... something they'd like to keep silent.

10-04-2011

Final Desperation.  I've always liked Fusion hybrid, because Ford was so attentive to the purchase priorities for middle-market and they took the the FULL approach.  It's a system which is cost-competitive that really does deliver clean & efficient results.  The design itself has proven reliable too.  Obviously, I favor Prius due to it being even more efficient and the convenience of being a hatchback is fantastic.  But then there's the hybrid Camry, which is a direct competitor to Fusion.  You get a little more room for seating, a lot less for cargo, but the power is greater.  A variety of offerings is good.  Ford's advertising is not.  Their new television commercial for the hybrid Fusion stresses the advantage it has over the hybrid Camry, 10 MPG more in the city.  They announcer makes a big deal of it too.  If that would have aired a year ago, there would be nothing to say.  The advantage was legitimate.  That's not the case anymore.  The comparison was to the 2011 model, not the 2012... which has already been delivered to some dealers on the West Coast.  The 2012 is the second generation Camry hybrid.  City MPG increases from 31 to 43.  That's clearly better than Fusion hybrid.  Highway is too, Camry improved from 35 to 39.  Fusion gets 36.  It's sad that there's this final act of desperation to quickly sell more Fords before the awareness of a newer version from Toyota become common knowledge.  Oh well.  Ford will be delivering C-Max next year anyway.

10-04-2011

Plug-In Potential.  The limited perspective of only paying attention to the America market has blinded some Volt enthusiasts from seeing how popular Prius is in Japan, they just see flat sales here and traditional vehicles outselling it still.  Also, here in America where we are obsessed with power and are far less concerned about oil consumption, we're seeing an increase in truck sales now that the price of gas is dropping.  All that makes it easy to overlook what's happening with Camry.  The new hybrid offers a 141-horsepower traction motor.  That's quite a bit more potential for electric propulsion than Prius offers.  Just think what would happen if you added a plug to that system.  They don't.  They have only focused on the plug-in Prius, which has been optimized for maximum efficiency at a competitive price.  The business benefit of product diversity would lend itself well to the choice of additional power.  Unfortunately, they don't see that.  Being so focused on the moment here, one particularly nasty antagonist called the plug-in a "carryover" from the regular model, rather than acknowledge the reality that Toyota actually planned ahead.  That's the spin we have to deal with... as the message finally sinks in about potential.

10-03-2011

Sales So Far.  I'm quite curious what Volt enthusiasts will have to say now that the count for last month has been revealed.  Their disappointment is undeniable.  How it will affect the rest of the plug-in market is far from certain though.  I suspect the "vastly superior" engineering smug will finally begin to fade.  Business reality tends to do that.  Finding out the hard way that consumers priorities don't support the approach which was taken is a bitter pill to swallow.  Needless to say, I attempted to limit my response to mostly numbers, hoping to get feedback from others as a result: 550 were delivered to dealers for use as demo models and 2,870 sold through July.  2,395 were produced and 302 sold in August.  2,367 were produced and 723 sold in September.  The total sales for the year so far is 3,895.  Something doesn't add up. Inventory in transit and the remaining being used as demos would mean next month's sales should be triple that of last month.  Think that will happen?  That's required for the goal of 10,000 for the year which GM has repeatedly claimed would be achieved.

10-03-2011

Renewable Surprises.  It was one heck of a Monday for me.  I finally discovered what the heck was going on at the parking ramp where I park for work.  They had been installed large metal tubes spanning across most of the length & height of the ramp side.  Turns out, the ramp just happens to be extremely well positioned for solar... which is exactly what they're taking advantage of now.  I've never seen an array that massive.  It's quite remarkable.  What a great way of using & promoting renewable energy.  That didn't end up being the only surprise of the day either.  I took the back way home.  Out on that remote highway is a massive wind-turbine.  I've never seen one that larger before.  The blades are very thin, giving it the appearance of a new approach to how they can be built.  Advancements like that are nice.  The area it's located just happened to be the picturesque setting where I have already taken Prius photos.  Being able to go back to that same location with that now in the background will be great.  That renewable source is quite a sight.  Of course, nothing tops discovering both in the same day.  Surprise!

10-02-2011

Volt Fallout.  Concern is growing.  Volt count should be high.  Tomorrow's reveal of sales aren't anticipated to be good though, despite the fact that the increased production starting in mid-July should have arrived at dealers with plenty of time to fill orders before the month's end.  Even some outspoken enthusiasts have vanished.  That's not a good sign.  Others who remain have become insulting & dismissive.  Sound familiar?  We've witnessed ills like this before, several times in fact.  Two-Mode is among the biggest, failing to meet sales expectations by quite a bit nearing the end of its first year of sales.  But this time is worse.  There is genuine worry that so few purchases of Volt will harm the entire plug-in market.  This particularly expensive vehicle has drawn a lot of attention.  Not living up to its own "game changer" expectations could cause consumers to lose hope.  There are consequences to propaganda letdown.  Disappointment contributes to misconceptions.  Those still wanting traditional vehicles to thrive could take advantage undermining opportunities that emerge.  Hope is fragile.  Patience is limited.  Promises are broken.  The next few months will be crucial.  If there is fallout, it's going to be up to those taking early PHV delivery to share their experiences to help us overcome that.  Real-World data can be a powerful influence, but it takes strong sales too.

10-02-2011

Diminishing Returns.  Have you ever actually looked at the number detail?  Using the EPA standard monthly travel distance of 1250 miles, the resulting consumption for vehicles offering MPG of 50, 100, 150, 200, 250 respectively is: 25.0, 12.5, 8.3, 6.3, 5.0 gallons of gas.  Notice how each incremental MPG step up results in a much smaller improvement?  That's what is referred to a diminishing return.  You get less for more effort.  Finding the point of maximum benefit returned is the goal.  Why offer a higher MPG if little is to be gained from it?  Adding a plug complicates matters some, but it still works out in a similar fashion.  Finding that tipping point is the challenge.  That difference between 50 & 100 is 12.5 gallons.  So if the electricity used to achieve the boost was both clean & free, that would be the overall difference.  Doubling the boost to 200 only results in 6.2 fewer gallons... for an entire month.  See the problem?  Double again all the way to 400 gives only a 3.175 savings.  It becomes harder and harder to offset the actual emissions & cost of the electricity, not to mention the massive expense of that much battery-pack capacity to achieve the efficiency... especially if your daily driving doesn't match the standard monthly travel distance.  Adding the penalty resulting from commute congestion and winter heating further complicates matters.  This is why there is so much arguing between GM and Toyota supporters.  Each claims they have a better solution for the masses, based on the numbers they choose to focus on.

 

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