Prius Personal Log  #533

October 16, 2011  -  October 21, 2011

Last Updated: Mon. 11/28/2011

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10-21-2011

Cost Debates, reports.  It's nice finally getting attention for efficiency.  The car magazines a decade ago simply dismissed hybrids outright.  Later, they became a source of publicity.  Now, who knows?  The focus is cost. Some look at cost-to-own.  Others looks at cost-to-drive.  All make lots of assumptions.  Fortunately, some of that is changing.  Of that still leaves much to be desired.  Volt is still quoted to offer a 40-mile range, even though the rating is 35.  Prius is still quoted as 14, even though the production rates at 15.  I saw a video just yesterday from a test-drive displayed 15.9 miles of EV available.  So combine that with the ability for the Prius owner to choose when to use EV and the Volt owners inability until shortly before depletion, estimates become confusing even without recognizing the effect of Winter.  Need to say, the cost reports really stir debate posts.

10-21-2011

Cost Debates, no data.  The reports posted often provide basic vehicle introduction information and show nothing more than summary graphs.  The data itself is absent.  That of course is followed by enthusiast sentiment filled with exaggeration.  It's quite sad.  They're making the decision for you, providing a conclusion without sharing enough facts for you to make your own determination.  Then of course if you are a Prius owner like me planning to purchase a plug-in model, interjecting anything about Volt not portraying it in a cheerleading manner, your credibility is questioned.  They shot the messenger rather than addressing the data itself.  Fortunately, I'm not alone.  Some of the GM supporters are saying the same thing.  It's more fun to debate with me though, especially since cost is something I've repeatedly identified as a high purchase priority.

10-21-2011

Cost Debates, criteria.  The priorities of consumer & business are still overshadowed by the trophy mentality.  All these years later, the criteria to fulfill mainstream needs continue to be evaded.  Reality is, that's not exciting to discuss.  So, forget about constructive debate.  Unrealistic expectations and the reciting of campaign slogans is all we seem to get.  It's become so generic, reiterating their arguments is rather pointless.  We await real-world data instead... not the vague totals either.  They don't tell you anything... especially when they exclude vital information like when ownership began and how often they plug in.  Not addressing criteria prevents progress, allowing for the delay of outcome analysis... like sales and efficiency expectations.

10-21-2011

Cost Debates, penalty.  This type of misleading is becoming quite common: "The Prius Plug-in has an estimated 14 miles of electric range, and driving it requires care.  Lead foots will be penalized with the engine kicking on..."  Notice how the 15-mile estimate was reduced to 14.  They just do it without any explanation why.  That's the first reason to question intent.  The second is how the use engine is portrayed as a penalty.  It's a misconception rapidly growing in popularity.  Since when is that a bad thing?  The whole point of a hybrid is to use electric-motors to increase the efficiency of the engine.  Being able to take advantage of opportunities to drive without it running at all has always been part of the Prius design.  Adding a plug simply increases the opportunity benefit.  The engine use will become less frequent.  Why is it considered a penalty to run for a brief time, like during hard acceleration?  You still get what was intended, a significant MPG boost.

10-20-2011

How Many?  When?  Watching the market unfold has been wild.  Very few choices are actually planned.  It will take years to deliver them too.  But the need is clear.  Efficiency is drawing attention.  That's really frustrating some.  Without Hummer as a target anymore, all the other dirty guzzlers are falling out of grace.  Rather than being politically motivated, the reasons for embracing higher MPG are difficult to argue against.  It's no longer an issue of if standards should be raising, it's now a matter of amount.  We're seeing the downsize of vehicles take place.  Parking lots once flooded with monster-sized vehicles are becoming speckled with cars much smaller than Prius.  The odd part is those don't get anywhere near the MPG.  Just think when the PHV comes out, offering double the efficiency of the average vehicle.  Spotting it will be quite a challenge though.  That will be "stealth" at it's best.  Then at some point, people will start asking when those plug-ins will actually start appearing... totally unaware that there are already some of the Prius right there in that very parking lot are indeed them.  It's just a matter of time now.

10-18-2011

Prius C.  It doesn't appear to be a mere concept anymore.  The first of the production model detail (in Japanese, of course) was published as a leak today... beside the obvious, an image showing what it looked like.  That detail was engine size.  My gut reaction upon first hearing about a smaller model coming out was that the former 1.5 liter engine for Prius would come back.  It seemed a perfect fit for this new vehicle similar in dimensions to the Classic model.  The power & weight would make for a nice match.  And that does indeed appear to be the case.  There's no word on efficiency estimates from our testing cycle, but the 89.4 MPG number popped up again from measurement standard used in Japan.  That's enough of a bump from the 83.3 MPG with the current model to make expectations of a value here in the mid-50's realistic.  Price is still a big unknown.  But each little bit of information does help to build a picture without hype... because we know the kind of mess that can contribute to.

10-17-2011

Grille Blocked.  The low 40's are now a regular occurrence for the morning commute, temperature that is.  Low 50's is the resulting efficiency, when you spend $1 for foam pipe-insulation and  take 30-minutes to install it... which is what I did last night.  Taking a few MPG hit during warm-up is easily avoided when you block the lower-grille entirely on this generation Prius, once the first frost arrives.  That also helps retain heat for those occasions when you get stuck in heavy commute traffic slowed down by nasty Winter weather.  The engine doesn't need to run as often or as much with that big reduction of air flowing through the engine compartment.  There's still a little, since I leave the upper-grille open.  But it looks so nice on the lower and such a simple thing to do.  Why not?  I'm certainly not waiting until the temperature drops well below freezing before asking that question.  Do it now when it's still relatively comfortable and everything is clean & dry.  The situation will be quite different in a few weeks, here in Minnesota.

10-17-2011

Sunset Photos.  It had been a long time since capturing any moments with the 2010 Prius, none were with a sunset background either.  So when the final few minutes of daylight started to peak through the storm clouds exiting the area, I saw a golden opportunity emerging... quite literally.  As the sky was transforming from gray to shades of yellow & orange, I was racing down the highway attempting to get one of my favorite open-horizon locations.  I made it in the nick of time.  There I was, with an advanced digital camera capable of taking great low-light photos without the need for a tripod.  The clouds totally cooperated too.  The surprise of being able to seize the variety of color was fantastic, right place at the right time with the right equipment.  I really lucked out this time.  See what I mean... photo album 167

10-17-2011

Economic Realities, antagonists.  These are particular individuals who intentionally undermined online discussions.  They'd spread misleading & incorrect information to make Volt look favorable.  It was madding to watch them such blatant attempts to harm Prius.  They'd post extreme examples, making them appear to represent the typical owner experience.  And when it came to Volt expectations, they'd do things like conveniently omit the affects of Winter.  It happened over and over again, so you knew they simply had no interest in being constructive.  This is what fed the hype.  It got people hoping for unrealistic results.  Fortunately, the economic aspect couldn't be avoided.  No matter how much spin we got from other purchase priorities, that one about price hit so hard some gave up their efforts.  Some even abandoned participation online entirely.  What we have left now is an attitude of delay and selective data.  That's much easier to deal with, though still a problem when it comes to the specific economic reality of sales.  They prefer to think of that slowness as steady growth without consequence.

10-17-2011

Economic Realities, disenchantment.  There are some enthusiasts long gone, nothing but a distant memory.  These were die-hard shocked to learn how much Volt would actually be priced, who abruptly abandoned their effort to back it.  There are also others who only recently left, most likely after finding out how much less the plug-in Prius would be.  It's odd having those who posted so many terse posts simply disappear.  They become such a thorn in your side for arguing in a unconstructive manner.  Then one day, the realization of their oversight hits them.  It's the disenchantment long-term supporters of hybrids had witnessed and tried to warn about.  Two-Mode is still the best example of that.  It was very much an economic reality crashing down on those who had hoped for a pricing miracle.  They truly didn't think it would be so expensive.  Even the owner of that daily blog vanished.  These changes are what lead to the next step.  We proceed without the disenchanted, recruiting new interest along the way... those who understand the importance of balancing engineering with business costs.

10-17-2011

Economic Realities, enthusiasts.  In the past, there had been a big problem GM created for itself.  It was a reputation we hoped wouldn't carry forward with Volt.  Unfortunately, it did indeed.  The "over promise, under deliver" is all too clear now.  Though, this time did take on a bit of twist.  GM was intentionally vague about goals.  We'd hear them say they were targeting 50 MPG after depletion and $30,000 for a price and a 40-mile unconditional range, but you could never really nail it down to a specific when.  Enthusiasts assumed that would all happen by November 2010, since that's the delivery date which had been touted for years.  There was no need to question changes at the executive level or competitor efforts.  That was when "doubters" and "haters" would be proven wrong, period.  Then of course when the deadline came and those goals weren't met, the enthusiasts changed to "it's worth it" and "the next generation".  The economic realities never made any sense.  If Volt really did deliver 50 MPG after depletion, why in the world not offer a model with a much smaller battery to lower cost?  Why not also offer a model without a plug?  It would be a great way to spread the technology and ramp up production quickly, in addition to earning profit from something other automakers couldn't offer.  None of the enthusiasts could ever answer those questions.  Price didn't make sense either.  As for the "40 mile" promoting, they were in deep denial about that.  Heater use has always been a major obstacle for electric-only travel.

10-16-2011

Economic Realities, competition.  It's fascinating to read about some of the offerings that will be coming from startup & luxury automakers.  They can affordable to pursue exotic designs.  Their business is low-volume & high-price, not anything like the mainstream.  An automaker like Toyota can still diversify by offering something exotic, but the bulk of their business comes from middle-market... which is why economic realities are so vital of a design consideration. Prius embraces that approach.  Being able to offer a plug and larger capacity battery was already taken into account.  The affordable model can be augmented without any need to change the propulsion system itself.  It will become a package choice, not an entirely separate vehicle.  That makes meeting supplier, dealer, and consumer needs much easier to affordably fulfill.  It reduces risk on several dimensions too.  The competition knows this.  In fact, Ford will be taking a very similar approach.  Hyundai would like to as well.  We hear about Honda & VW wanting to offer plug-in hybrids.  Nissan will soon be debuting their entirely new system, which inevitably have some type of plug option already considered.  Times are changing.  Some will succeed.  Other will have reality come crashing down upon them.

10-16-2011

Economic Realities, design.  The most touted aspect of Two-Mode design was the fact that all components were squeezed into a traditional transmission housing.  Ironically, that ended up being a shortcoming.  It limited the size of the electric-motors within.  This contributed to the speed & power limitation.  So rather than the rapid product expansion this was supposed to accommodate, GM was stuck having to heavily redesign. For smaller vehicles, the housing restriction was abandoned entirely.  There are still many power-carriers & clutches, but more flexibility was available as a result.  Unfortunately, this made it even more expensive and didn't improve the hybrid efficiency much.  Both motors can still be used in tandem.  The engine can be separated entirely from the rest of the system for EV only propulsion.  If you haven't guessed at this point, this is what is now in Volt.  That's why it is so critical for high-volume sales.  Lower prices from economies-of-scale won't be possible without widespread acceptance.  This must be accomplished before the tax-credits expire.  More economic (affordable) plug-in choices from the competition will make that quite a challenge.

10-16-2011

Economic Realities, incentive.  This was the first report we got of a dealer not wanting to sell Volt.  It's the chicken or egg situation.  GM wants them to right away.  Some dealers would prefer to wait.  Knowing the thread on the big GM forum would bring about business verses engineering arguments again, I quickly interjected these economic realities:  There's a market for Volt.  It's just not middle-market, where most business-sustaining profit comes from.  Being a niche vehicle is fine, as long as the system itself wasn't intended to be a mainstream technology.  We've been through this before with Two-Mode.  Now look at the sales.  Spread across 5 different models (Silverado, Yukon, Escalade, Sierra, Tahoe), only 113 were sold in September.  That brought the total for the year to 2,463.  The technology clearly hasn't attracted the masses.  Purchases of Volt are following that same pattern, a first year that didn't match rollout hype.  Second year expectations were where enthusiasts placed their bets.  60,000 was the anticipated production for this market.  (Opel would produce the inventory for Europe, some components supplied by Detroit, but counted independently of the US.)  It changed to 15,000 of the 60,000 being allocated for Europe.  So even without regard to whether or not there is consumer demand, what is the incentive for dealers to even bother with Volt, knowing much more readily available profitable and easy-to-service vehicles can be sold instead?

 

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