Prius Personal Log  #534

October 21, 2011  -  October 29, 2011

Last Updated: Mon. 11/28/2011

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Forcing Perspective.  We've been getting a lot like this lately: "Won't the plug-in Prius EV-only range also drop in the winter, or are you claiming it is immune?"  Some of this may be backlash from the strangely ambiguous CEO comment about Ampera (the equivalent to Volt in Europe) getting a "hold" button but Volt here not.  Supposedly, there is some environmental regulation preventing it.  But that makes no sense, since the plug-in Prius here will.  Of course, they like bringing situations to extremes.  There's never immunity.  It's really a factor of efficiency.  And in this case, it's better to use the by-product of heat from the engine running than get it exclusively from electricity.  They keep trying though.  That "gas free" perspective is still being forced by a few.  Two months from now, when the real cold arrives, that should change.  In the meantime:  Have you noticed how the comments (including your own) attempt to force Prius into an EV perspective?  We need balance, not an extreme.  Prius is a hybrid.  It doesn't sacrifice efficiency opportunity just for the sake of electric purity.  Why is accepting that penalty regarded as a good thing?  There is no immunity, even with Volt.  However, with Prius we have a system already well designed for engine heat conservation.  Adding a plug & capacity enhances that.  Eliminating that represents a loss.  You'll see a big boost in MPG, less of an impact since EV-only isn't the goal.


Do They Care?  Comments like this are growing old: "PIP is not EV for 15 miles, it is blended electric and gas."  The attitude is because people won't care when the engine runs.  They'll just be interesting how much it ultimately consumes, just like they do now.  The Volt owner who said that went on to post the following a few messages later on a different thread: "11,000 miles on less than 90 gallons of gas, and my electric bill has gone up $10-15 a month."  His own comment supported blending.  His own experiences confirmed Volt wasn't an EV either.  And that's just warm-weather data.  My retort was:  Volt uses its engine for warming in the winter, regardless of charge-level.  And remember the footage of me driving the plug-in Prius at 70 mph getting over 200 MPG?  I could point out my errand running in the suburbs never starting the engine too, but what's the point?  Reality is that purity/complexity semantics fall on deaf ears; consumers simply don't care.  Only enthusiasts give attention to detail like that.  We've seen quite a few arguments of the past about a variety of different technologies play out that same way.  Understanding audience is very important.  The typical mainstream buyer has no idea how an automatic transmission works anyway, or even the differences between hybrids for that matter.  (We still have plenty of examples of salespeople not knowing how hybrids work too.)  So the best you'll likely be able to get them to consider is plugging in every night trades electricity for much higher MPG.


Hidden Upgrade.  A friend of mine opened up a new can of worms with: "Since the Volt is a two-mode car..."  We've known for years that GM was going to introduce both a front-wheel drive variant of Two-Mode as well as a plug-in.  But providing such disappointing efficiency from the hybrid side, anything with battery-capacity smaller than what Volt offers would show the shortcomings.  So, the design was modified to what we now have available.  It actually makes sense, though even more expensive.  I had some fun with that:  Them's fightin' wurds!  GM has carefully avoided ever referring to the propulsion system design in Volt as the next generation Two-Mode.  That would wreck their promoting it as an EV.  Enthusiasts praise GM for being so amazingly transparent throughout the development process... even though the information about having direct-drive and the MPG after depletion were withheld until right before rollout began.  That knowledge makes Volt a plug-in hybrid, not an EV.


Diesel Conquest.  After all these years, apparently, "Diesels are still just getting started."  It's that statistical spin, where sales percentages look more impressive than actual quantity.  Hybrids are only now looking into implementing approaches like turbo & direct-inject to increase thermal efficiency.  Diesels have already done that.  Hybrids are just beginning to take advantage of plug-supplied electricity.  Engine-Only diesels never will.  In the end, it was this gloating that eventually got me: "Hybrids peaked in 2007."  I sounded off with:  Spin and be vague all you want, but it won't conceal the reality that Prius is currently the top-selling vehicle in Japan and its annual total here for 2011 will be second only to 2007.  And back then, there was a tax-credit still available.  Let's not forget the tsunami either; it caused serious inventory shortages.  We also know that some consumers have been waiting to purchase the larger model of Prius, which sales of just began a few days ago.  Some are obviously waiting for the plug-in model too.  Looking specifically at the numbers here, all diesel sales combined come to 73,777 for the first 9 months of the year.  Prius alone easily exceeds that with 93,243.  Prius is cleaner and more efficient too.  The potential in the other hybrids is slowly being discovered as well.  What's to come for diesel?  It cannot significantly boost MPG by adding battery-capacity and a plug like some hybrids.


Marketing Spin.  The promoting of "gas free" driving for Volt is long gone.  Now, it's taking a closer long at what they now tell us, as a friend recently pointed out: "In summary, the graphs tell the same Volt marketing story.  Volt's primary power source is electricity yet it's performance is measured with gasoline (engine) usage."  Prius doesn't play games like that.  It's an affordably priced hybrid offering progressively better efficiency with each generation.  There's no effort to promote it as an EV.  We all know that ability is available, but it's not an expectation... it's just a benefit from the design.  I contributed:  The title of the market campaign has been "Gallons Saved".  We've seen that before.  It was a different technology, but was promoted the same way... to end our dependent on oil.  It too used electricity instead of gas.  But rather than transport the electricity as is, it was converted to hydrogen.  Remember fuel-cells?  There was no regard to how much electricity was actually being used.  They just pointed out the efficiency improvements from each generation of stack.  The gas equivalency was horrible.  So, they simply didn't mention that in the advertising.  How's that different from the current "energy efficiency" reports just showing a rate, not listing the amount of kWh actually consumed?  Instead, there's a "gallons saved" value.


Nissan Plans.  By the end of 2016, Nissan-Renault is hoping for cumulative sales of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles worldwide.  That was an unexpected statement from the CEO to read in a press release today.  It's quite an effort to undertake.  There's an all new (their own design, not leasing rights from Toyota) hybrid along with a plug-in hybrid on the way too.  Imagine what that's going to do for the automotive-grade lithium battery industry.  That quantity of vehicles is far from the niche we've been dealing with from GM.  Will the push be successful?  Who knows.  But the commitment is commendable.  You've got to admire the aggressive approach.  There's still the worry about affordability though.  Nissan plans should help with the overall effort to shift attention to electricity use in vehicles, if nothing else.  The reality that some simply haven't had any interest in hybrids until now is somewhat disheartening... until you discover they no longer carry any misconceptions about them.  That makes getting them to take another look, now that plugs are becoming an option, much easier.


First Prius v Sold.  Today it finally happened.  Coincidently, today just happens to be the 8th anniversary since the purchase of my 2004 Prius.  That's when I got to experience my first upgrade.  I wonder how many others will be doing the same now.  At some point, current owners will need a replacement anyway and trade-in values continue to remain high.  There are those who wanted a larger vehicle too, skipping over the current one if it wasn't as comfortable or could haul as much cargo.  We'll see how perspectives change as a result.  Offering a second choice this way has never been done before.  I'm very curious what the reaction will be, especially since there's an efficiency difference... lower, yet still better than pretty much everything else out there.  It's just a matter a stopping by the dealer now.  With national availability right away, I can start scanning the roads with the hope of that first sighting not being too far away.  Actual inventory available isn't known.  But I suspect the first shipments will get gobbled up quickly.  We're not sure how sales results will be reported either.  It could be that all Prius variants are lumped together at first.  This is definitely new territory for the market... starting with the first known Prius v sold in the United States today.


What should we expect?  Once upon a time, there was hope that Volt would be an ally in the effort to rollout plug-in vehicles.  Help establishing charging-stations and debunking misconceptions would benefit everyone.  Unfortunately, cooperation amongst competing automakers... even with an entirely a new class of vehicle... was considered suspicious, then later deemed an effort to undermine.  The "vastly superior" claims emerged as a result.  From that point on, mention of vehicle-cost and engine-efficiency were labeled as efforts to show preference for Prius.  Following that came the outcome downplay, especially with regard to sale expectations.  Goals are evaded.  References are vague.  Attitudes are dismissive.  Far too many have forgotten the lessons of the past, allowing the same mistakes caused by want verses need to occur again.  What does that mean for next year, as other plug-in vehicles become available?  There are both efficiency-standard and tax-credit deadlines approaching.  What should we expect from both automakers & consumers?


It's an EV, right?  This was the article's title: "Cruising about town on 0.0 gallons of gasoline".  And this was what immediately followed: "man with new electric car enjoys ignoring high price of gas".  Then it wasn't until reaching the final quarter of what was written you were finally told this: "But unlike some electric cars [he] researched that can travel only as far as a full charge will allow, the Volt has a gas-powered generator that will power up and recharge the battery when levels drop too low."  Of course, there was a photo of the cord plugged in above that.  Naturally, having a 40-mile range was mentioned twice.  Disregard for the 35-mile estimate from the EPA.  So, the complete absent of MPG from the engine was no surprise.  It was portrayed as an EV with an engine only for long-trips and emergencies.  And despite the report coming from Colorado, there was no nothing about the effects of cold.  Just think what the aftermarket providers will do when they get their hands on a PHV.  They already offer battery augmentations much bigger than what the plug-in Prius offers.  Oh well.  Though misleading, at least introduction articles like bring attention to the fact that plug-in vehicles are becoming available.


Cost Debates, efficiency.  It never ceases to amaze me the extent to which some with attempt to dismiss.  This today was a prime example: "The average consumer doesn't care about efficiency.  It's irrelevant.  Whenever you see the efficiency argument you know there is some Toyota enthusiast making the only argument they have left."  Rather than saying it's not important, he just dismissed it outright... in addition to taking advantage of the confusion around what average means.  To think with all the MPG television commercials we now see... quite unlike the past... someone would actually try to convince you that the people seeing it really don't care.  All the automakers are promoting efficiency now too.  But what do you expect coming from a Volt owner who clearly resents the plug-in Prius?  Anywho, this was my reply to that:  Haven't been reading comments on the big GM forum, eh?  There are concerns about how Cruze is dominating efficiency interest, cutting into Volt sales.  There's a big concern about such heavy dependency on the tax-credit too.  Placing blame on Toyota enthusiasts won't change that.  Middle-Market consumers care about those aspects listed, but not to the level claimed.  That's why "middle" describes them.  That's where high-volume sales come from.  They are the ones who provide business-sustaining profit.


Cost Debates, greenwashing.  You know there's trouble when everything you post is responded to as spin.  They make it appear as though you're twisting facts, especially if you introduce new information for clarification.  Having run out of constructive discussion points usually leads to greenwashing like that. Another great example is the changing of definitions.  I try really hard to prevent that, qualifying terms like "middle-market" with samples of the car owners I'm actually addressing.  Yesterday, I referred to them as buyers of Cruze/Corolla or Malibu/Camry.  The response was that there's no such thing as an "average consumer".  The antagonists use this for exaggeration, making it seem as though you are claiming an extreme when in reality that's exactly what they're doing.  They are quick to dismiss, saying things like "why bother", rather than acknowledge that mainstream success is based upon a variety of factors.  They'll use adjectives like "anemic" and "hassle" and "weak" to describe the technology.  And references to operation itself will almost always be vague.  Watch out for that greenwashing.


Cost Debates, hybrid.  It's difficult to imagine the enthusiasts disregarding so much.  Yet, they do... to the extent of not recognizing goals... which follow-up to the the previous post resulted in: "Sorry to beat a dead horse, but I just don't get the PIP."  Refusing to acknowledge the reality that Volt is a hybrid too is a big part of the problem.  Having an engine and utilizing direct-drive make it an act of denial calling it an EV.  Yet, they try.  I wouldn't, nor would I want to... as I stated about the plug-in Prius:  That's because it is a hybrid, not an EV.  True, you will get electric-only drive experience through the suburbs.  But the point is to significantly reduce emissions & consumption, not eliminate gas usage entirely.  Of course, isn't that the point of Volt too?  It doesn't make sense carrying around an engine, then sacrificing electricity for heating and hard-acceleration.  The EV/HV button allows the driver to take advantage of those opportunities.  Remember, the use of electricity is also consumption.  Overall efficiency is the goal for consumers.  Replacing traditional production is the goal for automakers.  Battery capacity and motor power can increase over time, as well as engine size shrinking, but it defeats the purpose if that cannot be offered affordably.


Cost Debates, who?  Attempts to mischaracterize Prius are abundant.  We got this today: "I really don't know what person, that is looking for a plug-in car, would choose a PIP over a Volt."  It's amazing how often the enthusiasts try to avoid the ultimate question:  Someone who considers cost of OWNERSHIP rather than just cost to OPERATE.  The goal is to deliver a business-sustaining profitable vehicle which offers a significant emission & efficiency improvement.  That base price of $32,000 before the tax-credit does indeed hit the target for middle-market buyers... who are not looking for a pure EV experience.  So even when the engine comes on at 70 mph, they're going to be pleased seeing the +200 MPG delivered while using plug-supplied electricity.  So what if this first model comes with a smaller battery-pack. It's affordable and sized nicely for taking advantage of charging-stations available at malls, coffee shops, and restaurants.  It's a really good buy for those who only have a short commute too.  For those who drive more, the plug-in is still going to provide MPG well above the usual 50 from the regular model.  Who is the market for Volt?


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