Prius Personal Log  #535

October 30, 2011  -  November 3, 2011

Last Updated: Mon. 11/28/2011

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11-03-2011

Endless Spin.  Sorting through the confusing mess is quite a challenge.  When?  Who?  How many?  Volt gets poked the most since its story has changed the most... and continues to.  Even asking purpose gives mixed responses... all quite vague.  With other choices on the way, what does that mean?  Sometimes Volt is promoted as an EV.  Sometimes Volt is promoted as the most efficient hybrid.  Price is still disregarded as a priority.  In fact, that's really becoming a problem.  A few have taken to flat out lying, claiming Prius also had a tax-credit available during its early rollout years.  When in reality, there was nothing but a small deduction (about $300 returned to the typical owner) for the first 5.5 years here.  On the lesser extreme, we keep hearing antagonist claims that the base model of plug-in Prius will never actually be available.  There's lots of Volt downplay with winter performance already too.  And that's just EV range reduction.  No one is willing to discuss the MPG hit to the gas engine.  When an enthusiast doesn't like the question, they just say that's already been addressed and change the topic.  In other words, ambiguity is becoming the key... even the CEO of GM is unclear, simply saying Volt "has been a home run" and that sales are on track for next year.  Those original goals have vanished, especially the part about being the greenest choice available.  Makes you wonder how the competition will be promoted, eh?

11-03-2011

Sales Chaos.  Looking through the posting mess yesterday sure makes a person wonder.  The comment I posted that upset was: "Sales goals have been set and repeatedly confirmed."  The near future is intriguing.  Ford announced the price for the electric-only model of Focus.  It will be $39,200 with a 23 kWh battery-pack.  That's higher than expected.  But with Nissan planning production increases and pointing out how Leaf owners are finding the 100-mile rating of their EV acceptable, similar intent from Ford puts pressure on Volt.  It further enforces the position of game-player, rather than game-changer... which wouldn't have been so bad had it not been for all the superiority claims.  The real winner or winners will be easy to identify.  That's whatever becomes a top-seller.  Arguing about niche quantity doesn't accomplish much.  But the Volt enthusiasts sure are celebrating their 1,108 to 849 victory over Leaf for October.  The mainstream minimum is 5,000 per month.  Roughly triple that is needed to even stand a chance at making the top-10 list.  Perspective on the situation isn't happening though.  Small traditional cars are gaining in popularity in the meantime.  The plug-in Prius is approaching too.

11-02-2011

Winter Reality.  To distract from sales, discussions quickly turned to the reality of Winter.  In other words, some Volt enthusiasts are not facing that reality: "You drive on battery for 40 miles, then the gas powered electric generator kicks in..."  So even though the EPA estimate states 35 miles in an attempt to represent an average, they continue to tell you only about the warm weather performance.  Being selective about what's told is called cherry picking.  I've been fighting to have Winter included for years.  Changing the topic and shooting the messenger has been the strategy in the past.  Now, they'll instead volunteer extreme examples though, like -25°F.  The hope is no one will ask anything ordinary, like just below 20°F... which routinely shows on my thermometer throughout the cold season.  That's a typical temperature here.  It does get quite a bit cold, but not a whole lot warmer.  It couldn't.  Winter Carnival ice-craving would melt otherwise.  Commuting with temperatures in the teens simply never gets addressed.  So, I keep asking.  They all know some owners will encounter that soon, but somehow hope they'll be able to avoid dealing with the EV range reduction that it brings.

11-01-2011

Whatever It Takes.  Fallout from missing sales expectations is inevitable.  It usually comes in the form of extremely vague claims and hostility toward anyone attempting to clarify.  That's not going to stop me though.  The situation ultimately boils down to "show me the data" in the end anyway.  And at this point, they can't keep up the nonsense for too much longer.  Think this makes any difference:  Lots of assumptions & oversimplifications lead people to believe any effort to explain is really an endorsement for the competition.  That's sad.  It's especially bad when those simply disregard price for the sake of bragging rights.  And that's all too common.  Anywho, the engine in Prius uses the Atkinson-Miller pumping cycle (rather than Otto) and operates at high compression (13:1 ratio) with direct ignition (and VVT).  So, it's not the common design most people are familiar with.  The power-split device it's attached to allows the engine to spin at a slower rate than usual and provides the ability for rapid brief usage.  In other words, the thought that there is mode-switching is a popular misconception.  The setup enables the system to take advantage of efficiency opportunities which only last a few seconds.  It also accommodates electric-motor operation that often surprises those who thought they understood Prius well, but in reality had guessed incorrectly.  With the current electric-only threshold of 46 mph in the regular Prius, speeds above that cause the stationary engine to begin spinning.  992 RPM is a common sight, since little power is needed to just maintain cruising.  When that happens, the efficiency stays above 100 MPG.  With the upcoming plug-in Prius, that electric-only threshold increases to 62 mph and the efficiency rises to above 200 MPG.  So even though you won't experience pure EV driving at 70 mph, the additional of plug-supplied electricity and a high-capacity battery significantly boosts efficiency.  Isn't that the point?

11-01-2011

Traditional Sales.  The remarkable attention GM gained from having a new top-seller really stirred the industry.  All those years of basically having abandoned the compact-car market, being able to sell so many gave reason for pause.  But not only were they competing with the other automakers, they were competing with themselves.  Suddenly there was Cruze.  At just half the price of Volt, it provided quite a challenge.  Enthusiasts certainly didn't like that reality.  Consumers were drawn to Cruze instead.  There was a catch though.  Only the manual transmission delivered MPG over 40.  To make matters worse, that was highway only.  For city driving, MPG was 28.  With the most efficient model getting a combined estimate of 33, that reality got noticed.  The result was consumers just buying the regular model instead.  Not the ECO either, their choice was just the ordinary traditional.  But with a combined estimate of 30 MPG, a second look at Corolla would eventually happen... especially with Toyota having finally recovered from the disasters last Spring.  Needless to say, the top spot was lost.  Cruze sales for October were 14,295.  Corolla sales for October were 16,244.

11-01-2011

October Sales.  This was the month for Volt sales to seriously increase... or else.  Well, that didn't happen.  Of course, the spin is already that the percentage difference was "large" and that sales were better than Leaf.  2,228 were produced in October.  1,108 were sold.  That only brings the total sales for the year to 5,003.  How is the goal of 10,000 by year end going to happen?  It's a massive challenge at this point.  Merit is measured by how the technology replaces traditional production.  Volt is proving far from the game-changer it was hyped to be.  The reality of becoming a game player instead isn't comforting to the Volt enthusiasts.  Those vastly superior claims of the past aren't exactly living up to expectations.  Meanwhile, the 11,008 sales of Prius here sure are pleasing.  That's stable, enough to show the Spring disasters are a fading memory rather than an on-going nightmare.  Of course, we have no idea yet how many sales have been delayed by the wait for the new larger model and the plug-in model.  We'll find out though.  The next 6 months should be quite revealing.  We'll get the answer to the "Who?" question.  For Volt, it's looking more and more like early-adopter, tech-type buyers.  For Prius, is has been and should continue to be ordinary middle-market buyers.

10-31-2011

Horsepower Wars, part 2.  This is the tipping point.  With sales results being revealed tomorrow, it wasn't any surprise that enthusiasts were not receptive to constructive discussion.  A huge increase for October is required to stand a chance at making the goal for the year.  Coming up way short will look really bad, pushing Volt into the niche category rather than advancing as the mainstream game-changer it had been hyped to be.  But then again, pushing horsepower never make sense for middle-market.  Those are the same buyers now downsizing to smaller and much less powerful vehicles due to high fuel bills.  Shifting the expense over to a new vehicle payments wouldn't improve that situation.  How would they justify that want?  Horsepower beyond what they already have (which is likely overkill) certainly isn't a need.  The plug-in Prius basically just improves efficiencies & emissions without changing much else.  That makes it very easy to appeal to the same middle-market consumers the regular Prius has targeted.  They'll clearly understand what the plug & battery upgrade delivers.  So, again, I responded the same predictable way:  Who is the market for Volt?  Malibu/Camry and Cruze/Corolla buyers don't place acceleration high on their purchase priorities.  For Volt sales to hit mainstream volume, it must appeal to middle-market buyers.

10-31-2011

Horsepower Wars, part 1.  That trophy mentality of the past led to that mess with traditional vehicles.  Acceleration speed and towing capacity kept increasing, until they got so far beyond what consumers actually needed that they became nothing but something to brag about.  Need was grossly exceeded by want.  We're starting to see that again with hybrids (including those with plugs).  This quote early this morning made that clear: "As soon as electrified vehicles start out-performing gas only cars in 0 to 60 mph times, you won't be able to stop people from buying them."  The speed of Prius v and the towing of Camry serve the need well.  Very few actually require more than that.  But with the efficiency of hybrids varying so much, appealing to emotion can be more effective promotion than reasoning with logic.  It would be intriguing to watch hybrids captivate consumers on such a primitive level though.  Since even a horsepower war would ultimately succumb to the realities of efficiency.  The reports of real-world MPG still draw more attention than fractions of a second on a stopwatch.  It begs that ultimate question: Who is the market for Volt?  Sales results for the month of October will shed some more light on that.  Those with orders submitted for the plug-in Prius will be speaking up too, highlighting what their priorities were for that choice.  Want to bet horsepower was just a factor, not a major draw?

10-30-2011

Discussing Goals.  Having a long discussion with an engineer who knew very little about Prius but a lot about Volt, I was intrigued.  He got worked up about goals too: "Without goals how would people know what to implement?"  Yet, I couldn't get him to actually state anything related to business or even a technical detail.  So, I just climbed up on the soapbox:  There's more than one way to achieve the same outcome.  That's the rub.  Volt supporters get in a big huff about EV purity as an advantage over PIP, yet won't actually state that zero gallons is a goal.  They just vaguely imply it.  So what if the engine in PIP fires up briefly during hard-acceleration and that you only get 200 MPG when traveling at 70 mph.  Isn't the point to significantly reduce gas consumption, not eliminate it entirely?  Reality is, winter has started to make its presence known.  Volt owners who enjoyed 40's for EV range in the summer are now seeing it drop into the 20's.  Their engine starts up whenever the outside temperature is 25°F (-4°C) or colder, regardless of charge-level.  After generating the needed warmth of 150°F (65°C), the engine will remain off until coolant temperature drops to 104°F (40°C).  Then it starts up again. Zero gas consumption is basically impossible then.  So, what is the goal?  How many times must factors like price, gas & electricity consumption, emission rating be asked about?  Knowing them prevents any reason to have to continuously justify approach.  Focus can be on outcome instead.  4 years from now when the tax-credit is just a memory, what is the expected production & sales volume?  Is the goal to exceed that of the current popular vehicles?  If so, which ones?  We know that Toyota is pursuing a Prius family, offering a variety of choices for middle-market.  That means price options in the 20's.  The intent is to surpass Camry, becoming a mainstream leader.  Gas consumption starting at 40 MPG and climbing beyond 75 is already quite clear.  Even electricity usage is obvious.  The target of 1.5 hours from level-2 nicely encourages business contributing to the building of recharging infrastructure.  The support of the PZEV emission rating is undeniable.

10-30-2011

Worse In Winter.  With the new larger Prius rollout commencing at the start of what appears to be a nasty Winter brewing, the Prius supporters are beginning to worry about he same lack of reporter research we saw when the Iconic model made its debut.  The proposed solution is creating a smart-sticky in the forum to direct the curious to that resource for the information those reports lack.  This was my chime in to that:  The concern will become more and more of an issue as less and less informed consumers buy "Prius hybrids".  (Hmm, there's an interesting new phrase.)  Fortunately, some of us have been attentive enough already to be collecting data for perspective.  Mine has been for comparisons to the previous generations and will soon be to the plug-in model.  Things like slower travel speeds and accident delays seem to get forgotten entirely.  So it would seem as though real-world data is the only way to express expectations, because it accounts for all those factors.  Even that's a challenge though, since most people don't actually know the MPG of their current vehicle for each season.  Winter is world's different in Minnesota than it is in many other parts of the country too.  We get extreme cold, which is quite different from the massive quantities of snow and routine ice other warmer northern regions have to deal with.  Sadly, we've got the new problem of people not understanding how misleading MPG is.  That system of measure doesn't inform you of how many gallons of gas were actually consumed, nor does it provide anything with reference to electricity consumption.

10-30-2011

Technology Staging.  The cost-to-drive comparisons fell apart quickly.  They ended up becoming engineering arguments, again.  But this time, pointing out the 105 kW electric-motor used in the new Camry hybrid really threw the Prius antagonists for a loop.  I got this sarcastic post in response: "You are probably right.  Toyota, I think, sees how much trouble they are in due to Voltec and are moving in that direction with their own version so as not to fall behind."  The Volt supporters are slowly accepting the realities of business... but can't help to always interject some type of superiority mention anyway.  I followed with this:  The HSD design all along has had electric-only driving in mind.  We saw the 100 km/h (62.1 mph) electric-only speed way back with the previous generation using NiMH packs.  It hasn't been cost-effective until recently to take advantage of that though.  Lithium still isn't quite their yet either.  Prius started with a 30 kW motor.  It changed to 33.  Then 50.  Now 60.  The kWh capacity of the battery has increased along the way too.  Spin whatever you want about Toyota fears of falling behind, but it's a whole lot easier bumping up kW & kWh than reducing it.  In reality, Toyota has a more diverse offering available than GM.  The new Camry hybrid is undeniable evidence of that.  Imagine that more powerful system inside the new larger Prius, one that could easily support a larger plug-in pack.  As already pointed out, advances to HSD have been implemented in other Toyota vehicles prior to being available in Prius.  That past of staging has proven effective.  Why not continue with that, especially considering market need.  After all, the goal is to take advantage of efficiency opportunities.  That's what hybrids do.

 

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