Prius Personal Log  #599

December 16, 2012  -  December 22, 2012

Last Updated: Tues. 1/08/2013

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12-22-2012

Cold Shopping.  Running around doing Christmas shopping in the cold is much less of an annoyance when there's no gas involved.  I always felt bad starting the engine to drive just to the other side of the strip mall or a few blocks to the next store.  Yet, that's what had to be done... until now.  I stopped at a half-dozen different places, then got just 1.5 miles shy of reaching home before running out of electricity.  That was pretty sweet.  Almost my entire outing powered by the plug.  I was actually quite pleased it lasted that long.  In Summer, it's easier to go further.  Winter cold increases electrical resistance within the battery-pack, which lowers efficiency.  You normally need to run the defroster too.  But with all that in and out, the interior stayed dry.  It all worked out quite nice.  The gifts I ended up purchasing were nice too.  Perhaps I was in a better shopping mood due to the Prius.  You think?

12-20-2012

Moisture Inside.  Winter has stirred up lots of new discussion related to cold temperature operation of the plug-in model.  With all the feedback about moisture on the inside of the windshield due to some owners not wanting to run the engine for warm defrosting, today's opportunity was a real treat.  I would drive to work with the heater running the entire time.  The blower direction was set to window & foot, the fan on 2 bars, and the temperature set to "65".  We got about 1.5 inches of new snow and the temperature was 25°F.  That made for a messy morning commute on the along-the-river route. In other words, plenty of moisture.  After driving the usual 3 blocks in EV to get out into traffic, I fired up the heater.  Consequently, the engine started. It ran to warm-up completion (a coolant temp of 130°F) then shut off.  EV automatically engaged and I drove that way for a few miles.  When the coolant dropped to 96°F, the engine fired up again and then shut back off shortly afterward.  Back in EV, the system was now entirely warmed.  To my surprise, the coolant temperature dropped all the way to 87°F before the engine started again.  That was great!  My drive continued, moisture free the entire time.  Upon arriving at the parking ramp, with the electricity all used up, the final distance tally was 17.3 miles and the average 120 MPG.  Set it, then forget it.  No need to mess with the heater.  Just drive it.

12-20-2012

Early Adopter.  Remember how all the hype about GM being able to produce up to 120,000 for the second year of sales?  Enthusiasts were so excited about Volt talking the market by storm, they had concerns about supply being able to keep up with demand.  About 9 months before rollout began, things started to change.  Information was learned out about aspects of the design that soured appeal.  They began to panic, fearing anyone pointing out the detail was trying to kill Volt.  They didn't believe a constructive effort to make it more likely to be embraced by middle-market consumers was possible.  Instead, there was an effort to reframe attitude.  Rather than being a product for mainstream now, it would be an advanced technology for the future.  We saw it as an admission of the sales struggle to come.  And sure enough, that's exactly what happened.  Here's how I described an early observation of the situation: "The ongoing downplay of Volt from a "Prius killer" and a "game changer" to a vehicle which needs a chance for early adopters to discover got ugly."  It was obvious way back then that the goals would not be met.  Who knew it would take this long for that reality to finally sink in?  Now we can finally get to business.  With nationwide availability by Summer, we should see its perception quite a bit different from Volt.  The approach for Prius is to simply offer the larger battery and plug as an upgrade, looked upon as a premium package rather than an entirely new technology to adopt.  The cliché of "biting off more than you can chew" comes to mind for Volt.  Far too much was expected in such a short amount of time.  Enthusiasts found out the hard way it will take as long as the Prius supporters said.  They weren't trying to kill Volt after all.  They were only trying to share experience about setting realistic expectations.

12-20-2012

Halo Vehicle.  It was a term coined by GM to insult Prius.  It meant the vehicle was really just used to draw in customers from other automakers to get them to purchase their traditional vehicles... a kind of technology bait & switch.  In other words, there was no intent to actually sell a lot of the hybrid itself.  It was basically just a technology showcase to improve automaker reputation.  Strangely, all the downplay of Volt by its own enthusiasts to deal with sales falling way short of expectations was to redefine it as a "halo" vehicle.  Huh?  Their thought behind that was that if Prius ended up thriving afterward, Volt could too.  The catch is, Prius never was a  "halo" vehicle.  When it was given that label, sales were already above the mainstream minimum (5,000 per month).  Prius wasn't a niche in any respect at that point.  In fact, it was being purchased more than many other Toyota cars… often the third best seller here.  The label was an attempt to greenwash.  Needless to say, no Volt enthusiast would ever admit that.  The only way to get any type of acknowledge was to trick them into unintentionally revealing the true situation… which was exactly what I did.  Taking about a great way to end the second year.  After endlessly asking the "Who is the market for Volt?" question, I asked this instead: "What is the purpose of Volt?"  Following the anticipated wave of insults, I posted: "The purpose of this generation of Volt is to be a halo vehicle.  In fact, that is why there is this very [discussion] topic.  Someday there will be a variant of Volt that sells in high-volume replacing traditional vehicles like Malibu & Cruze."  They went nuts, rejoicing that I finally understood what they had been saying all along.  In reality, I had just been presented with confessions that goals were not being met and those expectations have been shifted to several years from now.  Admitting that, though indirect, was long overdue.  Some of us clearly remember what expectations were 2.5 years ago.  The hype was so unrealistic.  The actual outcome was quite different.  The advice given about challenges to be faced were dismissed and now the consequences are obvious.  There are far more aspects at play beyond just battery-capacity and motor-horsepower.  Volt didn’t turn out to be vastly superior.  The need was not fulfilled.

12-19-2012

Speed of Recovery.  That's been a major problem with GM on several fronts.  We all know the hopes for Volt to reach mainstream volume (5,000 per month) in the second year didn't work out.  That in itself puts GM in a position without a clear next step.  Ending uncertainty with Two-Mode pickups helps.  As for Two-Mode SUVs, selling less than 2,000 per year is far from what had been expected at this point.  It's not returning enough to justify major investment anymore.  eAssist doesn't seem to be making much progress either.  Then there's the 500 million shares of government owned stock.   Was it a good idea to provide the assistance? Most likely. But not recovering fast enough could allow the some problems to return though... which is exactly what we're seeing signs of now.  How long should we continue to wait and for what?

12-19-2012

200 Million Shares.  That's how many of the 500 million government owned shares GM said it would buy back.  The original purchase price was $33 each.  They will now be sold at $27.50 each.  That's a loss of $1.1 billion and much later than had been hoped.  The other 300 million will remain outstanding up to 15 more months.  The plan was to make a modest profit to cover expenses, like a loan to the automaker with an unspecified interest-rate or duration.  It didn't work out that way.  And that's just in the United States.  The government in Canada is still holding quite a number of shares too.  The intent of buying so much public stock was to flood GM with capital to help the automaker with bankruptcy recovery efforts, to quickly establish long-term viability.  That's why those pushing Volt to become more realistic for the mainstream quickly were so concerned.  The "too little, too slowly" was indeed becoming the status of the situation.  Today's announcement to buy back those shares is a step toward achieving that.  It forces important financial decisions to be made sooner, rather than later.

12-19-2012

Lack of Concern.  Remember the motto back when Two-Mode was being developed?  It was "Better than Prius".  When the technology didn't deliver, focus was simply diverted elsewhere.  Now that there won't be any Two-Mode pickups produced anymore, we can see pressure building again.  It doesn't take long reading comments from Volt enthusiasts to confirm that.  There are plenty of comparisons to Prius that use words like "superior", "idiotic", "inferior", and "pathetic".  As for the shift now, there's a huge effort to downplay expectations.  Rather than acknowledging GM's extensive experience with motors & batteries, it's pushing the mindset of first generation and early adopter.  It's lack of concern for the big picture that worries the most.  Surging sales of small traditional vehicles don't matter to supporters.  GM can sell all the Malibu, Cruze, and Sonic they way.  As long as more Volt are purchased than plug-in Prius, they just plain don't care about anything else.

12-18-2012

$4 Gas.  We are seeing more and more small traditional cars on the road.  They replace those nasty guzzling SUVs of the past.  That's overwhelming clear evidence that $4 gas really did make an impression on consumer priorities.  Hearing about inventory of pickups and some midsize cars piling up makes you wonder what will happen.  Production can only be halted for so long.  While it is, workers still get paid.  That's money lost.  Nothing to profit from sets up a really bad situation.  What decisions will be made as a result?  Needless to say, at some point the rose-colored glasses must be taken off.  The expiration of tax-credits is an obvious deadline.  That's the case for CAFE requirements too.  A trophy only takes you so far.  Selling vehicles to mainstream consumers is major challenge not being taken seriously by some.  Simply downsizing to tiny vehicles isn't a solution.  Seeing gas now down to $2.95 means opportunity to penetrate the market without pressure.  Solutions can be introduced to the masses as the next natural step on automotive evolution.  That's why the plug-in Prius is so well positioned.  It doesn't look like a desperate attempt to solve a crisis already in progress.  When people panic about gas prices, we've seen that they flock to small traditional cars.  Having an assortment of Prius to choose from already common on the road when $4 does return is a good plan.

12-17-2012

Rose-Colored Glasses.  It boggles the mind.  Supposedly, there's a shortfall of Volt due to the retooling that was done for Malibu.  Now we find out that GM grossly over-produced Malibu.  There's an inventory of 78,200 waiting to be sold.  Clearly, the focus has not been on keeping sales of Volt steady.  All those arguments I had about traditional vehicles being the true concern fell on deaf ears.  They only cared about bragging rights.  That fear about consequences of the trophy-mentality are now playing out.  2 years after rollout, Volt is still very much a niche.  All that hype about it becoming part of the mainstream quickly has turned into "wait for the next generation" rhetoric.  They are still wearing rose-colored glasses.  Prius is constantly being called out as the enemy, not traditional vehicles.  Yet the evidence obviously points out that's not the case.  The business effort continues to be production & sales of traditional vehicles.  Let's not forget that there are also 245,853 unsold GM pickups.  Selling around 2,000 Volt per month so long after debut in a market with the choices of plug-in expanding, the outlook isn't good.  Yet, the supporters still don't want to see it... which means there's not going to be any pressure from them on GM to alter priorities.  Not saying anything is a sign of acceptance.  Making excuses for the painfully slow progress is an endorsement for more of the same.  When will they learn?

12-16-2012

Lower Threshold.  The coolant temperature threshold with the plug-in model is lower.  114°F is well proven for regular model.  I was finally able to confirm that discovery late at night driving my PHV.  It went all the way down to 94°F before the engine fired up again.  Think about that for a moment.  If it were 94°F outside, would you feel warm?  We know that Toyota found a way to physically heat up the emission system faster with this model anyway.  So, why not change the software too?  I went out to run an errand.  I pushed the defrost button with the temp already set at "LO".  The engine fired up anyway.  Fortunately, I had just come to a lonely stop.  So, I shut the defrost off, then powered down the Prius and back up again.  Using the head & foot option instead, no engine.  That continued for about 1.5 mile until finally needed heat.  So, I bumped the temperature to "HI" and allowed the warm-up cycle to run its course.  When the engine shut off, I set the temperature to "65" and lowered the blower to 2 bars.  The interior stayed comfortable and the windshield clear the rest of the drive.  The engine did the usual cycling, starting up at 114°F and shutting off at 130°F.  After a few cycles, I noticed a drop below 114°F.  That peaked my interest.  Without any interruption to heat, it went all the way down to 94°F before the engine started up.  My theory is some other component was warm at that point, no longer immediately dependent upon coolant to sustain anymore.  Long story short, setting the heater to "65" and the blower to 2 bars following warm-up appears to be a simple & efficient choice when you're driving in sub-freezing temperatures.

12-16-2012

Balance.  When I posted the content of that previous entry on the big GM forum, I actually got a few regulars to express agreement with those observations.  Sadly, there were still some rather hostile responses as well.  They came from the die-hard enthusiasts who still believe a 40-mile EV capacity and $40,000 cost is a well balanced approach for middle-market.  That baffles me.  It's not worth stating what should be obvious though: Toyota set a much lower cost goal and requested their engineers to deliver the best they could with it right away.  GM didn't set a specific cost limitation for the engineers to stay under.  True, there was the goal of "nicely under $30,000", but not achieving that by 2010 was obvious to everyone except enthusiasts.  The plug-in hybrids from Toyota & Ford strive to deliver a clear benefit from plug-supplied electricity without requiring a large premium to be paid.  You get a larger seating interior too.  In other words, there was a pronounced effort to make it competitive with this generation.  GM didn't do that.  We suspect GM will with the next generation though... sacrificing some aspects of the design to make it capable of being purchased profitably without tax-credit assistance with high-volume production & sales.  Enthusiasts won't be happy... which is typical of mainstream vehicles anyway, since most are well-balanced rather than standing out for lots of attention.

12-16-2012

Same Old Story.  Toyota & GM took fundamentally different approaches, yet claims are made that they didn't.  So no matter what is stated afterward, it makes no difference.  It's the stereotypical gearhead verses accountant type exchanges that go nowhere.  We all know what sustains the business.  Some just plain are not interested though.  TOYOTA = deliver a vehicle configured to be profitable & affordable, then later introduce enhancements as cost warrants.  GM = deliver a vehicle a highly appealing configuration, then focus on cost-reduction for future generation rollouts.  The latter contributes heavily to threads just like this, where the prize is bragging rights and competiveness with traditional vehicle purchases is of no concern.  Fortunately, the new player to join in is stirring the topic, preventing the old rhetoric from getting much traction anymore.  FORD = straddle the approaches TOYOTA and GM took, hoping to capture the best of both words.

 

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