Prius Personal Log  #607

February 2, 2013  -  February 9, 2013

Last Updated: Weds. 4/03/2013

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Getting Along.  New members on the big Prius forum are sometimes baffled by the head-butting that comes from a small number of older members.  It was even asked: "Can we all just get along?"  That innocent & naive statement is important to take seriously.  It's an excellent question.  But just like political dead-lock, the situation is nowhere near as simple as it seems.  Heck, just getting to address fundamentals is a monumental effort… which sadly, often ends with useless talking points.  Nonetheless, it's worth a fresh attempt:  Who is we?  Who should we be?  It would have been wonderful for all the plug-in hybrids to team up in the fight against traditional vehicles.  Things didn't work out that way though.  The "over promise, under deliver" situation and "leapfrog" attitude made things very uncomfortable and we've been struggling to find common ground ever since.  In other words, there has to be agreement on goals.  What are they?  For when?  For who?


First Year Wait.  One thing I have been hearing more of is the "first year wait" advice.  It's a mainstream consumer mindset.  They wait until the second year of availability before even considering a purchase.  This is an old-school mentality that hasn't actually matched reality since the 20th Century, but some people still feel more comfortable with the delay.  They figure if there are any problems, they'll surface and be resolved within that first year.  There's nothing wrong with waiting either.  Patience is a virtue and it has always been worthwhile with Prius anyway.  So, the supporters who made their purchase immediately wait too.  It's rewarding for everyone.  We see the excitement building from those consumers who chose to live vicariously for a year.  And now that the annual cycle is almost complete, online curiosity is clearly growing.  It's easy to see that from the questions being posted too.  They want detail to help them finalize their purchase decision.  This is supposedly what would happen with Volt last year.  That's why I recently had to deal with so much backlash... because it didn't.  Will it with the plug-in Prius this year?  Limiting availability to the already established rollout states fits well with the wait advice.  We'll see.


Under-Rated.  Quite a number of diesel supporters came to the defense of Cruze diesel yesterday.  There was a common theme to many of the responses... diesel MPG values are under-rated.  Reading that over and over again without a single explanation why is reason for concern.  We don't see that same claim from hybrid supporters.  Sure there are plenty of hybrid owners posting stories of them achieving higher MPG than the EPA rating, but none claim that as an expectation.  In other words, with a hybrid you could do better and with a diesel you will.  Based on what?  It's reasonable to see that will long highway cruises using a manual transmission, but that's a specific driving condition and Cruze diesel will only be available as an automatic.  Making blanket statements without justification seemed perfectly legit for them, even though if a hybrid supporter tries that they get beat up.  It's amazing how hypocritical the situation is.  It doesn't matter though.  42 MPG highway with a city MPG lower and the fuel itself both more expensive & dirtier, why bother?  This is just another example of not offering something actually competitive, yet touting it as a wonderful new choice for consumers.


Cruze Diesel.  The price was revealed today.  It will be $25,695, plus $810 destination.  That $2,115 more than Cruze LTZ, but supposed well equipped.  It's also $2,640 more than Jetta TDI, so it's not exactly competitive.  42 MPG is the highway.  That reveal has caused quite a stir.  People were expecting a better rating.  MPG for city is still unknown.  It's obviously lower, a good reason to avoid stating it... knowing highway came up short.  With diesel so much more than gas (50 cents per gallon here), the selling point for choosing it over the gas model will be a difficult argument... and that's before you discover what's in the trunk.  There, you'll find a 17-liter (4.5 gallon) tank for hold urea.  That's a liquid required to cleanse the emissions.  And even with it, emissions much dirtier than Prius... only enough to allow the diesel to be sold here, not even close to the PZEV rating... the opposite end of the spectrum, in fact.  All that effort for a loss of cargo space, extra weight, and extra expense for what?  Remember that it was suppose to deliver MPG close to Prius?  It isn't even a midsize car.  It's a compact.  How is this competitive?  After all this waiting, the outcome certainly isn't what had been hoped for.  Needless to say, even the GM supporters are expressing disappointment.  There's no need for me to even bother saying anything.


$5 Gas.  The hot spot in the United States is downtown Los Angeles.  Gas is now $5 per gallon there, again.  That's getting people to take notice.  We know that Toyota & Ford are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity, the desire for better efficiency by consumers.  Hyundai will likely do well from this too.  That could also work out to be very good timing for VW, with their new Jetta hybrid.  Honda with its the upcoming Accord is anything by certain.  Nissan is in a strange situation, choosing heavy emphasis on EV sales.  That's risky.  As for GM, Volt should see a climb in sales, but it will be impaired by competition from within.  eAssist and the diesel version of Cruze about to debut confuses matters.  Combine that with compacts like Sonic & Spark, there's a variety of choices with a huge price gap.  The premium for purchasing a hybrid was always a big deal.  $5 gas makes it an easy decision, when the resulting price is similar to that of other middle-market vehicles.  Too expensive makes it difficult to sell.  This is why being able to deliver a profitable vehicle with an unsubsidized price of around $30,000 has been so frequently sighted as a goal.  It's especially challenging for plug-in vehicles.  Time has already run out… reinforcing the configuration decision to keep the battery-pack in Prius modest sized.  Waiting a few years still is too late.


False Memories.  A featured story on the radio today was about how people remember things that never actually occurred.  It's a surprisingly common problem too.  Even more frequent is they don't remember correctly.  I've got tons of firsthand examples of that.  Someone will say something about Volt and I'll make reference back to it years later, an easy thing to do when you've got the quote documented in searchable blogs.  They'll deny the statement was ever made.  I also have proof that claims were made by someone else, even though they absolutely insist it was me.  Facts being forgotten & confused is the reason for the pullback now.  Why bother when 2013 should be the focus anyway?  Sadly though, some either don't understand or refuse to be realistic.  Reading this on the big GM forum fortified that: "Drop the price $10K. Fist fights will break out on Chevrolet dealer doorsteps the morning that happens.  And that's just the grey-haired bingo-playing crowd.  Put the Volt in the price range of a well-equipped mid-size sedan and it's game over.  Volt wins."  How could that possibly be achieved?  Cost reduction is an extremely difficult challenge.  The purpose of the game is to achieve profit.  You can't just slash prices.   Don't they remember financial disasters of the past. Oh!  Apparently, some people don't.  Of course, it could just be selective memory.  After all, refusing to acknowledge mistakes of the past is a component of the pride problem we've been dealing with… bragging rights.


First 3 Years.  This shows a level of desperation I hadn't expected to encounter, taking me quite by surprise: "The Volt is actually outselling the Prius."  The statement itself wasn't so unreasonable, it was the data used to support it:  "Prius worldwide sales: 1997 sales = 300; 1998 sales = 17,700; 1999 sales = 15,200; First 3 years = 33,200."  I was blown away by such blatant greenwashing.  Ironically, it was on a daily thread in support of Volt rebutting an article published yesterday asking the question: "Is the EV already facing extinction?"  To answer with such misleading of a response is amazing.  We all know times are very different now.  Last year, there was much anticipation of the upcoming rollouts of plug-in hybrids from Toyota & Ford along with the availability of several different EVs from several different automakers.  That makes it a very different situation, without even addressing some of the other differences... which I was more than happy to post:  Leaving out details like sales in 1997 not starting until December tells a very different story.  Availability outside of Japan did not begin until the second half of 2000.  Misconceptions were abundant and gas was dirt cheap back.


The "Real" Effect.  I was pleased to end my evening reading & responding to this: "The second factor is ANY vehicle needs to be on the market three or four years before the vast majority of folks can even consider it "real" or even a possibility."  If you didn't guess, the first factor was the price of gas.  Here's what I had to say about the second:  That sensible logic really ruffles the feathers of both enthusiasts & greenwashers.  The enthusiast yearns for rapid success, signs of strong high demand shortly after rollout.  Heavy emphasis on bragging-rights how you to indentify them.  Words over substance, a recipe for trouble they just plain cannot see. It's really unfortunate; yet, we've seen it play out several times now.  The greenwasher is one who doesn't want to acknowledge all the aspects at play or take into account real-world data beyond a vague sampling.  It's your own assumptions they take advantage of, painting a picture of failure rather than providing information rather than allowing you to decide.  For me, I'm enjoying the first year of plug-in hybrid ownership during the wait.  Just like with the previous generations, I knew it wouldn't even be until the summer of the second year that people would begin to take notice.  Patience totally paid off then.  At that point, you've collected enough data and summarized your finding to such a degree they are compelled to learn more.  The "real" effect is something I've been looking forward to.


Losing Marketshare.  Someone stirred this pot, claiming plug-in Prius sales won't grow at all in 2013.  This was one of the comments posted in that discussion: "Trying to not sound like a PiP basher (but it will sound that way anyway) I think the PiP is only appealing to Prius owners that want a HOV sticker."  I chimed in with:  It's easy to avoid that by including data with the comment.  Heck, I could make the very same statement about Volt, since we did indeed see a surge in sales in CA when the HOV model was introduced there.  Knowing how much Prius owners want more electric-only driving opportunities, more electric-only power, and a plug from countless discussions in the past, without any reference to HOV, that "only appeal" comment doesn't hold much water.  Do some searches on the EV button. You'll find an abundance of examples.  We even had a number of threads & surveys discussing how much that battery & plug augmentation should cost.  The merits of keeping cost in check verses offering lots of capacity generated lots of participation.  It was a very popular topic prior to PHV rollout.  Now that there are PHV owners sharing detail of their ownership experiences, commenting on a wide variety of observations, interest is growing.  Look at the volume of activity in the plug-in section of the forum.  HOV rarely gets mentioned.  It's obviously helps justify the purchase, but how many of the 15 initial rollout states even offer that?  Lastly, think about how many Prius fence-sitters there have been, those who found Prius appealing but wanted a little bit more from the electric side.  That increase in battery-capacity with the addition of a plug as a reasonably priced package option, could prove just enough to push them over the edge.


Demand vs. Supply.  GM being it's own worst enemy is nothing new.  Assurances about supply matching demand have been abundant.  Production shared with existing high-volume traditional vehicles was suppose to provide an advantage.  That's proving to not be the case.  Volt doesn't share much with other vehicles.  That adds to cost in every regard.  Starting fresh by building an upgradable platform wasn't the approach taken; instead, it was to deliver a vehicle with end-state performance hoping prices could be dropped quickly.  Unfortunately, opportunity is being lost in the meantime.  Ironically, a weakness about the plug-in Prius frequently sighted by pundits could very well end up being top rollout benefit and is pretty much an extreme from Volt... it's too similar to the regular model.  Volt has no hybrid counterpart.  Prius does and it high-volume.  Volt doesn't even have anything remotely close in comparison.  It's stands alone.  That means it isn't realistic to expect anything resembling mainstream sales for awhile still... ironically, what some of us were saying for years prior to rollout.  But it doesn't matter anyway.  History can so easily be spun and everyone seems to be on the same page finally.  Demand doesn't matter if there isn't supply.


Common Sense.  The discontinuity between expectations & reality should be obvious.  The matter should be so easy to see, you think of it as common sense.  But no such luck.  You read something like this and wonder if it's even worth the bother: "Volt's engine can not drive the car alone without its electric motor.  In fact, its electric motor is the main drive, thus the EV.  Prius's engine can drive the car directly without any of the electric motor input at all.  That is why it is a hybrid."  People just make up their own definitions to fit their own needs.  A hybrid is a vehicle with two power sources.  The way those power sources are used identifies the type of hybrid, it doesn't make it something else... like an EV.  Yet, they'll just argue with you to no end.  Prius cannot move by engine alone.  The power-split-device doesn't accommodate that, since it is configured to do the opposite... allowing electric-motor propulsion instead.  But they don't care about things like facts.  Ugh.  Definitions are the same way.  The entire industry can follow a rule-of-thumb, a best-practice with well-proven results.  That doesn't matter to them.  If that isn't formally defined by some official authority, it doesn't exist... like the volume considered mainstream.  Even though it has been acknowledged in countless writings as 5,000 per month, that popular consensus isn't enough.  Accounting realities somehow don't count.  Things like speed & power don't either.  When an antagonist sets a boundary, they stick with it like glue until the hybrid exceeds it.  Then they pretend it was criteria all along.  Fortunately, we've been through this enough times now that it is no longer worth bothering.  Common sense is beginning to prevail.  Yeah!


Financial Burden.  In the past, greenwashing included some rather blatant number misleading... like expecting the price of gas to remain under $2 per gallon throughout the entire lifetime of the vehicle.  That was absurd, yet many articles did it anyway.  Fortunately, the arrival of $4 gas put an end to that.  Another common thing to do was to force the perspective that the hybrid system must have a break-even price before it could be considered for purchase.  Those attempting to undermine Prius used that "financial burden" argument to dismiss it from being a realistic choice by making any additional cost seem a penalty.  The mindset is carrying over to the plug-in model, making some accept arguments at face-value rather than looking at the big picture.  The who & what is uncertain, but the consequence is obvious.  Greenwashing through the use of omitting information is wrong, period.  We're trying to prevent that.  This is what I responded with when the topic emerged today:  The magic question is asking yourself how much you'd like to contribute to the environment and making a better future for the children.  Some people disregard that benefit entirely, expecting the financial decision to "pay for itself" rather than helping out a little bit.  Considering a small chunk of the price difference for that is realistic.


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