Prius Personal Log  #630

July 26, 2013  -  August 1, 2013

Last Updated: Weds. 8/28/2013

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8-01-2013

Perspective & Goals, GM.  The struggle with Volt continues to get worse.  Despite the huge discount ($4,000 price reduction) last month, sales growth was not achieved.  It only caused a temporary surge, then returned back to roughly the rate it was prior to that.  July results were well under what was hoped, especially considering the month started with around 8,000 unsold still in inventory.  Put in perspective, the position of Volt only qualifies as a niche in GM's product-line, clearly not a significant part of the fleet:  42,080 Silverado;  25,447 Cruze;  18,507 Equinox;  16,582 Sierra;  12,915 Impala;  12,473 Malibu;  7,969 Camaro;  7,855 Terrain;  7,616 Traverse;  7,119 Tahoe;  6,181 Suburban;  6,055 Sonic;  5,569 Express;  4,963 Enclave;  3,847 Spark;  3,621 Verano;  3,446 LaCrosse;  3,176 Encore;  3,143 Yukon XL;  2,790 Yukon;  2,548 Captiva;  1,788 Volt.  With such an obvious indication of what the true competition is, there are obviously some priorities & goals to reconsider.  Traditional vehicles are a major portion of GM sales.  How will they break away from the mess they created?  Some other choice must be offered.  What will it be?

8-01-2013

Perspective & Goals, Toyota.  Slow and steady growth.  A four models of Prius are pushing deeper into their markets.  The plug-in is still limited, but that concentrated focus is informative.  The antagonists just plain don't agree with that.  They believe spreading out availability as much as possible makes more sense... regardless of how thin that stretches resources.  How they think that's sensible is beyond me.  But then again, I don't focus on short-term gains like much of the active participants online do.  I step back to consider the big picture.  In this case, it's with July sales.  Put in perspective, the Liftback (regular model) ranked 4th in Toyota's product-line here at 15,252 for the month.  The top 3 were:  34,780 Camry;  24,462 Corolla;  19,538 Rav4.  In other words, it's quite clear that Prius is well established as one of the business-sustaining products.  Profit with high-volume sales has been achieved.  Selling less were the other models of Prius:  3,428 V;  3,797 C;  817 PHV.  In Japan, C (known as "Aqua" there) is actually the top-seller.  Then it's the regular model.  Camry & Corolla follow.  Anywho, it's quite clear that Toyota will continue to push to gain more Prius sales.  That goal should be obvious at this point.  I'm looking forward to the national rollout of PHV.  It will stimulate increased sale of pretty much every Prius, even in the markets with heavy penetration.  The current delay has proven a wise move.  Lots has been learned in the meantime.  But patience is trying.  The wait will be worth it though.  We've seen delay pay off in the past.

7-31-2013

Normalization.  I grew up hearing stories of the Japanese automakers catching Detroit totally off-guard by a sudden surge in the price of oil.  My firsthand introduction to the resulting vehicles is what people now refer to as an "ecobox".  Rather than actually deliver a technologically superior vehicle, automakers simply found ways to significantly reduce weight & cost.  That resulted in a number of safety & reliability compromises.  In other words, the industry took a big step backward.  There were attempts at genuine efficiency improvement.  The introduction of front-wheel-drive ended up a win later.  Eventually, fuel-injection became a benefit as well.  But there are some notable failures.  Cylinder-Deactivation was a disaster.  I know of one friend who ended up disabling the ability; it just plain did not work.  Another attempt was diesel.  That was so bad, one particular automaker became the blame for tarnishing the reputation for the entire industry... yes, GM.  That's why the entirely new approach to thinking about plug-in vehicles put so much weight on the importance of Volt.  GM was going to storm ahead of all the other automakers, delivering on bold promises too good to be true.  So, there was a very real fear that GM would again wreck the opportunity for others.  After all, the disaster called "Two-Mode" was still very much on everyone's mind.  Sure enough, Volt ended up being a disaster too.  It even had the fundamental problems of added weight & cost... a big step backward.  That's why Prius was relentlessly attacked along the way.  It didn't avoided that, but setting focus squarely on what middle-market needs today with the opportunity to upgrade the design along the way.  GM instead started at an end state, hoping for major technology improvements quickly... risking reputation in the meantime.  That brings us to last month.  2.5 years after rollout, price was dramatically reduced.  There was a surge in sales as a result.  This month, the online inventory states that sales have slowed significantly... to less than what they had been prior to the price slash.  The hope had been steady monthly sales of around 5,000.  Instead, sales had been around than 1,600.  That's a major disappointment for a vehicle which has been praised as "game changer" prior to rollout.  Needless to say, many of us are glad the hype is over.  We look forward to normalization, where each automaker is offering something reasonably competitive.  Sales results for the month ending today will be available soon.  With over 7,000 Volt still unsold inventory and production of the new model year about to confuse the situation, we're all anxiously awaiting what comes next.  This chapter in history is over.  They hoped for the best and the risk did not pay off.  If we're lucky, there won't be any big penalty.  We'll find out as the plug-in offerings from the other automakers progress forward.

7-30-2013

Extended Range.  The concept behind Volt was to deliver an electric-only vehicle with a gas-engine that would do nothing but generate electricity for those rare events when the battery-capacity wasn't enough.  That didn't work out.  The 16 kWh fell well short of need in Winter and the engine actually supplied power directly to the wheels at times.  So, enthusiasts changed the definition of "extended range" rather than being honest about the situation.  They pretty much had got away with that deception too... until now.  BMW just introduced the i3 REx.  It does indeed deliver what Volt did not.  With a 22 kWh battery-pack and an engine that does nothing but generate electricity, it's what they had hoped for.  The vehicle is interesting, a 2-door compact weighing 2,900 pounds and coming with just a 647 cc (34 hp) engine.  Its tank holds just 9 liters (2.4 gallons) of gas, providing roughly 87 miles following the anticipated 90-mile EPA electric-only rating.  Price is expected to be $45,200.  Deliveries in Europe begin the end of this year.  Here in the United States, we won't see any until the second quarter next year.

7-29-2013

Improved Charging-Stations.  I don't have a 240-volt charger at home yet.  I've been waiting for the next generation to arrive and can see myself moving in the next few years.  So, it's yet another one of those situations where waiting is required.  Fortunately, the standard 120-volt charger that comes with the Prius is quite nice.  It's just not as fast.  Luckily, the public offerings won't have to wait.  In fact, where I park there is an expectation of 4 new charging-stations being installed next month.  Improved ones are available, one just announced today.  Maybe it will be that kind?  Anywho, the manufacturer directly addressed all three of the big issues with charging-stations.  The biggest was installation cost.  That's quite expensive.  Now, there will be the option of having one unit & circuit supply electricity for two vehicles at the same time, each getting a 240-volt connection.  That will be especially enticing for station owners.  For vehicle owners, the cord is retractable.  No more having to deal with wrapping & hanging.  Lastly, the old-school illuminated text/number display will be replaced with an actual graphic screen.  That should make it more inviting for newbies.  I bet the information about the charging itself will be quite informative for us that have been recharging often too.  It's nice that the industry continues to push forward.  Every little improvement helps.

7-29-2013

ICE Violations.  When a lot owner goes to the trouble of installing charging-stations for patrons to use, they too get frustrated when an ICE (that's a regular Internal Combustion Engine vehicle without a plug) parks in that spots.  Those of us with a plug can't use it then, even when we are willing to pay for the service.  Whether the person cares or is even aware is always a big unknown.  Signs which make it clear there will be a penalty for that along with painting of the spot green should make a big difference.  The state of Washington will soon be requiring that, to support the new law the legislature there just passed.  There will be a $124 fine for an ICE violation.  That's great; however, it comes with the same confusion we've seen in the past.  What if your plug-in vehicle is unplugged by someone else?  You are then preventing the spot from being used by someone else... which the law states is a violation.  It also means the dual-spot locations which do allow the opportunity to plug-share would become a problem.  We understand the intent of the new law, but it's clear the passing of it came from those who haven't actually ever used charging-stations.  Details of the situation have obviously been overlooked.

7-29-2013

Competition From Within, part 2.  I sometimes follow their red-herrings for an opportunity to make it clear who the competition actually is.  They lose focus very easily.  Unfortunately, some never even consider the fact that GM can be a contributor to its own problems.  That most definitely is the case with Volt.  So all this nonsense about comparing it to Prius of long ago makes no sense.  They are trying to win a battle that doesn't actually accomplish anything.  Fortunately, it's becoming ridiculously easy to see.  The July sales results will emphasize that.  Online inventory listings indicate June was just a temporary surge.  Toyota's plan to rollout PHV nationwide the end of the year seems so wise of a decision at his point.  Avoiding the mess GM created for itself should pay off.  We'll be able to have constructive discussions without the endless number of distractions we're dealing with now.  Anywho, this was my follow-up:  Reality is, you have some good points, but Volt is getting absolutely crushed by GM’s own offerings… mostly notably Cruze.  Competition from within is a major challenge to overcome.  Focus should be on that, not what happened over a decade ago with another automaker.

7-29-2013

Competition From Within, part 1.  It got a bit absurd, back to the terribly misleading tangent starting with: "So if we compare apples to apples..."  I was amazed anyone would still try that.  At best, it is just an excuse for delay.  So much for leap-frogging.  Anywho, I responded posting this: GM already had extensive experience with electric-motors & battery-packs when Volt was rolled out.  That most definitely wasn't the case when Toyota rolled out Prius. It was all brand new back then.  Gas was dirt cheap all those years ago too.  There wasn't concern about oil-dependency either.  In fact, we were encouraged to consume it and the topic of climate-change was considered a joke.  Let's not forget the government incentives either.  Prius only got a $2,000 tax DEDUCTION, which worked out to about $350 for most people.  That's not even remotely close to the $7,500 tax CREDIT offered for Volt purchases.  And what about all the support for plug-in vehicles now?  There wasn't any type of cooperation like that back when Prius was new.  In fact, certain automakers launched anti-hybrid campaigns.  There was an array of misconceptions to deal with too.  The circumstances are far more in the favor now than they were back then.  Each automaker is striving to deliver something highly efficiency & clean.  Even a new automaker selling nothing but plug-in vehicles has emerged.  There are manufacturers of charging-stations pushing mass-acceptance as well.  Calling the situation an apple-to-apple compare is not constructive.

7-29-2013

The Spin.  That product-gap quote from yesterday was posted on the forum dedicated to Volt, where I don't participate.  In fact, most non-owners don't.  That's what the daily blog is for.  Anywho, the topic today for that blog is the product-gap.  Of course, the spin is in the form of: "Is Chevrolet abandoning Voltec, or preparing the next variant?"  That wording was carefully chosen to stir attention and draw participation.  The need for something similar to what Toyota & Ford offer is obvious.  Thinking Volt will be canceled isn't realistic, since it could easily survive as a niche.  But the necessity for a mainstream product is putting a lot of pressure on GM.  Something must be delivered.  This is what the controversy has been about all along.  They can no longer just hope for the best.  The risk is simply too high.  There must be something offered for middle-market.  Only the choice of an expensive compact plug-in isn't enough for ordinary consumers.  With sales of Cruze so high, there's no argument anymore about what needs to be done.  No amount of brand-loyalty or flag-waving will hide the reality of GM having "nothing in between".  Filling that void is essential.

7-28-2013

Product Gap.  Each month has been ending with something entirely new to talk about, a rather blatant distraction from Volt's struggling sales.  This month, that topic is the supposed discovery of a test mule.  It appears to be a new hybrid from GM.  How convenient... and hypocritical.  I had quite a few of the die-hard Volt enthusiasts outright attack me with hostile posts whenever I brought up the product-gap.  Now, they too are saying the very same thing I did.  For example: "The 2-mode is expensive and complicated, but GM has a huge hole in their product line. They have e-assist and Voltec and nothing in between."  To have someone who had been previous fighting that very comment now make it himself, there's some frustration.  You know they'll deny it.  There will be some creative way of spinning the situation.  Whatever.  At least acknowledgement about the product-gap is now happening.  Long overdue is still better than not at all.

7-28-2013

No Charging.  Today was one of those rare ones where I didn't have an opportunity to plug in.  No charging at all means ordinary hybrid efficiency... for a Prius, with a lithium battery.  I was quite pleased with the outcome.  35 miles of driving throughout the day.  The average was 68 MPG.  That's fantastic!  Fortunately, I had the camera available to document details.  It's nice having examples of what's possible.  Variety of driving circumstances takes awhile to collect to, so the photos help serve as a reminder of when something happened.  In this case, I was just doing weekend running around.  I stopped at my girlfriend's place and then went over to my sister's.  It was pretty basic, the same kind of driving countless others have done with their Prius... only they don't have a the plug-in system, which is a little bit more efficient, even when you haven't plugged it.  See... photo album 183

7-26-2013

What If?  Someone finally asked this question seriously: "What if it was Toyota that made a car matching the Volt in all respects?"  In the past, it was always in the form of a rhetorical accusation, intended as a insult.  That was frustrating.  But knowing their purpose was to bring down your credibility rather than actually listen, it was no surprise.  Anywho, this is how I answered:  Reputation is factor not to be taken lightly; however, the balance Toyota strived for with Prius has been a major sales draw.  GM made compromises with Volt which soured the appeal for everyday consumers.  Watch how the upcoming generation changes to draw middle-market interest.  People have given Toyota quite a bit of grief for the way Prius looks, but there's no denying the midsize hatch is remarkably practical.  Ordinary purchase priorities shouldn't be pushed aside in favor of squeezing out range or power that really isn't necessary. That will result in enthusiast sales. It isn't what you do when making a product for the mainstream, on that is expected to deliver business-sustaining profit.  Hopefully, GM learned its lesson and we can just write off this attempt as a rough start.  Watch what the other automakers do.  Ford is especially noteworthy; seeing how their Energi models catch on will tell us a lot about potential market opportunity.  Toyota will obviously be closely watching.

 

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