Prius Personal Log  #653

January 6, 2014  -  January 16, 2014

Last Updated: Weds. 3/05/2014

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6 Million.  That's how many Toyota hybrids are now officially on the road around the world.  The most recent million only took 9 months to sell.  That effort to replace traditional vehicle production with hybrids is clearly making progress... which is good news considering how low gas prices have been lately, in terms of both actual & perception.  People are paying less at the pump from having switched to a smaller vehicle.  That downsizing alone makes quite a difference.  At the same time, they are growing use to paying around $3.29 per gallon for gas.  Reaching out to attract more buyers is an ongoing challenge.  It doesn't get easier as more are seen on the road due to that moving target.  Some people are simply content.  Others don't want to deal with change, even if there is some interest.  Mixed messages from automakers don't have either.  They heavily promote their traditional vehicles, obscuring their intent with hybrids.  Fortunately, Toyota often includes Prius in their advertisements.  Maybe that makes more of a difference that we think.  It's hard to tell.  But with such limited inventory from the others, the emphasis is definitely in favor of non-hybrid vehicles.  Thankfully, real-world data continues to reinforce the technology.  That's something which cannot be obtained by any other means.  We must wait.  It will really be a great endorsement for the next-generation Prius.  That should influence sales in a very positive way.


Abandoned.  Remember all the hype?  Enthusiasts of Volt declared it to be "vastly superior".  They claimed vehicles with only a plug, like Leaf & Tesla, were a terrible idea that consumers wouldn't want anything to do with.  For a mainstream vehicle offering both plug and engine, Prius PHV, it was endlessly mocked.  They would stubborn & determined, quick to dismiss data they found unappealing.  I clearly remember the first winter-driving report.  It was a whole year prior to rollout.  You'd think they would have an open mind, saying that experience was a work-in-progress.  Instead, references to it were deemed efforts to undermine.  They were wrong, on many accounts.  Rollout proved it.  Sales were well below expectations.  Then came the first true competition, C-Max Energi.  That particular plug-in hybrid wrecked their own already ambiguous definition of EREV.  But at that point, the hype was already gone.  They were in damage-control mode.  Things continued to get worse when the Fusion & Accord hybrids with a plug came along.  The backlash emerged and rapidly grew.  The enthusiast market was exhausted and efforts to appeal to ordinary consumers were failing.  The "vastly superior" rhetoric was just a memory of the past.  Inventory was piling up, threatening to make a mess of the new model production & sales.  The price was dropped dramatically.  That didn't make much of a difference.  The one-size-fits-all approach continued to suffer.  Finally, it was BMW's i3 that ultimately killed it.  This plug-in hybrid actually delivered by Volt originally promised.  As a result, the topic as well as the car itself has been abandoned.  Looking on the big GM forum, that's really easy to confirm.  There aren't posts anymore... from premiere vehicle to easily forgotten.


Aluminum.  The internet certainly was a buzz about Ford's announcement yesterday, especially with comments from GM supporters.  With focus shifted over to trucks and consumer pickups specifically being the primary source of business-sustaining profit, it was to be expected.  The new F-150 having shed 700 pounds was a huge announcement.  That surprised many in the industry.  They had no idea such a major accomplishment would have been achieved.  The big weight reduction was achieved by switching from steal to aluminum... which is a more expensive metal and challenging to weld.  I was amused by the immediate response claiming aluminum corrosion would be a problem, so GM had nothing to worry about.  They didn't realize Prius has been using for the hood & hatch since back in 2003 without any issue whatsoever.  The strength & durability Ford expects owners to experience has those on the other side of Detroit really worried.  How in the world will GM compete with that?  It should result in a inarguably better MPG.  With fuel-efficiency such a concern for those large vehicles, this is a very big deal.


Snowy Night Commute.  I was curious how well the camera mounted on the dashboard could handle darker filming conditions.  The sunset had already set on that overcast day.  So, the remaining light would fade quickly.  It would go from gray to black during the drive home, on my commute along the river route.  Notice all the streetlights and vehicle headlights are on right from the start, even though the outside appears day like.  Since fresh snow had fallen earlier and some was still falling, it was a great setting to try to capture.  Unfortunately, the amount of time it would take to drive in that slower Winter traffic hadn't occurred to me until I was on my way.  A few miles into the video, you'll hear rustling and then see an abrupt camera clunk (just as I drive under the bridge).  That's me flubbing for the cord, then plugging in.  The battery doesn't offer enough capacity to record 1080p footage at 60 frames-per-second while also broadcasting a live stream.  Thankfully, it's just a simple USB connection.  Anywho, learned the camera does remarkably well.  To my surprise, the brightness setting on the dashboard didn't need to be up to avoid refreshing distortion from the screen.  I ended up turning it down as the sky grew dark anyway.  So, that worked out nice.  The commute itself was uneventful.  Roads weren't too bad and most people drive better this far into the cold season.  It was a fairly ordinary example of Minnesota conditions after a typical snow.  When I started the drive, statistics on the screen were from the morning's commute in.  So, you get to see exactly what I see routinely, rather than resetting before filming.  Showing the round-trip results is more informative.  The driving came to a total of 34.9 miles with an overall average of 74 MPG. For just the half on the way home, it was 64 MPG.  I'd consider that remarkable when you take into account the temperature was -2°F.  By the way, I really like how there was just enough snow on the windshield that I could easily use the wipers to clear it.  The effect at high speed (5X) is quite amusing.  Prius PHV - Snowy Night Commute (dashcam)


Cruze-Diesel verses Volt.  A recent article from a Detroit publisher sure has caused quite a stir.  It was the typical attack from within, the same nonsense Toyota use to see on a regular basis.  This time though, it's GM... which is at a distinct disadvantage.  Comparing Prius to Corolla was relatively straight forward.  The holes in the argument were easy to reveal.  But with this, there's a third vehicle involved... the gas version of Cruze.  Since that is so often misrepresented, it takes away from the credibility of the diesel model.  After all, they are considered competition of each other rather than complimentary.  Nonetheless, there's still lots of hybrid misleading.  The most common, though less obvious, is to exclude information about smog-related emissions.  Clean was entirely with respect to carbon.  That's rather blatant greenwashing from the Prius supporter perspective.  Oddly with Volt, not so much.  You'd think they'd sight that as an advantage.  Whatever.  Next problem was the price.  Stating $40,000 for Volt is just plain wrong.  True, we don't have any evidence whatsoever that GM is making a profit yet on the significantly reduced price.  But that's no reason to misrepresent by not stating current MSRP.  Following that came the MPG average stated.  For Volt, it was an overall for 40,000 miles of driving.  For the Cruze-Diesel, it was this extremely vague comment: "Yes, diesel power too requires research on where you can fill up in the metro area. But averaging 35 mpg with its big 15.6 gallon tank, my Cruze would travel more than 500 miles before refueling."  Avoidance of detail and specific examples is nothing new.  Antagonists do it all the time.  That's a common technique used to undermine.  Reading the comments posted, nothing stood out.  They mostly just stated the writer's math was faulty and GM was to blame for such poor marketing.  With so many mixed messages, compounded by changing goals, invited this situation.  What a mess.


Which Generation?  It's interesting to read a thread started by someone researching the purchase of a Prius asking that question.  There was a variety of responses.  His openness to consider the variety of new & used choices available combined with the reality of a just a commute 2 miles each way had me captivated.  This is what I contributed to the discussion:  Your circumstances would make the PHV (plug-in model) a great choice to consider.  I fired up the engine on mine just a little bit ago, to provide a sampling of what to expect even when those 2-mile drives aren't exclusively EV.  Taking the suburb route, to ensure getting hit by as many stops as possible, I ended up hitting 3 lights red and 1 stop sign.  With the temperature at 36°F, the engine warmed up and shut off 1.9 miles into the drive.  The MPG then was 39. It increased to 40 at the 2-mile mark.  That's a pleasing outcome for a drive that would have been 999 MPG, had it not been for me forcing the engine on.  Back when I had my 2010, I clearly remember non-owners arguing MPG was horrible on short trips and have proven them misleading with actual data.  The situation may be somewhat distorted with the online diversity now (wide diversity of experience and observation levels), but the blogs from back then are intact.  Worse case with start-then-drive-away-immediately was around 30 MPG for short trips.  For longer trips, you'll do well with any model or generation Prius.  I'm especially pleased with PHV when plugging in isn't possible.  Results are actually a little bit better than the regular (non-plug) model... something many had insisted couldn't be done.  They claimed the "dead weight" after depletion would be a penalty.  Toyota managed to reduce the weight difference down to just 99 pounds.  Combine that with the better performance from Li-Ion batteries rather than the usual NiMH, you've got a winner.  With my particular drive sample today, I ended up traveling 7.3 miles to my destination.  That leaves 45% of the EV capacity available for the drive home later.  The average, despite the engine unnecessarily running, came to 120 MPG.  No complaints about that.


50 MPG.  Lacking the opportunity to recharge, I only had 10% capacity from the battery-pack available for EV.  That's far from ideal on a day you know you will be running around.  Oh well.  At least the temperature had risen to the 20's.  That's a heck of a lot better than the driving at -10°F just a few days a ago.  43 miles was the total distance traveled for the day.  The average worked out to 50 MPG.  I was elated.  That was better than I had expected considering the circumstances.  Just think what it could have been if I was able to plug in.  Looking at the extended forecast, the long extreme cold is done for the season.  We aren't even expected to get a brief cold snap.  It looks like an uneventful Winter for the rest of the season.  That sure is a welcome change for the better.  As a result, I can look forward to pleasant driving.  What a contrast to the combat last year.  Phew!


-10°F Video.  Preventing window reflection for the camera means covering the dashboard with a black mat.  Unfortunately, that covers the vents.  To keep the windows from fogging up as a result, I have to crack windows to circulate fresh air.  Fortunately, I have a heated seat and heavy clothing.  It worked out... and I captured great data showing what happens when you don't use the heater in extreme cold with a plug-in.  The Prius was parked overnight in my unheated but insulated garage.  That allowed the drive to start with the system at 28°F.  Of course, it took me 14 minutes with the car running outside to finally get all the filming equipment setup.  That ended up consuming 2% of the battery-pack capacity that was available.  Oh well.  At least I'm refining the quality of the app-data capture coming from my smart-phone.  Watch the coolant temperature in relation to speed.  You'll see the engine shut off (RPM of zero) a number of times while HV driving (after the plug-in capacity has been depleted).  The interplay of gas engine and the 2 electric motors is quite dynamic, thanks to the power-split-device.  That flexibility is how high efficiency is achieved.  8.5 miles of EV was the outcome.  Then, the engine fired up with the remainder of the trip in HV.  The end result from the 17.3 miles of driving with the contribution of 3.0 kWh of electricity (which includes charging losses) was 96 MPG.  That's great, see:  Prius PHV - Along The River -10°F, No Heater (appdata)


Debate.  The effort to stir discussion has floundered.  Those few who tried didn't have any successful.  Interest simply isn't there.  We all see that hybrids are the goal, that their purpose is to replace traditional vehicles.  With every automaker striving for the same thing, there's nothing to debate.  The antagonists try to provoke with taunts of declining sales due to increased competition, but that requires ignoring the market as a whole.  Success of another automaker will help stimulate interest with others.  Low gas prices will be an influence too.  Staying relatively low stimulates diversity... which ultimately erodes traditional offerings.  Obviously, high gas prices will do the same.  That's a win-win situation either way.  In other words, those nasty exchanges of the past are a memory from the past... a reality some will deny ever got so extreme.  They at least understood what was at stake.  And even with those failed intense endorsements, that understanding lives on.  Sadly though, their method drawing interest targets the wrong audience.  Appealing to the masses takes an entirely different approach.


Patience.  14 years later, it's still required.  Fortunately, we have examples from years gone by to draw upon.  They taught those who participated much.  For those who joined afterward and refused that wisdom, they were doomed to repeat some of the failures.  One such examples stings a bit still.  But there's hope 2014 will quickly wash that away...  The problem with Volt was it being marketed as a wide-audience solution even though it didn't match requirements of high-volume vehicles.  So, even though the technology worked, there's no way it could compete.  That's made progress difficult.  New challenge emerge from the realization of it needing to be reconfigured for the masses too.  Fortunately, emerging beyond the so-called "early adopter" phase is making it somewhat easier to understand the circumstances of what did and didn't draw sales.  Unfortunately, it's what those of us who have supported Prius for years recognized prior to rollout.  Enthusiasts simply didn't want to accept it.  Toyota knew the situation would get messy and there were be fallout of sorts, hence the delay rolling out their own plug-in.  It certainly would have been nice not having to wait for that choice.  But experience of the past made the benefit of patience clear.  Mainstream acceptance means the choice must be affordable, a reality GM only recently began to deal with.  When this crazy cold finally subsides (believe it or not, -15°F was the high temperature today), we'll start to hear something about national availability for PHV.  Expanding to southern states right away would be nice, but inventory overall is low.  That could indicate a promotion campaign on the way.  After all, that's worked well in the past for Earth Day support.  We'll see.  But it nothing else, only using a 4.4 kWh battery-pack means being affordable is far more realistic than others.  Remember, that was a very big deal for mainstream acceptance of regular hybrids.  Adding a plug means that same criteria must be adhered to... but not forever... hence the "too little, too slowly".  Toyota can deliver with this current generation.


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