Prius Personal Log  #669

May 10, 2014  -  May 21, 2014

Last Updated: Tues. 5/27/2014

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Change.  The rhetoric has virtually vanished.  Volt is what stirred the pot, boasting it would be a "game changer".  When that hope fell apart to an extreme, we had to deal with the fallout.  Many of the troublemakers leased, rather than purchasing.  As those leases expire, they are finding no affordable option other than to just move on to something else.  Expecting to consider Volt again, later on when the next generation becomes available, it's easy enough to silently disappear.  So, they are.  GM over-promised and under-delivered.  They didn't believe it could happen.  Toyota did.  That's why they approached the market that way.  Those of use who participated online and owned Prius many years ago recognized the pattern too.  This effort was repeating the Two-Mode was a disaster.  More and more are seeing that now.  There's no need to place blame or feel sorry either.  It is what it is.  True, much of that could have been prevented.  But there's nothing to do about that past now.  It (thankfully) is over.  Change has come.  What a relief.  Phew!


Semi-Conductor Improvements.  Efficiency improvement is more often focused on the battery's density.  The more energy you can fit into the pack without physically increasing its size, the further you can travel using electricity... which is an obvious benefit for plug-in hybrids.  There are some refinements to the traction-motor itself, but that is minor in comparison to what things like improved battery-chemistry has to offer.  An aspect pretty much overlooked entirely is the circuitry.  There are losses caused by the transmission & utilization of the electricity itself.  With computers, we see efficiency improvement in the way of smaller & faster processors.  Toyota is working toward that with future versions of their hybrids too.  But even more of a problem, primarily due to the larger quantity of electricity, is loss in the form of heat.  That comes from the design of the power semiconductors.  Today, we got a mini-presentation showing their pursuit of silicon carbide, which could dramatically reduce component size to reduce energy loss.  It's something to look forward too.  But like with all new technologies, even once proven viable, it still takes many years to actually implement.  In other words, don't expect it with the next generation of Prius.  Even so, it still provides hope in an avenue pretty much entirely unknown.  Pursuing that type of improvement opportunity is great.


Final Fling.  Feeling pressure from both Prius & Volt supporters fed up with the misrepresentation, his greenwashing effort moved to comments posted on random hybrid & plug-in articles.  Today, I found this: "The PIP has an all electric range of 6 miles.  Look closely at the EPA sticker.  The 11 mile rating involves using gas unless you keep it under regular highway speeds and off hills...."  It was the same nonsense from the same person.  He was seeking out a new audience.  So, I took advantage of the opportunity by refining my response:  Only pointing out the parts of the EPA sticker you want people to notice is called cherry-picking.  Looking at the rest of the EPA sticker information, we see that the gas consumption rate is 0.2 gal/100 miles.  That means over those 11 miles of travel, only 0.022 gallons of gas will actually be consumed.  A car delivering 35 MPG would consume 0.260 gallons over the same distance.  In other words, PIP is using less than 1/10th the amount of gas when combined with electricity.  That's a dramatic reduction, which is the point of a plug-in hybrid.  The other bit of information on the EPA sticker is the electricity consumption rate of 29 kWh/100 miles.  That means 3.19 kWh is required to travel 11 miles.  Knowing that PIP utilizes 67% of the capacity available from its 4.4 kWh battery-pack, we can easily account for 10 miles.  Then when you acknowledge that gas engine always directs 28% of its energy to the generator for combined (blending) optimization, we see more electricity being available... even without considering energy recovered from brake regeneration.  As for the "highway speeds" and "hills" references, we know those were intentionally vague.  No matter how many times detail has been provided, you avoid it anyway.  Well guess what, I'm pointing that out and mentioning that hill climbing at 55 mph in EV mode is quite realistic.  I routinely do it with my PIP on the commute home from work.  Again, since PIP is a plug-in hybrid, avoiding use of the engine under all conditions doesn't make sense.  The system still draws plug-supplied electricity even when the engine runs.  The result is MPG well above what any non-plug hybrid can deliver, which is the reason for increasing capacity and adding a plug.


Interesting Perspectives.  This post obviously caught my attention: "I test drove a Chevrolet Volt while my 2012 Prius was in the shop for 25,000 mile maintenance.  I'm tempted to trade my Prius for the Volt.  BUT I love my Prius - it's been 100% reliable.  The Volt would allow me to electric commute, 25 miles one-way, and re-charge at work.  The Volt feels like a quality car, with lots of torque, and very quiet.  I'd appreciate your input. I need a reality check."  Having just spent last night with a bunch of Volt owners, it was quite refreshing to read that.  The nonsense online basically doesn't exist in person.  We you get to interact, seeing the problems engineering faces in the world of business, perspectives get interesting.  We see a sense of bonding, all in favor of finally ending the reign of traditional vehicles.  The rhetoric coming from brand & reputation is very easy to overcome face to face... an aspect lacking greatly on forums.  Anywho, I posted this and got several likes from it as a result:  Yesterday, I was on a closed track.... chasing a Tesla P85+ with a Volt.  It was quite amusing.  There's no contest that Volt delivers more EV power and better handling, an upgrade to Prius without debate, but it doesn't hold a candle to the Tesla.  Audience has always been the primary issue.  Toyota aimed squarely at middle-market, those buyers who were looking for something reliable, affordable, practical, and comfortable.  GM didn't; instead, their target was enthusiasts.  There would be nothing at all wrong with that if there was also a choice offered for their everyday customers.  So, we ended up with an unbalanced choice which fits some people really well.  Just not something for the masses.  The tax-credit makes Volt a bargain right now.  If the tradeoff is a nice fit for you, go for it.  Remember, some purchase decisions carry emotional weight.  So, choosing doesn't have to totally be a factor of looking good on paper.  There are of course considerations like resale value to keep in mind, since the market for plug-in vehicles is rapidly evolving.  Some regret may come in a year or so when the next generation is revealed.  These are definitely interesting times.


We Had A Blast.  Try to envision roughly 50 plug-in vehicles parked in the lot.  It was the Spring gathering of the local plug-in organization.  We had the opportunity to play with each other's vehicles on a closed track.  I was curious how the Fusion Energi drove.  Naturally, I jumped in a Volt too.  The biggest surprise was having a BYD there.  That's a brand from a Chinese automaker.  They try to deliver lower cost vehicles.  You could tell.  That EV was no where near as refined.  It was rough & noisy, a rather dramatic difference from the Prius.  It was quite a reality check.  There was a Smart EV there too.  Driving around such a small EV certainly was interesting.  The Tesla was obvious impressive as heck, especially being the top-of-the-line model too.  What really caught my attention was the RAV4 EV.  Being supplied with parts from Tesla, it performed surprisingly well.  Unfortunately, there wasn't a Leaf available for driving.  That certainly would have been nice.  Oh well.  Unexpectedly, there was a VW hybrid.  It seemed to lack the "fun to drive" aspect commonly attributed to the brand.  I wonder why.  Hmm?  After the outdoor activity ended, we all wandered inside for a presentation and sharing stories.  My stance was one which had others curious.  What could a plug-in hybrid owner have in common with those who depend exclusively upon electricity?  The answer was simple and all got their attention: Lithium.  When I mentioned my effort was to provide an endorsement for that type of battery use by the masses, they were quite pleased.  Prius has been successfully paving the way for mainstream acceptance for a long time now.  Why not help out with EV progress too?  Having an engine, that aspect is easy to overlook.  But that battery is the key.  Without proof it works on the grand scale (high-volume presence), the odds of purchasing a vehicle without an engine are quite low.  The general market poses a major challenge.  Being able to coax that along is great.


Federal Gas Tax.  We've been hearing a lot about the upcoming shortage.  Not enough money from gas tax is being collected to support the federal funding our roads need.  Projects like bridge replacement are in serious jeopardy.  There's simply no way to pay for them.  Naturally, plug-in cars and hybrids are considered the primary source of the problem.  But in reality, it's the fact that people have switched from guzzlers to more efficient traditional vehicles.  That has a much greater impact on gas consumption, which means less tax being paid.  Unfortunately, the tax itself hasn't been adjusted for inflation.  It hasn't been increased for higher expenses either.  In other words, our funding system is a mess and the politicians responsible for fixing that are afraid to raise taxes.  So, the problem has been progressively growing worse and worse.  The deadline is rapidly approaching.  The time when not being able to pay bills becomes a genuine problem is August.  Then what?  With gas prices so low right now ($3.55 per gallon here), it's the perfect time to increase them... especially with the big effort being made to keep them from rising.  How many years can the bucket be kicked down the road?  Someone must finally to do what needs to be done.


Elaborate.  I knew he was just stirring the pot.  He does that quite a bit, just for the sake of keeping discussions going.  Some people simply like to debate.  They seek out activity on the forum and contribute with informative comments.  The catch is, they aren't constructive.  Since the goal is to prevent conclusions from be drawn to keep the posts coming, some comments are intentionally vague.  This was such a case: "...I hope toyota will take what it has learned and put out a much improved prius phv. IMHO they have plenty of engineering talent to do it."  And sure enough, he didn't provide any detail after I asked:  Care to elaborate?  What does "much improved" signify?  Look at how a few Volt owners turned the "6 mile" nonsense into a brainless game of misleading, just because they viewed EV purity as vastly superior.  Their success depends upon people not actually taking the time to consider detail or goals.  The "0.2 gal/100 mi" listed on the window-sticker means the 11 miles of blended driving would consume 0.022 gallons of gas.  That's a drastic reduction of gas usage compared to a vehicle averaging 35 MPG, which would consume 0.314 gallons for the same 11 miles.  Isn't reduction the point?  If not, how does electricity usage apply?  It has to come from some type of fuel.  In most cases, it's no renewable or even clean.  Neither coal nor natural gas offer the purity they portray.  Also, let's not overlook how much effort Toyota made to keep cost in check.  They adhered to that important $30,000 price-point, rather than sacrificing affordability for the sake delivering more range & power.  In other words, we're back to asking the question of what mainstream consumers will actually purchase.  That's a big difference to what they say they want at auto shows.


Mother's Day.  It was an awkward situation.  On the street outside my sister's home was a Camry-Hybrid with people inside and standing outside it.  They were checking out Mom's brand new car.  Seeing us standing by my Prius, her mother wandered over.  Telling us about her daughter's purchase, it became obvious she knew little about how hybrids actually worked.  I answered questions she asked about mine, but refrained from mentioning the plug.  My own mother, not aware of that lack of background like me, just blurted out a comment about plugging in.  That got an interesting reaction.  The woman who had excitedly come over to tell us about the hybrid she knew of suddenly found herself shockingly uninformed.  It was the deer-in-the-headlights stare, abruptly silent and clueless.  Changing the subject quickly remedied that.  Some people on the big Prius forum make comments about how hybrids have become mainstream, now that Prius has been sustaining sales at twice the minimum for so long.  Reality is, that type of acceptance is just the beginning.  Far more needs to be achieved still for that to become the top consideration when researching the purchase of a new vehicle.  Sadly, we are far from that.  Many people still outright dismiss hybrids, making some comment based upon an incorrect assumption.  That makes the idea of a plug well out of reach.  It's the very reason the 73.5 MPG average stated on my website card gets such a reaction each time I share it.  That's also why I put so much pressure on the Volt enthusiasts.  They didn't understand the importance of the "Who?" question.  They didn't know their audience.  The encounter certainly made an interesting Mother's Day memory.


Batteries.  Finally, the decision changed to batteries, with: "There is no way you could get the variety of types of EVs on the market if they all had to use the same batteries. Why not tell all car companies they have to use the same size engine?"  I wasn't expecting someone fairly well informed to make such a comment.  You'd think he was well aware of how modules & cells make up a battery-pack.  There's a lot of flexibility within not be addressed.  I wasn't sure what he was thinking.  So, I said:  That's a bit overly simplistic.  There's no reason battery cells cannot be standardized.  Having a small variety of them available, as we do now for other batteries, would still allow for the flexibility each automaker desires.  Internal arrangement and charging approach would still be at the discretion of the automaker.  After all, that's what an automaker will want anyway.  That's how cost will be kept down and risk reduced.  They'll spread those cells in different configurations across their fleet.  Battery suppliers will want some type of "same" as well.  The manufacturing process thrives on producing high-volumes of similar product.


Even More.  The posting goes on:  In addition to posting false information, there's also an on-going undermine effort.  The desired outcome is to mislead about the size of the battery-pack by getting others to express a need for it to be larger.  That way, it appears as though the current offering isn't enough. It give the impression of a shortcoming, a feeling of not enough.  It's a technique which plays upon "more" marketing.  Given a choice, people will basically always desire more.  Ask them about MPG.  Who wouldn't have a preference for a higher number?  That's human nature.  It's a weakness we routinely succumb to.  The key is leaving out important detail, like the sacrifice of interior space and being affordable.  They don't address that.  Avoidance is a dead giveaway the "discussion" isn't constructive.  That type of manipulation happens on a regular basis.  It's quite annoying, but not unexpected.  Any technology providing a true advance forward (change of the status quo) will come with resistance.  Think about current Prius owners.  Their purchase was based upon the practical nature of the vehicle and it being reasonably priced.  Why would their next be any different?  Having the engine stay off longer and getting more electric power is what they'd like, but they aren't going to consider that a high priority.  That means the plug-in battery-pack should be on the smaller side.  More isn't necessarily better.


More Greenwashing.  It continues.  No surprise.  All we can do is confront it when it happens:  The other active greenwashing effort is to mislead about electric power by downplaying it.  That same small group of individuals are hoping their random belittle comments will be accepted as genuine.  After all, most people don't have a means of verifying those statements.  As a result, people get the impression the plug-in Prius is an after-thought for Toyota, something cobbled together in response to GM.  Some of us are aware that isn't true, that the traction-motor is underutilized, limited by the amount of power available.  The bigger battery provide that extra power.  The hope is an assumption that this model of Prius works the same way as the one without a plug, that the bigger battery simply allows it to operate that way for a longer duration.  It doesn't.  As owners, we know that acceleration from a stop in the suburbs and hill climbing in EV-mode isn't a big deal.  Greenwashers want you to believe that isn't possible.  Ironically, that desire to undermine serves as an endorsement.  There wouldn't be any reason to post false information if the system wasn't able to compete.


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