Prius Personal Log  #696

January 12, 2015  -  January 16, 2015

 Last Updated: Tues. 1/27/2015

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Argument Sparring.  I got a big kick out of reading this serious of posts.  It started with: "GM is still by far the leader in Hydrogen Technology...  They forced Toyota's hand since the Volt has virtually spelled the death knell for the Prius as a hybrid technology."  That was on the big GM forum.  So naturally, I was quite intrigued what kind of response that would generate, especially since the thread was about a Toyota Mirai driving report.  (That's the new fuel-cell vehicle which recently sales recently began in Japan.)  The respond post started with: "What do you mean by leader? Better technology? Where are they keeping it? Did they forget it under a table somewhere?"  Rather than something actually constructive, the thread got lively with this: "I really like the Volt, but it is in no way a threat to Toyota hybrids yet."  I was obviously captivated at that point, very interested in what would be posted next.  It was: "A 50 electric mile volt, plus 41 mpg on generator with over 400 miles total range that can sit 5 is and costs around the current volt is not going to affect prius sales?"  That deserved a LOL reply.  Prius is currently aimed at buyers looking for something not requiring a plug.  Volt isn't even in the same category.  Talking about not understanding audience!  Of course, what I found hysterical wasn't that blatant disregard for who.  It was the claim of being able to sit 5.  That fifth seat is a joke.  There's no legroom whatsoever.  It's a battery-pack mound covered by 2 cupholders.  Nothing but a small child could actually be seated there.  Ugh.  Thankfully, that nonsense same to a sensible end: "I really love Voltec, and a Volt would suit me just fine, but it made nowhere near the splash it could have.  I was expecting it to be a rival for HSD right out of the gate, but somehow GM sold fewer this year than last."


Quick & Painful.  It's late Friday evening.  Details of the new Volt were revealed very early Monday morning.  Discussions have died already.  The big GM forum had literally nothing.  I'm amazed at how quickly the disappointment spread.  Expectations were much higher... and clearly were not met.  It was a painful outcome.  Too bad.  The PEV Owners meeting was yesterday.  I got to chat with a number of Volt & Leaf owners... as well as Tesla and even a Mercedes B-Class.  We had a blast getting to share stories and discuss the future.  There, we were told 7 high-speed DC chargers had just been made available throughout the metro area.  That puts Minnesota on the map for super-fast charging opportunities.  It's great for traveling further with your EV.  What a fantastic debut!  Minnesota is already the #10 state in the country for EV ownership per-capita in the United States.  Anywho, the point is GM's choice to focus on more EV competition and abandon traditional competition puts Volt in an awkward category instead.  With ranges & capacities increasing and more & faster chargers becoming available, that's going to be a tough sale.  Look at how well Leaf is already doing.  Speaking with those owners last night, range-anxiety is non-existent for some.  Nissan knows that and is targetting those consumers now.  In 2 or 3 years, we'll see the big improvements several automakers are striving to offer.  How Volt will compete with that, especially without a tax-credit, remains a serious concern.  Whatever the case, I'm glad Toyota's focus is the masses who would otherwise just buy a traditional vehicle.  It's an odd sense of balance having market diversity in that fashion.  It comes with quite a bit of risk too.  Screwy gas prices and fickle consumers are a challenge to plan business around.  If this week's discussions are any indication of Volt interest, GM is in trouble.  Remember what happened when final production details of the first-generation Volt were revealed?


Semantics.  Having been pulled deep into those arguments years ago, there is now a strong effort to avoid dealing with that again.  It's a waste of time.  Nothing is accomplished anymore from any type of labeling.  In the past, the point was to simply point out that the systems were not the same.  That goal has been achieved, so no need to dwell.  Unfortunately, there are a few antagonists who thrive on debate exchanges.  One such attempt to stir was: "It is a full or strong hybrid for being able to propel the car at 75mph on electric alone."  He's well know for getting into intense pointless points.  Being constructive means working toward a goal.  The quote certainly didn't pursue that.  I choose my words carefully, responding with this hoping to direct the thread off the obvious tangent:  The definition of FULL has always (for 15 years now) been any system with the flexibility to deliver propulsion & generating both with the engine and without, as well as blending & separating through the use of some sort of power-split device.  That's why IMA was always identified as a different type.  Since it only had a single electric-motor and it was connected directly to the engine, it lacked some of those abilities... hence it being just an ASSIST hybrid.  At no time has there ever been any MPH or even KW criteria.  And without the flexibility, is not a FULL hybrid.  That's why we are trying to get away from labels... especially since they are so much less clear now with the variety.  People will looks at whatever claims are made and validate.  No more taking things at face value.  Yeah!


$1.85 to $2.09 per Gallon.  What a strange thing to be writing about.  But when the President makes a statement about trying to be realistic, to properly set expectations about the price of gas, and it results in hostile rhetoric, you have to respond.  I was dumbfounded by how un-understanding some people were.  The posted comments on the article I read were amazing.  People were blaming him for not allowing them to "catch a break".  It was very clear that many has absolutely no clue why the price was so low.  For the first time in over 30 years, the United States is actually exporting more oil than it is importing.  That's a bizarre switch.  The surplus from the increase interferes with the delicate balance of cost.  Normally, the oil-producing nations would reduce their pumping rate to balance out supply.  But this isn't a temporary situation, as in the past with surplus issues.  The volume change is permanent.  The United States is drilling more.  They continued as usual anyway.  It pushed price down.  Obviously, that cannot continue for too long... hence the warning not to rush out and purchase a guzzler.  Being realistic means recognition of the problem.  The market simply cannot be flooded with excess inventory like that.  Those oil-producing nations depend upon money from the sales of their oil.  Low prices hurts them significantly.  We're seeing the price increase begin already.  Where it will stop is anyone's guess.


Normal?  Some operational aspects of the hybrid system are counter-intuitive.  New owners often ask what the heck is happening.  They sometimes even wonder if something wrong.  Active members of the big Prius forum help out by responding with detail.  Today, it was my turn:  That's quite normal.  Since your Prius doesn't have a plug, it seeks out the most efficient opportunities to recharge the pack.  It will start the engine when the power load is at a balance, where some of the resulting output can be used to generate electricity.  Note the at the plug-in model does the very same thing when in HV mode.  It takes advantage of the engine.  Also, keep in mind that some of the generated electricity will be consumed immediately and the fact that the energy-flow from the system will change rapidly & often.  Watching the screen, you can see it happening anywhere from 10 to 20 times per minute.  That's the result of having a PSD (Power-Split Device) connecting a gas-engine with 2 electric-motors.  The dynamic nature of that design is often not realized by new owners... who question why the heck the engine started.  You're not alone.  That is indeed what's suppose to happen.  If that makes sense, now consider the other goal of reducing emissions.  It seems counter-intuitive to run the engine without having first exhausted the battery.  Keeping the emissions from engine exhaust low requires heat.  That heat is used by the catalytic-converter to cleanse the exhaust.  When the engine runs, its own heat that it creates is used for the cleansing.  The heat is retained by the coolant.  It's an interesting cycle of one feature taking advantage of another.


Advice.  Now that Volt has vanished from the picture, no longer undermining Prius with bold promises it couldn't keep, we are seeing a shift in posting activity.  We are seeing more of the new owner posts.  Yeah!  Getting drown out by rhetoric was horrible.  I'm sure glad that's over.  That nonsense of the past was very frustrating.   I enjoy sharing advice.  Of course, it's even more rewarding seeing others share the same wisdom without me.  But today, I did some by answering a series of commutes about Winter cabin heating:  If you want to warm-up the system for heat, turn on the heater.  If you want it to warm-up faster, turn on the defrost (since it increases engine RPM, on the plug-in model anyway, not sure about the C model).  Low blower and low temperature (like 65) will keep you from feeling much for cold air in the meantime.  You need that to keep the window clear anyway. If there's no concern about humidity, you can change the vent to recirculate.  Having an aftermarket gauge will allow you to know exactly when the air goes from warmish to hot, by monitoring the coolant temp. Blocking the grille to increase heat-retention and reduce cold air-flow is helpful too.


Didn't Happen.  Curious as ever how that daily blog for Volt will change, I've been refraining from saying much.  Posting thoughts isn't needed anyway.  There are many others already doing that, making the very same observations I have.  It's no secret what had been hoped for verses what was actually unveiled differed quite a bit.  That leaves the past vulnerable to spin.  A lot of misleading has come about as a result.  It's not a big deal.  Lack of substance causes most of the rhetoric to pass quickly.  I did take issue with misrepresentation of goals though.  So, I did end up chimed into a discussion with:  The vaporware comments were based upon GM's claim of delivering a 40-mile all-condition range plug-in hybrid for "nicely under $30,000".  It didn't end up happening. MSRP was well above that price and range was well below.  People assumed, without taking the time to consider detail, like production-cost or heater-impact.  They also believed the "leap-frogging" Prius meant a vehicle of equal size with similar efficiency following depletion.  That didn't happen either.


Different Animals.  It has been fascinating to witness the reaction to the Volt reveal.  There was no "over promise, under deliver" this time.  It was simply hoping for the best... which clearly didn't happen.  Instead, there was a change in direction.  Last time, Volt enthusiasts became Prius antagonists with "vastly superior" taunts.  It's a chapter in their history they attempted to distance themselves from by shifting focus over to Leaf instead.  Ironically, that was what Volt was intended to compete with.  Remember all the "range anxiety" campaigning?  Well, when people started purchasing more Leaf that Volt anyway, enthusiasts changed goals.  It was an act of desperation... making the purpose of Volt questionable.  Things went downhill from there.  The situation was a mess.  GM made choices with the next-gen Volt to get them back on track.  The decision was to compete with EV offerings.  Prius PHV, Fusion, Energi, and C-Max Energi would now be recognized as plug-in hybrids without the contradictory EREV definition confusing matters.  GM made Volt more of a EV, even though it still would be forced to run the engine in extreme cold conditions (what we call a normal Winter here in Minnesota) and would use direct-drive more following depletion.  The next Leaf is expected to deliver quite a bit more of a range increase from the current 84-mile rating.  That makes the new Volt's expected 50-mile rating a head-scratcher.  True, it should do a better job of covering EV travel needs.  But at the same time sours the engine-running experience even more.  Whatever the case, it is GM who will have to deal with that.  Toyota, Ford, Honda, and Hyundai will all be trying to deliver a well-balanced solution for the masses.  That means a small enough battery to keep it affordable and not impair passenger/cargo space, yet still deliver much improved emissions & consumption over traditional vehicles.  It summed the comparison outlook on the very active thread about it with:  Yup, the business purposes of Volt and Prius PHV are simply far too different.  The consumer audiences are not the same either, which GM clearly just confirmed.  Toyota's quest to keep it affordable (traditionally competitive without tax-credits) means expectations for the Gen-4 are no cross-shopping.  There will be plug-ins offering speed, power, and distance, then there will be Prius offering a balance of traits with the intent to appeal to a wide array of potential buyers.  You calling them "different animals" is an excellent way of stating it.


How?  I waited 2 days before posting anything on that daily blog for Volt.  It was a large thread that went no where.  The title was: "2016 Volt seats five, promises 50 miles electric range."  Discussion points were all over the place.  It was a chaotic mess.  Opinions were all over the place.  Not knowing price for at least another 5 months means the posts will likely fizzle to almost nothing, since that's such a massive factor and no other detail is expected in the meantime.  I climbed up on the soapbox for a quick sound-off:  5 seats?  Not if you have legs!  Any child old enough to not need a booster-seat won't fit.  No one older will fit either.  Last week, there were many posts stating the hope of having a headroom increase in back.  Instead, there was a minor decrease.  Also, the modest increase in legroom wasn't enough to reach midsize class.  Strangely, the rear window still lacks a wiper.  And whether you feel MPG in CS-mode is important or not, that depleted efficiency being much higher is an expectation not fulfilled.  Appealing to mainstream consumers didn't happen.  Fine.  Appealing to the car enthusiast is the focus of this newly revealed generation.  Having that clarity of purpose early on is great!  However, the fact that high-speed charging won't be offered does leave you wondering... especially with GM now embracing the EV, something they heavily campaigned against in the past with their "range anxiety" promotion.  Whatever the case, we move on. It feels good knowing clashes of the past are over.  We finally have an answer to the "Who?" question.  Low gas prices and the growing demand for trucks and small SUVs will continue to increase pressure though.  That reality cannot be avoided. It changes the question now to "How?"


Distraction.  In the very predictable style of GM, when an "over promise, under deliver" situation occurs, they make an announcement to distract.  Well, sure enough.  Exactly as anticipated, Volt's reveal was proceeded by that very thing.  GM introduced us to Bolt.  It's nothing but a concept vehicle with a bold promise.  They presented it as a 200-mile range EV with a price of $30,000.  Right away, there were those of us seeking out detail.  The first big undercover was the fact that the price included a $7,500 tax-credit.  The second was that the vehicle wouldn't be available until at least 2017.  That meant it was really more expensive and that the expectation of Volt sales will continue to be so low that the tax-credit wouldn't have been used up by then.  GM is obviously desperate to compete directly with Tesla & Nissan; they've clearly given up trying to compete with Toyota... who continues to seek out solutions to replace traditional vehicles.  We hope, of course, that Model X and Leaf really do attract ordinary consumers.  But not everyone has the same need.  The masses aren't ready for exclusive electric-only choices yet... which is why GM started with Volt in the first place.  Oh well.  It's not like we haven't pointed out the mixed messages.  Perhaps this will ultimately turn into a diversity outcome.  That would be great.  Right now though, it is clearly a distraction.


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