Prius Personal Log  #697

January 17, 2015  -  January 24, 2015

 Last Updated: Tues. 1/27/2015

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For the Masses, leadership.  Certain individuals have been blinded by engineering.  They sincerely believe the only approach to change is by pushing the high-end, that somehow the masses will naturally just embrace change as a result.  There are many business classes a person could take to learn that is an incomplete picture of what's actually needed.  There's no arguing with the uninformed though.  They've already made up their mind and will outright dismiss any evidence to the contrary.  They've never really taken a look at what appeals to a consumer with a lower budget and little interest in performance or technology.  It posted:  It's sad how "technical leadership" continues to be represented only in terms of racing to market.  Blatant disregard of the goal for profitable high-volume sales, competing on the showroom floor without tax-credit dependency, speaks volumes.  As for the drawing of conclusions of "hurt" and "damage control", that's called not understanding audience.  The debates of the past are over.  It's not worth posting unless there is clear acknowledgement of who the customer for Prius PHV will be.  And now that gas prices are so low, it's more important than ever to finally address the sensible business choices Toyota has made.  Whether they make those who want "technical leadership", you have to admit the decision to not push has worked out well.  You don't become the top-seller of vehicles in the world by not planning well.... which includes the flexibility to adjust as the market changes.  Personally, it is no surprise to me that the trophy-mentality makes it difficult to be constructive about business approach.  The accounting part of automotive sales rarely gets the attention it should.  People don't find the high-volume cars exciting. Being common isn't what stirs discussion.  But that ultimately is what pays the bills.


For the Masses, sales.  Now that the storm has passed, I unignored those who were clearly antagonists.  Some simply like to debate.  Others have something against Toyota.  Whatever the case, the opportunity to be heard has been opened.  The new outlook started with this: "How come Toyota is selling only 400 something Prius Plugin per month in the US?  I Thought PiP was supposed to compete with Volt.  PiP is getting whupped."  That wasn't the most constructive approach.  But it was a question worth addressing... yet again... hoping for a different response now:  Both intent and purpose has always been very, very different.  Long before PiP was rolled out, there was a major effort to determine what a sensible price would be, something actually competitive in the traditional market.  That meant careful design consideration to keep cost low.  Toyota worked hard to deliver an option complimentary to the Prius offerings.  Rolling out a low-volume choice mid-cycle fit into that goal well.  HSD would be getting an upgrade in a few years, delivering even higher HV efficiency along with new opportunity as a result of NiMH patents expiring.  That left the door wide open for greater battery augmentation with the plug-in model, especially with the knowledge gained from initial PHV rollout.  The business approach for Volt was entirely different. There was no plan for any type of second model.  There wouldn't be one with a smaller battery-pack or one without a plug.  It was always a vehicle with very high production-cost. GM was targeting an entirely different audience.  As for the sales themselves, Volt gets triple the tax-credit and is offered in over triple the number of states. It certainly should sell better with such an advantage.


Not Plugging In.  It's a good sign when owners ask questions about non-issues.  That means the technology is attracting newbies who simply don't the background to figure out the answers, but are aware that battery-pack is equivalent to the power-supply found in other plug-in devices.  This is what I posted to one such question about Prius PHV:  The system in the plug-in Prius protects itself.  It won't allow you to exceed the charge limits, since a primary benefit of the gas engine is to ensure longevity of the battery-pack.  So, even if you aren't able to recharge for a very long time, there's no harm done.  It will continue to age, since all chemical-based batteries will anyway, just not as fast as when you charge & discharge the usable capacity on a regular basis.  When you do find yourself in the position of not being able to recharge, it's best to allow the system to deplete all the EV range and just drive around with only HV capacity.  Don't attempt to preserve any of the plug-supplied electricity. Driving it around as a regular hybrid in the meantime is fine.


Unsuccessful.  Isn't the point of any new technology to reduce emissions & consumption to sell lots of it?  Watching the second-generation remain low-volume and be dependent upon tax-credit for sales was the concern right from the very start.  Remember what came about in the bankruptcy recovery plan?  Concern was explicitly expressed about the process taking a long time.  Remember "too little, too slowly" and the harsh response to that reality?  That group of enthusiasts just plain didn't care.  They saw Volt as a great technological achievement, based on engineering accomplishment alone.  Whether or not it was even remotely capable of surviving on its own as a viable business product to generate profit-sustaining sales was meaningless to them.  Anyone who expressed that need for well-being or pointed out the rest of the GM product-line was attacked.  It was a great example of group-think, where they completely lost sight of the true goal and just lashed out at those attempting to get things back on track.  That level of disregard was quite astonishing... which is why I was so compelled to observe the outcome firsthand, rather than watching the group from a distance.  It's over now.  The next-gen design has been revealed.  Just 10 days later and it is already quite clear their are major shortcomings with respect to being able to compete on its own.  No leap-frog.  No vastly-superior.  No game-changing.  Traditional vehicles will continue to dominate.  Aspirations of mainstream penetration have been abandoned.  It will be sad to see the guzzlers sold in such great numbers without a low-emission, high-efficiency choice that's competitive.


Uncompetitive.  The nightmare of the past is over.  Yeah!  These personal logs are filled with quotes of absolutely desperate Volt enthusiasts attempting to undermine Prius.  By misrepresenting it, the hope was their vehicle would attract more sales.  That's back when leap-frogging and vastly-superior and game-changing nonsense was chanted on the regular basis.  Not anymore.  Some were rather clever with their greenwashing, others would outright lie.  It was unbelievable... which is why I documented so much of that while it was happening.  Thankfully, it's an ugly chapter in automotive history now closed.  Change rarely comes easy.  That was a prime example.  Looking forward, this apparently is what the future holds: "As Chevrolet formulates marketing plans for the 2016 Volt launching the second half of this year, it has a head start over generation one, but if there ever were a vision of the Volt surpassing Toyota Prius sales, that's a premise Chevrolet doesn't even want to entertain."  It was the opening line to today's daily blog.  Coming up with topics now is a challenge.  That blog has become more of a curiosity than anything constructive.  Reading through today's topic on pricing was pointless.  There's such a heavy dependence on the tax-credit still, it's quite obvious the next-gen offering is uncompetitive.  Cost is still too high.  GM chose to deliver what they want to see, not what they need.  It happened again.  Third time is a charm, eh?  First was Two-Mode.  Second came Volt.  Now this.  Ugh.  What in the world are they going to sell that actually is competitive?  Are they really going to ignore the mainstream for another generation?


Unprofitable.  The disappointment from the reveal of the 2016 Volt was made undeniably clear.  We went from great anticipation to silence in just a week.  Since there's nothing else to discuss with respect to operational/configuration hope, the focus has shifted to production cost.  Yesterday, it was this rhetoric: "Although GM has added value to the 2016 Volt (more AER, improved interior, smoother transmission), almost every effort I see has been focused on reducing cost."  That was followed by a detail list of improvements.  I couldn't get past the blatant contradiction/disregard though.  That "almost" reference is a problem.  If GM had really been attempting to make a car for the masses and wanted to keep cost-reduction the top priority, that AER (All Electric Range) wouldn't have increased.  Keeping it fixed at the current 38-mile estimate would have allowed for a battery-pack savings.  How is adding 12 miles a way of cutting cost?  Supposedly, making Volt profitable was key.  What justified the increase then?  Of course, these recent executive words are a hint of what's to come for the MSRP: "in line with the current generation Volt".  Each new bit of evidence shows us intent with the next-gen is quite different from that of Prius.  GM will offer a vehicle for the enthusiast.  Toyota will offer a vehicle for the masses.  The price will make that obvious.  Taking on the true competition... traditional vehicles... requires a similar MSRP.  The hope that tax-credit dependency wouldn't be an issue for the second-generation has faded, leaving it higher priced.  It would be unprofitable otherwise.  That's sad.


Media Substance.  We get a lot of hype articles.  It's annoying.  Today's was especially bad.  I kept hoping for substance of some sort.  The writer went on and on about how battery costs have been dropping, but never actually stated a cost.  There were only vague references to percent changes.  Upon re-reading the article, I noticed there was nothing about capacities or expected market penetration.  It was nothing but a fluff piece written to tell us that someday we'll be driving without oil.  It's amazing how you get the impression of journalism, but then later discover you didn't actually learn anything.  It was just a waste of time.  What I especially like though was the picture it painted at the ending: "But ground transportation still makes up the bulk of our oil use.  So when batteries advance to the point where oil is no longer used for cars and trucks, the Saudis, Russians and Iranians will find themselves selling what is suddenly a niche product.  And simultaneously, the U.S., Japan, Europe and other energy importers will find themselves free from the yo-yo of global oil prices.  In other words, it's less than two decades until we are free from the yoke of the petrostates and their nasty, backward regimes."  I couldn't resist posting that entire quotes.  The average vehicle remains in service for 11 years now.  That means just 9 years from now we'll be replacing all new vehicle production with electric-only vehicles.  That's amazing... and a crock!  It isn't even the slightest bit realistic for that to happen.  Want to know more?  I certainly did.  Notice how the "when batteries advance" point isn't actually defined?  That complete lack of criteria is what angers me.  That's why I got on the Volt enthusiasts so hard about stating goals.  They didn't.  Expectations were always horribly vague, yet outcome would somehow be a miraculous success.  No detail is reason for concern.  Popular media often isn't interested.  They just want your attention for a few minutes.  Sadly, I got sucked into that with this particular article.


PHV Heating.  It's so refreshing getting back to questions about Prius operation, providing answers to ordinary consumers trying to figure out how the system works.  Hearing from those asking, without any engineering background, is great.  It's reward to provide responses too.  Today, it was about what happens when you request heat.  That knowledge of how heating occurs isn't easy to undercover and it often ends with assumptions based on anecdotal evidence.  So, I posted:  The influence of the fan on the EV range is nothing but a reminder that the heater will cause the engine to run more often.  That's it.  The battery-charge level doesn't change.  Confirming that is just a simple matter of watching SOC (battery charge-level) on an aftermarket gauge, like Torque or ScanGauge.  PiP does offer an advantage over the regular Prius as to when the engine starts back up.  The tolerance based on coolant temperature is variable rather than fixed.  That means a lower setting on the heater will keep the engine off longer.  You can clearly confirm that using an aftermarket gauge.  And yes, the A/C does indeed come on while the heater is running.  That's how dehumidifying is achieved when you press the DEFROST button for the front windshield.  It's a normal operation on vehicles most people aren't aware of until they wonder why MPG drops as the temperature drops.  For those who experience true Winter (that's when daily high temperatures remain below freezing), you can get the most out of the heater by monitoring coolant temperature.  There's no reason at all not to run the heater if the coolant is has been warmed.  Taking advantage of that waste engine heat is as simple as looking at a number on a gauge.  You'll know exactly when the engine is about to restart too. In the meantime, you can cruise along in EV without freezing.


Engineering Choices.  The big ones are made by management executives, not the actual engineers.  Their choices dictate what happens with the engineering.  This is why the next-gen Volt and its tie to Prius have been getting so much attention.  Would GM stand true to their original goal of delivering a 40-mile range?  If so, the cost of the vehicle would be reduced simply through their advancements related to battery engery-density.  The side-benefit of that would be reduced size, resulting in increased cabin-area... as well as reduced weight and reduced support hardware.  It was an opportunity we didn't know if GM actually would take, but hoped they would.  GM didn't.  Instead, the choice was to increase range and increase performance.  The executive decision was to compete with EV offerings, rather than go after ordinary consumers interested in a high-efficiency hybrid.  In other words, the answer to whether or not the new Volt would compete with Toyota PHV and Ford Energi is clear.  It wouldn't.  We went from a flurry of mixed messages over the years to extreme clarity.  At the same time, we just got a unveiling from Hyundai.  The upcoming next-gen hybrid system for Sonata would deliver increased passenger space and an estimate 39 MPG city / 44 MPG highway rating.  That will likely work out to a combined rating of 42 MPG.  The smaller Volt is expected to deliver 41 MPG following depletion.  That seems close enough for competing... until a Volt supporter points this out:  "I am pretty disappointed with the 2016 gas mileage given that the less aerodynamic Accord Hybrid which weighs a similar amount and largely copied the Volt's drivetrain gets 50 city and 45 highway."  Then when you consider the improvement the next-gen Prius is expected to deliver, it becomes more and more clear why GM gave up mainstream aspirations.  That hoped for high-volume sales soon has been abandoned.  Hey, at least we know now.  Makes you wonder what next step Honda will take with the plug-in Accord-Hybrid, eh?


Too Little, Too Slowly.  Remember that concern?  Remember why it came about?  There's a massive need to deliver clean & efficient choices for the masses.  Ordinary people have to purchase something.  Business profit must come from something.  Remember how the second-generation Volt was to fulfill the need?  It's an uncomfortable position not having any particular goal to look forward to.  There are even any mixed messages this time.  The outlook is grim.  Oddly, you'd think there would be cries for patience to wait for the price reveal.  But then again, having learned the lesson of silence is possible.  Who knows?  What we are certain of is that depleted efficiency was only modestly improved, that the legroom & headroom in back is still cramped, and that there is no fifth seat.  That makes us all wonder what comes next.  GM's focus away from mainstream consumers is a welcome sign for Ford & Toyota, the automakers who wish to target the high-volume profitable audience.  I had really hoped the next Volt would somehow change to address the same goals... instead of remaining in the niche category.  Oh well.  There isn't much that came be done anymore.  Buyers will be pleased.  The vehicle itself should perform well.  In fact, I suspect we'll get lots of excited reports from new owners.  Unfortunately, the problem will remain.  GM customers will continue to purchase traditional vehicles in large numbers.  We will be left waiting, again.  Wouldn't it be amazing though if cost could have somehow been reduced to such an extreme that the new Volt could be deliver in massive quantity?  Sadly, that doesn't look realistic yet.


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