Prius Personal Log  #703

April 5, 2015  -  April 17, 2015

 Last Updated: Sun. 7/26/2015

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Understanding Failure.  Today there was a special on NPR discussing how failure is perceived.  The well-informed understand it to be a natural process of learning.  You try something, the outcome isn't as expected, you note details of the circumstances to learn from that experience, then move on.  It's no big deal.  In fact, there isn't even a penalty if the goal was to eliminate uncertainty.  That scientific approach is a well-proven method.  It doesn't work with business though.  Too much emphasis has been placed on getting a product perfect first try.  Failure in that regard is heavily stigmatized and often comes with heavy penalty.  That's why Volt was doomed from the start.  Asking for goals confirmed the expectation of getting it right or losing everything.  They didn't leave room for learning.  That's why when it was first rolled out, attention was immediately diverted to the next-gen.  There was a state of panic.  Too much had been gambled on that initial offering.  That's why talk of a second model was fought against so much too.  The stigma of having to admit "failure" was, in the mind of enthusiasts, an admission of being wrong.  Accepting the circumstances and acknowledging what was needed next was totally unacceptable.  It was all or none.  That absolute meant success was impossible.  The business environment doesn't work that way.  No one vehicle is perfect for everyone... hence so many different models of HSD from Toyota.  That's also why the plug-in model was a limited rollout with a configuration different in Europe than here in the United States.  Toyota would use it as a learning platform, rather than betting the farm on it being a "game changer" like GM did with Volt.  The arrogance from all that "vastly superior" chest-pounding did a lot of harm.  Volt supporters, those who genuinely wanted success, were embarrassed by the enthusiast behavior and quite willing to learn then move on.  That's how we got to January of this year.  They were the ones who sincerely hoped GM would swallow its pride as they did and adapt to match market need, rather than continue to cater to want.  Unexpectedly, GM ended up doing both.  The announcement in January started out underwhelming, then turned to disappointment.  That next-gen Volt was well short of expectations.  But to everyone's surprise, GM would also be rolling out a hybrid based upon the same "technology" as Volt.  Realistically, it is that second model, initially without a plug though.  That diversification is a major victory for pretty much everyone... especially those of us who endorsed Toyota & Ford from the very beginning for their FULL hybrids.  The failure was GM not following suit from the start.  That's ok.  Even though they made a mess of the market and confused the heck out of consumers by misrepresenting a niche vehicle as a mainstream choice, the technology did indeed work.  It just didn't serve the needed audience.  That's well understood now.  Just thing what things could have been like if that had been learned sooner.  Oh well.  The saying "better late, than never" is a more constructive way of saying "too little, too slowly".


The Next Prius.  It's nice to see a return of priorities.  The media gobbled up every bit of Volt propaganda the various sources available could stir.  Very few ever wanted to address what was actually important.  Thankfully, Toyota always stayed true.  Another article published that today with: "The new Prius will be the first tangible result of Toyota New Global Architecture, or TNGA, which Toyoda bills as a rethink of the company's business model.  Multiple vehicles will share common underpinnings and components..."  They ever stated the goal of cutting cost 20 to 30 percent.  That's a really, really big deal.  Achieving profitable high-volume sales absolutely demands it.  There's also the expectation of delivering improved efficiency.  The promise of about 15 percent is still sounding realistic.  Yeah!  The stakes have never been larger.  Oil supply is up dramatically, causing prices to be pushed well below levels able to support alternatives.  Expensive gas is no more.  That makes selling the idea of high-efficiency an even greater challenge.  It's become a nightmare for dealing with emissions.  What incentive is there for the typical person to even care?  Guzzling is simply too easy.  That's why raising the low-end is so incredibly important now.  We must find a way to wind down traditional vehicle production.  That means delivering a clean & efficient choice which is truly competitive.  Prius is the best hope for leading that wave of change for the masses.


Getting Interesting.  This opening line from an article published today certainly caught my attention: "When the history books are written about Barack Obama's tenure as commander in chief, the Chevrolet Volt will doubtless be remembered as the most important car of his presidency."  It was an obvious attempt to make sure the president was directly associated with the failure of Volt to become a mainstream vehicle.  It was frustrating to read.  The reason was simple.  It was cherry-picking.  Not a single mention was made about Tesla.  That's an American success story to make us proud, which happened during his presidency too.  Yet, there was no mention whatsoever about it.  Watching Volt fall apart is really getting interesting.  We knew GM absolutely had to do something, to finally rollout something competitive.  Finding out the next-gen Volt wouldn't be it, obviously there would have to be another vehicle instead.  With all the attention the upcoming hybrid model of Malibu is now getting, some form of closure for Volt was inevitable.  Recasting it as a niche moving on is a wise move.  It was too small and too expensive.  No amount of promotion will get around that.  So, we are now seeing attempts to deal with the outcome.  It's finally over.


Gross Oversimplification.  The very constructive question of why Malibu-hybrid is more efficient than Volt after depletion has begun a popular discussion topic.  But since the Volt enthusiasts made great efforts to stigmatize Prius and undermine design information sharing, their own group is now suffering from an understanding of how MPG efficiency is actually achieved.  Remember how hostile posts became when the "direct" issue came up?  All throughout the design phase, Volt enthusiasts touted EV purity, how their vehicle of choice would never send power from the engine directly to the wheels.  In other words, they assumed a SERIES hybrid was the best approach... despite all the evidence to the contrary.  Conversion losses were outright dismissed.  Then they found out there was direct energy transfer after all, that it was too inefficient to convert from mechanical to electrical.  So, they downplayed as much as possible... which meant suppressing all information to that effect.  Now, finding out the next-gen Volt will blend even more, they are really at a loss.  All that time wasted.  Opportunity lost.  The "vastly superior" nonsense really caused quite a setback... for GM anyway.  It actually ended up opening up the market for the other automakers.  They fumbled, the others took advantage of that mistake.  Anywho, they are now trying to overcome that loss: "Its simple, the Malibu does not have to convert to electricity which is then sent to the wheels.  Hence it does not experience two levels of loss, the first being gasoline into electrical put into the battery and the lost coming back and being converted into movement."  Clearly, that's not going well.  That quote from a discussion on the Volt forum was followed by this: "But if you don't get that, think of it this way: Simply put – the Malibu is optimized to run on gasoline – the Volt is optimized to run on electricity."  That's so horribly vague, it could mean anything.  It's not correct either.  They've created their own misconception & assumption trap.  Oh well.  It's not like they weren't warned.


Aftermath.  It has been almost 3 weeks since that surprise announcement from GM... the one that was always the deepest fear of those who evangelized Volt.  That group of enthusiasts who absolutely hated the idea of impurity, but kept changing definitions & goals to prevent people from drawing the conclusion of failure, was always angered when anyone brought up the idea of basically exactly what happened.  It was a fear of blending.  Mixing gas & electricity to achieve reduced emissions & consumption was unacceptable.  The vehicle must be an EV until the entire plug-in electricity capacity had first been consumed.  Embracing a no-plug hybrid which strived to deliver high-efficiency cleanly was unacceptable, period.  That made it quite clear a vehicle adding a plug to that system was unacceptable as well.  They declared that the enemy, the competition to fight... not traditional vehicles.  Problem was, it wasn't their choice to make.  GM's customers were always clearly identified.  That's why I kept asking "Who?"  Any answer other than what GM itself had identified was unacceptable, period.  They'd attack me for pointing that out... even though I had nothing to do with any of it.  GM's customers were defined by who was coming to dealers and purchasing GM vehicles, period.  Denial has consequences.  The aftermath of a disastrous reality shock is quite obvious now.  Their adaptation of the old motto to: "If it is built, they will buy it." proved horribly inaccurate.  Not wanting to accept the voices of reason is their own tragic mistake.  I'm thrilled GM finally took the steps needed to deal with the mess it had created by enabling a group of enthusiasts with the hope of a miraculous product acceptance... even though it clearly didn't match purchase priorities of their own well known customers.  Oh well.  It's live & learn for the automaker.  As for the enthusiasts, their effort to shot the messengers backfired.  Now, they have to deal with the outcome.


Replenishing EV.  Taking a quick trip up north, I wanted to save EV capacity for when I'd be doing short drives, since I wouldn't be plugging in.  That meant it would be worthwhile to take advantage of the HV/EV button.  It's easy enough to switch over to HV to prevent depletion.  The trick though is switching back to EV when there's an opportunity to replenish.  When you're in EV mode, the recharge from deceleration is "marked" for use as EV driving.  Switching back to HV right away will save it.  That same recharge wouldn't be saved if you were still in HV.  The system would used it immediately, bringing the SOC (state-of-charge) back to where it was when you first switched to HV mode.  In other words, it remembers the SOC when you left EV mode and works to retain that level.  The rise can be quite significant if you have a long hill to descend or have to brake from high-speeds often.  Using up the electricity right away is how MPG is boosted.  So normally, you'd want to take advantage of that design.  But when you know you'll be unable to plug in for a few days, you want to save it.  Unfortunately, it's easy to forget.  I did this morning.  It wasn't until I was cruising along at 60 mph that I realized the engine was still off from the intersection I had left awhile back.  That used up 10% of the overall SOC available.  Bummer.  It's great being able to accelerate up to that speed while mixed in traffic without even noticing, but for me it meant less EV for later.  In my circumstance, there's a recreation building just 0.7 miles away.  Driving to & from it without having to start up the engine is nice.  Oh well.  More electricity would be nice, but I'll likely have enough capacity for my long weekend getaway anyway.


62 MPG.  I used only 2 miles of EV capacity and drove a total of 187 miles.  It was my opportunity to briefly escape up north for a few days of rest.  Being able to get that kind of MPG without needing to use the plug-supplied electricity is great... especially since there is no where to plug in later.  Of course, I don't care.  It's my time to rest.  Attempting to sell 2 homes and buy another inside of just 6 months is a major effort.  Any type of rest is great.  I'm so thankful for the large cargo area the Prius provides.  I've done so many trips hauling stuff back & forth, my head is spinning.  It will be worth it though.  I'll get to enjoy Summer at this rate.  Yeah!


Stop Gap.  There's nothing to gain from posting on the Volt blog anymore.  It's just a republish of what's on the parent-site anyway.  The sacrifices made for the sake of EV range are simply too much.  That lesson has already been learned by GM.  Following the automakers with a smaller range and more efficient blending is what will appeal to consumers in large quantity.  Know your audience.  This post in its entirety highlights the situation well:  "If everything goes Voltec and they end up discontinuing the Volt, that would be great!  But I don't think hybrids and weak PHEVs will get us there.  Efficiency helps, but it's just a stop-gap – a Band-Aid for the real problem.  We need alternatives to oil.  And that's what the Volt does.  Most of the Volt's miles are electric.  We need more cars like that."  Notice how incredibly vague that is, how it doesn't actually address specific goals?  What is the point of alternatives?  He's one of those who couldn't care less about the source of electricity or its cost.  The penalty of substituting one type of guzzler for another is a real problem.  That's unfortunate.  It is ironic that he's using "stop gap" as the label for attempting to undermine.  That's what GM used in the past and what EV supporters use now.  Also, notice his use of "weak" to demean?  What would stronger achieve?  Isn't anything using a combustion engine at all his true issue?  Where is the gap?


Choices.  There is growing hope.  The market barrier Volt had been is fading away.  Vastly superior?  Certainly not!  It reminds me of DIVX, when it messed up the DVD market.  Most people have no clue it even existed, no idea there was a rental-disc format that had been introduced for the home-movie market that ended up causing major rollout disruption... then, abruptly disappeared.  Volt will be more than just a footnote in history, but it did indeed mess up the automotive market.  Was there much harm done though?  That's an interesting question.  GM paid dearly.  But the other automakers found a way to take advantage of the fallout.  They made it into an opportunity, despite what the antagonist spin would leave you to believe.  This is proof of the changes being recognized: "I have to admit I am getting concerned for the Volt.  In another 18 months, the Bolt will be available, and for many this may be preferable, especially as a second car.  Next we have this new Malibu.  It has great styling, is relatively spacious, and the hybrid gets 47 mpg combined.  ...  For probably about the same price as a Volt, I can get a Malibu Hybrid.  And with this I probably get more passenger room, a true 5th seat, power seats, and less mileage impact from cold weather.  Choices, choices."  Knowing who, I call that hope.  The market is opening up.  Choice is very important.


New Attacks.  The new "borrowed technology from Volt" marketing is really frustrating one particular EREV pusher.  His arbitrary criteria to differentiate it from PHEV has been falling apart lately, as a direct result this sales approach twist.  I find it amusing, since Prius was designed with plugging in from the start, but wasn't offered that way until recently due to lithium density & cost.  He was one of the antagonists who refused to acknowledge that, insisting the plug was an after-the-fact scramble to compete with Volt.  Anyway, it turns out he's simply against all vehicles offering less than a 40-mile capacity... which explains his near hostile responses at times when the topic of a second affordable model of Volt be offered in the past and his attempts to undermine now:  "Anyone who expects the Malibu Hybrid to ride like a Volt in range extended more will be sorely disappointed.  The Volt's smooth EV ride requires a significant amount electrical power (kW) which the smaller battery pack in the Malibu Hybrid just doesn’t have."  That quote really caught my attention.  There isn't a reasonable explanation for any difference.  Depleted operation is hybrid mode.  If Malibu is using borrowed technology and the Volt battery is drained to the same level, what would cause smoothness to vary?


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