Prius Personal Log  #708

June 7, 2015  -  June 19, 2015

 Last Updated: Sat. 3/26/2016

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Gasp!  The word "dismay" is only way to describe the following: "Who could have possibly imagined ten years ago that the CUV would do so much damage to compact and mid-sized cars?"  It's hard to believe that level of naive could have existed, now.  Back then, people were clueless... despite the encourage to guzzle was obvious.  Heck, back in 2001 my Prius was featured in a auto show at work.  There was a wide variety of vehicles, from classic to hybrid.  In that mix was a new category of vehicle called "crossover".  That was the new type of SUV, one that was less truck and more car.  It's what is now called a CUV... replacing the S for "sport" with C for "crossover".  That was 14 years ago.  It was very clear to see the damage about to come.  Automakers were heavily pushing that new category, since it reduced consumption without having to sacrifice much.  Unfortunately, what started out as small and less powerful didn't last long.  Everything grew and became more powerful.  The result all these years later is the belief that 30 MPG is doing your part to use less gas.  Ugh.  The hope of 40 MPG averages by 2010 became a long, lost dream.  That's why selling a 50 MPG has been such a challenge.  People in this market have a "good enough" attitude and only now are waking up to the obvious.  The rest of us imagined this increasingly difficult situation ten years ago.


Unity.  It's a very real problem that some still don't take seriously.  How many times do we have to see the same thing play out before they finally see it too?  It just gets dismissed as something not to be concerned about.  Not learning from history means you've got a good chance of repeating those very same mistakes.  Ugh.  Oh well, all we can do is try to point out the problem:  Lack of any sort of unified message from Volt supporters led to a number of problems with its rollout.  That raised a warning flag, which Toyota acknowledged by delaying their plans.  Why would we expect any type of market expansion for any of the variety of plug-in vehicles to succeed when face with such unity failure?  No agreement on usage of public chargers sends a bad message.  And that's just one of many problems.  Thankfully, most consumers have no clue what's happened so far, nor do they care.  But having faced some of the hate firsthand and struggling to get early-adopters of the past to move on makes the need quite clear.  Progress will not be possible until we all finally work toward a single goal.  Seeing that, they'll get the message.  Fortunately, I'm part of a local plug-in owners group who doesn't hold resentment or place blame for mixed messages of the past.  They all have the same purpose... to get vehicles electrified.  So, even though I drive a car with the smallest plug-in battery-pack and a gas engine, I'm still using electricity.  I'm also providing an endorsement for lithium.  So, they're happy to share a charger.  They see how starting small will contribute to a much larger impact.  They realize how important it is to reach a wide audience quickly too.  Quarreling amongst ourselves will not accomplish that.  I've been told my encounters with "unfriendly" supporters have only involved a few individuals who are best to just ignore.  Those of us with lots of online experience know all too well that isn't an effective solution.  Choosing to disregard a problem doesn't make it go away.  In fact, that's a terrible solution... since it can often backfire.  We need to settle differences here & now.  We are the people of influence.  We can take agreed upon suggestions and actually make them happen.  We're the vehicles of change, not what we drive.


Looking Back.  The spin of history as a new chapter is about to begin is inevitable.  People look back with a very, very different perspective.  Already knowing the outcome of the previous chapter prevents a good understanding of how motived people were from the uncertainty.  Seemingly logical decisions were sometimes wild guesses and tremedous risk, others were based on lack of information and fear.  That rarely gets acknowledged looking back.  In fact, many have no idea after the fact.  Not having participated in that history firsthand means a great deal of study is required to share sentiment with those who did.  That rarely happens though.  It's common for forum members to only know of past dealings based solely upon recent posts.  Blogs like this, which were written as the history was unfolding rather than long afterward, offer a very very different perspective.  Long story short, it's extremely difficult to look back.  That's why this statement made today was so troubling: "Others think the Volt is too much, too early."  It offered nothing else, just that generic assessment without anything to actually support it.  Ugh.  All I could to was say:  That's why the WHO question was asked over and over and over again.  Who are those others?  GM did indeed set a target for mainstream sales.  It was for the end of the second year.  By then, the plan was to grow beyond those sales of 60,000 annual to take advantage of their 120,000 annual production capacity available at that point.  Knowing who they intended to sell to was obviously important information... which was evaded over and over and over again.  The daily blog for Volt was the center of attention.  They were who.  GM took advantage of that resource, continuously feeding it to draw more attention to Volt.  It started out as supporters there, a group who I thought could be an ally in the quest to end the reign of traditional vehicles.  Sadly, they transformed to enthusiasts who declared Volt as "vastly superior".  They spoke out against plug-in hybrids and EVs, coining the EREV label to distinguish their preferred design.  That fell apart though, as other automaker offerings fit the same definition and Volt sales struggled.  It's what brings us to the "too much, too early" assessment.  GM clearly over-engineered the first Volt.  In fact, that's fundamentally why those enthusiasts felt it was superior.  Unfortunately, that too much resulted in business problems.  There wasn't a market to actually sell it to.  That extra made it too expensive.  Only early adopters bought it, taking advantage of bargain leases, the tax-credit, and HOV privileges.  As for the too early part, that's why the same questions are being asked again about the next-gen Volt... specifically, who?  In the past, both the enthusiasts as well as GM itself spoke out against small capacity battery offerings and electric-only vehicles.  Volt was the solution for all. An increase in EV range, combined with a more efficient engine and a much lower production cost, would fulfill business need to reach the masses.  That would supposedly achieve those mainstream sales... which begs the question, will it?  I see the next plug-in Prius as targeted to reach ordinary consumers.  Toyota's choice to keep the battery-capacity on the smaller side (to avoid space & cost compromise) and the choice to take advantage of blending will make it more appealing.  It's easy to see the MPG boost the plug provides.  It's still very much a Prius after depletion.  Full recharging with just a 120-volt connection isn't an overnight process.  That sounds like just the right amount at just the right time.  We know the details of Gen-2 Volt.  We know the price too.  With ever increasing competition and the looming subsidy expiration, what should we expect?


Third Generation.  Wild spin about the distant future is emerging already.  That's not a good sign.  Ever since the first plug-in rolled out, the anticipated target battery cost for mass acceptance was $200 per kWh.  The primary reason for this is the high-cost for the second-generation Volt.  It will continue the dependency on tax-credit money to assist with sales, a trait hoped to have been eliminated by the time rollout began.  Much of that was the hope of cost having come close to $200.  Abruptly having changed that number of $100 is yet another example of moving goal posts.  That cliché describes the behavior of enthusiasts all too well.  When their hope turned to disappointing outcome, they just change their expectation.  That's not the slightest bit constructive, yet we see it all the time.  It often comes in the form of cheerleading, like: "Just in time for a 3rd gen Volt! :) "  It was surprised to witness such behavior already.  But then again, we all know GM will be diversifying as a result of the decision to keep Volt a niche.  Mainstream high-efficiency sales will come from the Malibu hybrid or a Chevy model using their PHEV configuration.  The so-called EREV configuration quite simply isn't competitive.  I sounded off with:  It won't matter.  Volt is no longer Volt already.  An affordable choice for the masses will likely be something else anyway.  Go over to the daily blog.  Yet again, they are changing definitions & goals.  Those changes have skewed the vehicle called "Volt" so far from the original intent, what difference does it make what comes out next?  By the way, that's why there is still some resentment for Prius.  Toyota has stayed true to purpose.  Thankfully, the pointless chest-pounding is fading away.  Business reality is helping to bring about plug-in cooperation.  In other words, market need is finally being addressed.  In fact, we're seeing that here now with more constructive discussion.  The magic "$100 per kWh" target will open up a wide range of battery configuration opportunity.  It won't be possible to declare "vastly superior".  There will be a variety of choices for a variety of buyers.


Prius Prime.  What an intriguing situation.  Back in November 2008, the top online supporters of Prius were tossing around identifiers, trying to come up with universal labels for the various generations.  It was that discussion which ultimately led to coming up with "Iconic Prius", a term now formally associated with the second-generation Prius.  I was thrilled that a close online friend had suggested that and to have been part of the brainstorming process.  My suggestion was "Prius Prime".  It didn't appeal to many.  Oh well.  That was ok.  After all, I was the very first person to ever use "stealth mode" as a specific label to identify the electric-only operation of Prius and my frequent promotion of it following that led to its mass adoption.  It became the term now used universally throughout Prius discussions.  Who knew a comment made way back in 2000 could have had such results?  You never really know how what kind impact constructive contributions will have.  That's why it's so exciting for our shared effort to find a name ultimately having this as an outcome...  Toyota just Toyota registered the trademark "Prius Prime".  Apparently, they are pursuing the official use of that term for something within their upcoming product-line.  Who knew that brainstorming session would stumble across something useful for later!  We were collaborating, to coin a label for the benefit of future owners.  After all, that group did a great deal to promote the third-generation design.  The 2010 rollout did well with our contributions.  Many endorsements from owners go a long way, often more effective than any type of advertising or promotion an automaker can provide.  We provide observations & advice.  In this case, I got to provide an official name.  Sweet!


2016 Volt Specifications.  It was fascinating to read this today: "GM has quietly updated the 2016 Volt specs.  Old: 41 mpg combined, 102 MPGe EV.  New: 43 mpg combined, 106 MPGe EV."  That's well below expectations.  Should we expect another few years of fallout and backpedaling as a result?  I'm not the slightest bit surprised.  If cost-reduction had been taken seriously, advances in efficiency would be a natural tradeoff.  Increasing expense doesn't make sense.  Smaller improvement is realistic... which appears to be exactly what happened.  I responded to the next this way:  With such modest improvements... well below what had been hoped... the lack of fanfare is no surprised.  Enthusiasts had anticipated a revelatory leap forward; instead, they got evolutionary... which is what "next generation" was always intended to represent.  I'm glad the craziness is over and we can all join in as a plug-in team.  The "vastly superior" nonsense really had a negative effect on the overall effort to end the reign of traditional vehicles.  Sadly, this outcome had been predicted many years ago, when the "too little, too slowly" concern was first made.  Finally having reached a state of closure is quite nice.  I'm looking forward to more plug-in events.  The looking down upon Prius PHV was counter-productive.  Now there can be a variety of approaches and a recognition of how diverse the market really is.  The more-is-better mindset has proven ineffective.


Progress!  We got a sensible question today: "Why leave untapped market to competitors when you do have available stock?"  I was thrilled to reply:  Hooray!  An economics 201 question.  That's real progress.  :)  Unbalance can work against a leader.  When you're too far ahead, competitors will fight you rather than collaborate.  Toyota wants the others to join in.  It's a win-win situation, but requires a wait period for the leader.  That works out nice, since the R&D effort never ceases.  We've seen this many, many times in the computer industry.  The automotive industry is only now discovering the potential.


More Is Better.  Sharing of owner experiences like this seem innocent enough: "Cool story bro. I did like 6 different errands yesterday and drove 67 miles all electric without charging once.  Still had 17% of charge left, and this with going 75 mph on freeways and hard acceleration."  But when you back up and look at overall context, you'll see the reoccurring them of more being better.  Vehicles with smaller battery-packs are being shunned, even though they are contributing to the larger effort of endorsing the plug.  We don't want packs so big only the elite can afford them.  That's why I stand behind Prius so strongly.  Toyota chose to make the most out of the least.  The attitude of guzzling electricity is not good in the long run.  You want motors that are efficient.  Smaller systems strive to deliver that.  Simply increasing capacity is not a solution.  Increasing the depth-of-discharge isn't either.  Yet, things like that are rarely ever mentioned.  Notice how KWH is pretty much never included in posts.  It's the same type of nonsense we dealt with from GALLONS being misrepresented by MPG.  Does an increase in MILES really make a difference when your commute is short and you live close to town?  What's the point of more?  For that matter, why carry an engine if you try to avoid ever using it?  The true competition will continue to dominate until those questions are addressed.  I put it this way:  Good example of how the market is not ready.  Whether intended our not, the continued "more is better" message about plug-in capacity is a clear sign that the spirit of cooperation to compete against traditional vehicles is not there yet.


Reality.  It comes crashing down on some.  I like to take advantage of the opportunity to make sure they understand the situation.  This was such a case:  I see frustration & denial from those who wanted Toyota to push the market into submission, rather than sticking to sound business decisions.  We all know that the rollout of Volt turned into a disaster.  GM's attempt to deliver a mainstream vehicle (selling at a rate of 5,000 per month by the 3 year of sales) will be major example of what not to do for decades to come.  The warning signs were abundant, yet hope clouded judgment.  Toyota clearly saw what was going on, that consumers just plain were not ready yet.  Toyota also saw the inner-conflicts, where other plug-in supporters couldn't even agree on what & how to endorse.  Toyota knew gas prices would be pushed lower and lower due to all the effort among oil suppliers to increase scope & volume.  Toyota knew the expiration NiMH patents would end up stirring the market in an unpredictable way.  Toyota knew the dependency on tax-credit subsidies and HOV privileges was very risky. As for claims of belief & direction, those are easy to spin.  The facts about gas prices, oil supply, battery patents, and dependency risk are not.  There's also the reality of CAFE and EMISSION standards.  Any automaker can rollout a token technology.  Changing their overall fleet is an entirely different matter.


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