Prius Personal Log  #715

September 11, 2015  -  September 23, 2015

Last Updated: Tues. 1/12/2016

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Upcoming Models.  Details are flooding in about the new Prius.  All the information is from other markets though.  Some isn't accurate either.  Nonetheless, it is still telling to review what's collected and get feedback.  Supposedly, there will be a regular model, an ECO model, and an AWD model.  Currently, the regular model gets a rating of 32.6 km/L on the Japanese testing.  Results come out more efficient than here, since the driving is so different.  Regardless, it still gives you a relatively good idea of improvements on the way.  We can consider the gen-4 a success simply by looking at the estimate for it on that same scale of 37 km/L.  That's certainly more than a 10 percent increase in efficiency.  The ECO model is expected to deliver 40 km/L.  Cool!  For the AWD model, the expectation is 35 km/L.  We don't know how that will translate to EPA measurements, how much it will cost, or even how it will be achieved.  It's still exciting though.  We hoped for the best and it looks like that is what we'll actually get.


11 Million.  As I was busy typing the previous entry, news broke about VW outside of the United States.  Until now, we only knew about the problem here and some vehicles in Australia.  The big unknown was about Europe.  Diesel is far more common there and Germany is the home of VW.  Did the cheat take place there too?  Turns out, the answer is yes.  The true number is uncertain, but the potential is for another 10.5 million.  Ouch!  How could any automaker deal with such a massive problem?  There is no easy fix.  Retrofitting a vehicle for urea treatment of emissions is complicated & expensive.  Owners won't like the loss of some truck space either.  The engine will almost certainly need to be retuned too.  To make matters worse, there are owners who collected tax-credit money for their diesel vehicle purchase.  How is that going to get paid back?  Stock value as dropped about one-third so far.  People are losing confidence.  What a mess.


Clean Diesel.  The response online has been explosive.  VW is in a world of hurt now and there are lots of opinions about the situation.  I decided to follow-up with more of my own:  We had to endure "clean" diesel spin for years.  They knew gas hybrids offered greater potential, yet the rhetoric continues on anyway.  Sadly, some has continued on even after being exposed for not being as clean as claimed.  We knew that the "clean" claim was misleading right from the start.  That simply meant it met minimum requirements.  Exceeding them, as the SULEV & PHEV rating indicate, was certainly not what "clean" diesel delivered.  It basically just made diesel vehicles like ordinary gas vehicles.  No one imagined the "clean" level wasn't achieved either.  What we want is significant improvement.  Watching Toyota push into new territory with gen-4 Prius should serve as inspiration for others, not result in more undermining.  That potential should be obvious.  Adding a plug to Prius pushes it far beyond what diesel could aspire to.  Even with the current 4.4 kWh battery-pack, there's no match with either efficiency or emissions... not even close.  Put simply, diesel shouldn't be used for passenger vehicles anymore, just like our effort with hybrids to end the production of traditional vehicles.  Offering viable hybrids is the key.  Keeping our air clean and relying less on oil is a big deal. Having learned there are some who don't share those values and caused harm on an epic scale should help us all take that next step.


VW Cheated.  To the amazement of everyone in the automotive industry, we found out yesterday that VW cheated on emission tests.  Apparently, special software was added to give false data.  No surprise to me, one of the biggest antagonists on the big Prius forum included this tidbit on his post about the topic: "It's not hybrid news..."  Since he thrives on debate, that was to be expected.  I took the bait too, since we're all going to jump in on this new revelation anyway:  Quite the opposite, this is huge positive news for hybrids.  We were attacked for many years by diesel supporters with claims of how much better the "clean" versions would be, making hybrids a pointless technology.  But as ULSD (Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel) rollout approached (required for "clean" diesel systems), the hybrid supporters noticed something was amiss with VW.  There was a massive over-supply of 2006 models, enough to last well into sales the following year.  This is my favorite quote from back then: "The Detroit Free Press reports that Volkswagen of America will drop the diesel versions of the Jetta, Golf and Beetle models from its USA line-up for the 2007 model year due to their inability to meet the new, incoming stricter emissions standards nationwide."  When the newer diesels finally did roll out, the MPG wasn't as good as hoped.  However, VW was somehow able to deliver "clean" without having used urea for emission cleansing.  Hybrid supporters were surprised by that, but too busy dealing with misleading MPG claims to follow up.  They saw reports on a regular basis that were blatant greenwashing attempts.  It was dishonest and nasty.  Now, all these years later, we find out VW never actually delivered what they claimed and owners of those "clean" diesels face the possibility of reduced MPG and reduced resale value.  This is an amazing new twist in automotive history.  The next round of emission regulations are on the way and one of the biggest opponents to hybrids cannot even meet the current level of clean required.  It explains that strangely cryptic announcement from VW the other day.  They provided a strong endorsement for plug-in vehicles, declaring they'd deliver 20 by 2020 but didn't include any detail.  The vague nature of such a bold new approach for them seemed odd... especially since we've heard so little about the current VW hybrid.  Now, for anyone who was suspicious about such an abrupt turn of attitude, there good reason to understand why.


Canada.  We have learned the gen-2 Volt rollout will be nationwide in Canada without any delay. What the heck?  Knowing GM's reputation for an ever-changing story and the business-blindness of supporters, I saw this as an chance to get up on the soapbox again: "I wish the management of GM was as outstanding as the engineers."  It's really unfortunate how long it takes (many years) for some people to realize what the situation truly is.  Ugh.  I posted:  The engineering aspect of Volt simply worked, there was nothing to prove after gen-1 got rolling.  So, everyone shifted focus over to the business aspect.  That's why the 60K goal ended up getting so much attention.  There was not clarity of purpose though.  GM didn't really now how to promote Volt.  Opportunity was being lost.  That's how the animosity for the other plug-in hybrids came about.  Now with gen-2, that same feeling of business uncertainty and time slipping away is emerging.  It wouldn't be much of a concern if intent was to join in as part of the movement toward plugging in, becoming one of the many choices helping to end the reign of traditional vehicles.  We see Toyota, Ford, BMW, and Mitsubishi already making progress with plug-in hybrids.  There's Honda and VW striving for that as well.  Then on the plug-only side, we've got Nissan and Tesla well ahead of everyone else, with GM intending to become a big player too.  That's why the positioning gen-2 Volt keeps getting questioned.  What is it?  Getting grief on a regular basis for asking how the approach has changed for gen-2 is getting old already.  It's pretty clear there's growing frustration and I'm one of those easy to target as a scapegoat.  What a waste.  Finding clarity of what GM's goals are as early as possible will be greatly beneficial to everyone.  Let's focus on that.  The EV club I'm part of is very welcoming to anyone providing support for the shift to electricity.  Any type of plugging in represents a huge step forward. It doesn't matter how the battery cells are used, just as long as there's success in making the production high-volume.  That's where the major cost-reduction comes from.  Lowering the price is key.  We all know that extremely well.  The plug-in hybrids with smaller packs come with a lower premium and don't require anything beyond an ordinary household plug.  The plug-only vehicles require a large premium up front and require at least level-2 connection for plugging.  So, it tends to make sense that GM made the business decision to position gen-2 Volt right in the middle, striking a balance between the other choices.  Reality is though, the market is not that sensible.  Purchase decisions (here in the United States, anyway) have been far from logical and in no way balanced.  That's how we ended up with so many grossly oversized & overpowered guzzlers on the road.  That's also why it is so important to find out what the intent with gen-2 Volt is now, before the market gets really messy when the other gen-2 offerings become available.  What is the next step?


The Point.  Knowing reveals were on the way at the upcoming autoshow in Frankfurt soon, there was good reason to push.  Jumping back into the fire on that daily blog revealed a chaotic mess.  There is still no clear purpose for gen-2 Volt.  In other words, who will it be marketed to?  There's a huge difference between the way you'd go about attracting those considering a traditional car verses trying to appeal to an EV shopper.  Yet, the group still hasn't addressed that.  Some see Prius as a threat, since supposedly that's who GM targeted... which seems sensible, until you realize they are discussing the regular model, not the plug-in.  Huh?  Others see the Volt approach as the "range anxiety" solution, meaning those specifically interested in purchasing an EV but concerned about range are the target... which seems reckless, knowing that leaves it as a niche, not able to sell profitably in high-volume simply because the audience is too small.  A poster summed up the situation this way: "People don’t want to hear things that contradict their beliefs."  That explains the lack of any agreement and wildly confusing messages.  Wasn't the point to replace traditional vehicles?  We were told Volt would out Prius the Prius.  That would require it to share the same goal.  It obviously didn't happen with gen-1 and now gen-2 looks the same way.  The reason is simple... Frankfurt.  More announcements of plug-in offerings were indeed made.  In fact, VW declared they'd deliver 20 different plug-in choices by 2020.  Pretty much all the automakers have battery plans of some sort now.  They all know the instability in the oil prices and increasingly strict emission standards will be increasing the pressure to deliver cleaner more efficient vehicles.  That, combined with growing consumer-confidence in the technology, means demand will grow for choices with a battery-pack.  It's impossible to ignore now.  Change is coming.  Wishy-Washy isn't good start for gen-2.  That's why Volt is already in a difficult situation.  You don't want a limited audience with so many other choices on the way.  Prius will be a major player.  Next year is going to really exciting.


The Lookback.  It's hard to believe the dialog lasted for so long.  Many give up after the daily blog has run for a day.  We kept at it for a week.  I re-read the posts.  This is what stood out, worthy of further comment: "For the Volt community who gave feedback. You know, the customer base. Crazy isn't it?"  Looking back, that's my favorite quote... a response to the who question.  It's confirmation of GM not focusing on ordinary consumers for gen-2, coming from one of the most obstinate of enthusiasts no less.  Rather than show any concern about showroom sales being lost to popular GM vehicles like Malibu, Cruze, and Equinox, just stay focused solely those already in the group showing support.  Abandon hope of market-expansion for the sake of pleasing existing interest.  Yes, that is crazy.  We've been through RANGE ANXIETY, watching Nissan and Tesla overcome concern.  We've been through VASTLY SUPERIOR, watching loyalty vanish as leases expire.  We've been through BE PATIENT, watching disappointment as gen-2 details emerge.  Wasn't the point to actually sell Volt in large quantity to ordinary consumers, those who would otherwise just purchase a traditional GM vehicle?


VW Plug-In Announcement.  This is a rather unexpected twist.  VW just announced that they'd be delivering 20 plug-in vehicles by 2020.  Amusingly, I took that literally as just 20 total, not the count of models.  Knowing that their hybrid went nowhere, adding a plug makes sense.  It wasn't too much of a surprise that Jetta hybrid was almost dead upon arrival.  Delivering 170 hp, the expectation was never for it to be competitive with Prius on term of MPG... which meant their own diesel sales wouldn't be harmed either, especially with a price of close of $2,000 more.  Also, note that it requires premium gas.  As for the announcement, very little was actually revealed.  That makes you wonder how they'll actually meet such a short schedule.  Most likely, there is something close to production, beyond the concepts they've been toying with.  After all, plugging in has been growing as an appeal factor.  People are beginning to understand how that can help hybrids.  Obviously, there will be a few EVs coming.  VW already has that option for Golf.  No detail is my concern.  Vague has always been a problem.  Cost is the other big issue.  None of whatever is on the way will be affordable.  That takes generations of refinements to achieve competitive pricing... just ask GM.  Regardless, it is an endorsement for plugging in.  That's a huge step forward away from guzzling gas and dirty diesel.  My lifetime average for the 2012 Prius PHV is 72.9 MPG, with just a 4.4 kWh battery.  Much potential awaits.  Too bad we still have to wait.  Nonetheless, it's progress having VW join in.


The End.  It's rather captivating to watch things fall apart.  That's mostly because so much of it was predicted, shared, and denied.  You cannot help but to wonder how they'll respond later.  After realizing the same mistake were repeated, it will be a difficult situation.  Or will it?  Whatever the case, expectations were not met.  The rest of us could see it coming.  Oh well.  It's not as if the wasn't a major effort to point out the concerns.  Now, it's just pointing out the unanswered questions and summing up:  That's horrible.  A bunch of gassers?  What about the future?  Where is their leadership?  Their vision?  Who is the market?  Typical.  Do whatever it takes to avoid real-world data.  Reality is, consumers won't have a clue nor will they care.  They'll focus on facts… like price, size, and MPG.  Prius is competitively priced, offers midsize seating with a large cargo area, and delivers MPG well above other hybrids.  And reality is, looking at the entire fleet, that saves far more gas overall than Volt.  Dismiss, ignore, insult all you like, but it won't change the reality that mine is currently delivering 111 MPG (average as of 512 miles).  Leadership is finding a way to reach ordinary consumers.  That's the future, their vision, and the market.  Volt can continue being a specialty vehicle, targeted at EV buyers instead.  That is GM's choice.  Many had expected gen-2 to be different.


The Reality.  The stubborn and thoughtless replies kept coming, so I continued to let them have it:  Reality is, the system in Volt was derived from Two-Mode.  There's a blog on this website explaining the evolution in great detail.  We even saw prototypes of that system with a plug, before Volt.  GM has been working on high-efficiency design for much longer than you want to admit.  As for cost-reduction, the simple choice GM decided against was to keep EV capacity as is.  The resulting smaller battery-pack would have delivered a vehicle with a higher efficiency (due to less weight) and increased interior space, as well as reduced cost.  Instead, we are getting a gen-2 that will allow Malibu, Cruze, and Equinox sales to continue to dominate for years to come.


The Shortcomings.  Being unreceptive and knowing the end is coming, there's no reason not to stay on the soapbox:  Back when Honda rolled out Insight, they knew it was too small and too expensive to become a competitor of any sort.  Only 2 seats wasn't realistic.  An all-aluminum body wasn't realistic.  Yet, they continued on anyway knowing the lesson it could teach would be valuable.  This group here had that same attitude about gen-1 Volt.  They absolutely insisted we wait patiently for gen-2 Volt to address the shortcomings that were revealed & confirmed along the way.  GM didn't address them though.  50 MPG.  More leg & head room in back.  MSRP below $30k.  All of them remain shortcomings, goals requested but not fulfilled.  Instead, range & power were increased.  For who?  That wasn't the lesson taught.  Volt is still too small and too expensive.  Why?


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