Prius Personal Log #723
December 23, 2015 - January 1, 2016
Last Updated: Tues. 6/27/2017
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39 MPG. Today was nothing but driving. We traveled over 700 miles. Much of that was straight west over roads with very few hills and very few curves. Specifically, the drive was from the eastern side of Minnesota, clear through the entire state of South Dakota, over to a remote town in the eastern side of Wyoming. After leaving the state, the speed-limit increased from 70 to 80 mph. Maintaining a cruise at 80 mph for hours on end isn't something I've ever done before in the Prius. Of course, we couldn't do it today either. But on the way back, that might be possible. Heading west means driving on the north side of the highway. They don't plow in South Dakota. There's no sanding or salting either. That means the snow blowing from the north over the road gets smashed down into the pavement. Over time, that builds up ice. Slowing down to 70 is the best you can do without over-braking. The small patches appear randomly and far apart. You can go a long way without encountering one. Then suddenly... you have to glide over it. Surprisingly, that's actually safe. Most are very short. Anywho, I watched the efficiency average drop. With temperatures around freezing while traveling at that speed, the 39 MPG average was rather impressive.
Observations, look forward. That basically killed the discussion. Posts wandered, totally off-topic. There was a solitary response to my post. It started with the typical "no free lunch" rebuttal. That's a dead-giveaway the person didn't take the time to actually consider what had been posted. Focusing on absolutes doesn't accomplish anything. What extreme ever represents an expectation or even a goal? I ignored that and waited until this morning to respond. I quoted this part: "Obviously engineers of some vehicles decided that active liquid cooling for their batteries and electronics was worth the weight. Forced air cooling would likely require even more power, more room, and not capable of the same level of performance." It was worth bothering with the "always" part in the first part of his post. My comments were: Not requiring extensive cooling is the goal. Decisions of the past were based upon technologies of the past. Look forward now. Notice what the computer industry did over time? They too had battery & heat issues. Designing more efficient processors and optimizing software reduced the power-consumption, which in turn reduced waste in the form of heat. As much as people here hate to consider Prius, you have to admit Toyota did its homework. The inverter/booster was made more efficient over the generations. The unit itself underwent major revisions, including size & voltage alterations, as well as upgrading internal components. The latest improvement was elimination of external wires. Rather than having to connect wires, it attaches directly to the propulsion system now. The traction-motor was made more efficient by making the wires thinner and wrapping them tighter. The electric-propulsion was made more efficient by increasing the number of power-carriers within the power-split-device and replacing the reduction-gear with a second power-split-device. There's the benefit of battery chemistry & manufacturing improvements too. The end result has been a system that uses less electricity to accomplish more... so much so, the newest battery only needs half the total capacity of the previous generation. That equates to less heat.
Observations, new topics. There are some glimmers of hope. New topics provide that opportunity. When an Leaf attack began on the daily blog by Volt enthusiasts, my interest was captured. It was an opportunity to introduce a new perspective on what could otherwise be just a repeat of old discussions. This is what I homed in on: "You missed the thermodynamics classes. All vehicle engines and motors are *air cooled* since all the heat is expelled to the air. The difference is the heat transfer mechanism. An active transport, such as liquid coolant used..." His missed the point entirely. It's quite common. People will fixate on the wrong thing, often a symptom rather than the actual cause. I jumped in ready for battle with: Ugh! Everyone continues to miss the underlying problem: HEAT IS A WASTE PRODUCT. Using liquid to transfer that heat is really just a Band-Aid to deal with that unwanted situation, rather than preventing it in the first place. It makes no sense to disregard that waste. The goal should be to create more efficient operation, which will reduce losses from heat. Less energy consumed overall will increase range and/or decrease battery-size too. Not needing to add the complexity of extra cooling reduces weight & cost as well. Focus on the bigger picture. Don't get hung up on approaches that fail to address the ultimate need. That fundamental improvement still being overlooked is the real problem.
Observations, support. Watching things fall apart for Volt just as the new Prius is about to arrive makes for interesting observations. It's weird how enthusiasts continue to draw attention like this. It's a repeat of what we saw 5 years ago. Wasn't anything learned? Reading general-audience automotive blogs, you can see the pattern. The behavior that closely resembles that on the Volt blog. Rather than Volt being a player on the plug-in team, it is still portrayed as superior. Ugh. Yesterday's stir came from details revealed about tht 2017 model coming early next year. That's the one which will be available nationwide. Expectations were to get a variety of improvements here and there along with some type of price drop. Instead, only a premiere package was revealed. That's it. Basically, rollout was held to 11 initial states for incentive benefits. California was about to run out of HOV stickers. Sending the bulk of inventory there, especially when there is also both state & federal credit to be had, seemed to make sense. Though, there was the mystery of why production simply wasn't ramped up instead. After all, that is what Toyota did for gen-2 and we were told for years from enthusiasts that GM would also do that. The double-standards, the hypocritical claims, and the contradictions were quite informative. We knew issues weren't being addresses and that certain shortcomings weren't a priority. It's the denial though that's telling. Who the heck is going to support the technology? Remember, a big chunk of the success of Prius came from the empowerment of owners. They'd share their knowledge and experiences with others. That type of endorsement is far more powerful than any business entity could provide. Without that, who will interested consumers turn to? What will their resource be if there's a collection of enthusiasts reciting the same failed messages as in the past. Move on already. Geez! Notice how the new Prius traded efficiency for handling? MPG wasn't abandoned; it was simply not given as much priority. Owners pointed out and even demonstrated with their own upgrades how Prius could be improved to appeal to a wider audience. Toyota took suggestion and implemented it... without sacrificing cost. Volt is still expensive. Volt is still small. Volt still lacks common new-tech, like LED headlights. Heck, those are standard on Corolla. Why in the world aren't they offered on Volt? For a vehicle that was supposedly going to leap-frog Prius, it still doesn't show the potential to draw enough sales to actually do that. Rollout of the 2017 model will be overshadowed by Bolt hype. Who is the audience for Volt and where will its support come from?
Observations, audience. How many times and how many different ways can this be addressed: "A plug-in hybrid that has to use its ICE before the battery is depleted is much less desirable." I climbed up on the soapbox one more time: Know your audience. Ordinary consumers won't be interested in electricity purity, especially if there's a high-cost required to achieve that. If they did want purity, they'd just purchase an EV instead. The 200-mile capacity offerings will be targeting them. The strength of plug-in hybrids is balance. You still get EV, just not 100% of the time prior to depletion. Rather than sacrificing electricity for the sake of avoiding any gas consumption, the system takes advantage of having an engine available. Running that engine in the most efficient manner is key. Blending (using plugged-supplied electricity) for augmentation is how. RPM is lowered significantly and revving is reduced. Ask yourself how much more an ordinary consumer would actually be willing to pay for the purity tradeoff. Ordinary consumers won't care whether or not the engine runs at times. Heck, most don't even know what their current vehicle actually delivers for MPG. Seeing a plug-in hybrid deliver +100 MPG while cruising on the highway is what will draw interest. Late night local errand-running locally in EV has obvious appeal too. Remember, the audience is people on the dealer's showroom, those who would otherwise just purchase a traditional vehicle.
Observations, change. There is no precedent for gen-4 offerings. There is stereotyping though. That's a very real problem... unrelated to emission issues. People establish a mindset and stick to it. Breaking away from that is tough, as marketers are well aware. Campaigns to change pre-established views presents challenges. Advertising can be effective, but there needs to be something compelling to draw new interest. With the case for each new Prius, expectations have been for a more efficient system with a decent cost-reduction. In other words, the system would be further refined... making it even more appealing to those wanting to reduce emissions & consumption. The reality that Toyota would not have that focus anymore is perplexity to some. We've already observed many, many, many posts from those not understanding the overlying need. They continue to assume priorities won't change. That change is absolutely vital though. Gen-4 is designed to achieve that. This new Prius trades efficiency performance for handling performance. There's more power for city driving and the suspension has been upgraded. Combined with a lower center-of-gravity, this is a noticeable departure from what the first three generations of Prius offered. That's why the standout look was chosen. This new offering will easily be recognized as a Prius, but the styling is doesn't conform to the ordinary pattern we still see. The new Volt is the ultimate example of this. Gen-2 looks remarkably like a Civic and a Forte. The style was dumbed down (for lack of a better description) to look like other popular sedans. In fact, that's why it doesn't offer a rear-wiper, despite being a hatchback. GM decided to make it look like it's part of the traditional crowd to help promote sales. The catch is, that only works for earlier offerings. With just a second-generation design, refining the system and retaining an ordinary look can be beneficial. However, with a fourth-generation rollout, doing little to alter visual appeal can become a barrier. A bold, new look can draw lots of interest. People get too distracted by other factors to notice that importance though. Unless you study consumer behavior, it gets overlooked. Competition at different generational stages makes the understanding of what really influences behavior very difficult is hard enough. Change in a market with so much pressure to succeed often causes the obvious to go unobserved. Remember purpose. Focus on goals.
Observations, the problem. The muddy mess of issues & solutions continues to get worse. Even though there are obvious signs of SMOG emerging around metro areas, the snap response to dismiss our pollution problems is to just write off "climate change" as human caused. Volt has become the lightening-rod for arguments centered around the issue too. It's really unfortunate enthusiasts focused so highly on "gallons" and basically ignored the bigger picture. They never bothered to help point out CARBON emissions are not the same as SMOG emissions. That fundamental difference is now hurting their cause. Of course, had they used SMOG as an argument point rather focusing entirely on CARBON, we likely wouldn't have as much of a mess to still deal with. Reading an article published a few days ago praising the gen-2 Volt, it was easy to observe the problem. There were 165 comments posted as of writing this. The nature of many arguments against Volt centered around being vague. The premise of "cause" instead of "contribute" is the primary inhibitor preventing any detail. The enthusiast obsession with absolutes makes it worse. People simply don't care as a result. The final nail-in-the-coffin though is the tax-credit. Dependency on that provides an excuse to reject. So, regardless of whether or not the automaker earns a profit from sales, that government-assistance cancels out any benefit as far as they're concerned. This an the aspect of business the enthusiasts fought against for the first 5 years of Volt availability. Now, consequences of that choice are revealing the problem they allowed to grow. Very few posts are constructive. Many on general-audience articles like this are political in nature (due to the obvious government involvement.) My favorite post was this: "84,600 sales in 5 years, resounding success?" It highlights shortcoming of engineering focus. No matter how impressive performance of any vehicle may be, people won't make their purchase decision on that alone. That's basic economics. Too bad enthusiasts refused to acknowledge that. Even with the $7,500 incentive, they're wasn't enough interest anyway. The problem was (and still is) much more complicated.
Beyond Possible. This 2-minute video-advertisement for the 2016 Prius from Toyota is making rounds on the internet. It shows Prius tearing around an industrial area, screeching tires while tightly maneuvering through abandoned buildings, and sliding sideways on graveled roads. Comments were made about how unrealistic that was: "I think the add portrays a false expectation..." You can't help but to roll your eyes from comments like that. The pointless things we've seen along the way should make this a complete non-issue. How many times have you witnessed a pickup pulling unbelievably massive loads? I remember one showing 32 refrigerators being transported on a flatbed, towed by a consumer-grade pickup. Why? Who in the world would ever do anything like that? There isn't even a rough equivalent. Same goes for all the SUV off-roading advertisements. How often does that actually happen? People are using their SUV, with heavy-duty suspension and massive tires, for commuting to work... sharing the same roads as everyone else. Why is that overkill acceptable, but not watching a Prius being driving as if it was on an obstacle course? Needless to say, some perspective is needed. We've watched far too many sedans racing across open salt-flats to have to accept a double-standard. This marketing isn't anything different from countless other advertisements... but with a twist. Prius can also point out that it's green too. Anywho, this was my post about it: We have literally seen thousands of commercials like that over the years. It's how cars and trucks have been advertised. Seeing that is the expectation. Whether or not you ever do that with your vehicle is an entirely different matter.
Observations, fear. It started with Prius. There was fear it would extinguish Volt; which ironically, Volt had fire scares to deal with too. So, it needed to be "vastly superior". That meant comparisons to the only truly successful clean & efficient new technology would happen over and over and over again. Treating a vehicle without a plug and without a massive tax-credit the same as one that had both really bordered on the edge of lunacy. It simply made no sense. Yet, that was the formula agreed upon by enthusiasts. A small number of those online posters attacked and the large remainder were enablers. That's not the kind of observation we wanted to make. The desire was to form a partnership by exchanging knowledge & experience. Thank goodness that's finally happening now, long overdue. Unfortunately, the fate for Volt is already sealed. Rather than taking the opportunity years ago to steer the next-generation in the direction of mainstream, it became a confused mess. Today was great proof of that. The topic on the Volt daily blog was all about Bolt. It's quite remarkable how dramatic of a change has come. Some posts totally contradict intentions of the past. Others don't even acknowledge Volt as a player anymore. GM will (somehow) be delivering an affordable 200-mile EV. This is why I blogged so much about history as it was unfolding. The now hypocritical claims from years ago are difficult to believe, but well documented. They see this outcome as obvious. Really!?! There are still comparisons to Prius too. What the heck? I could understand the plug-in model. But how does the hybrid even remotely share the same category? Ugh. Needless to say, there's more to this than what meets the eye. HOV stickers in California are gone. The last "green" was distributed recently. That means a major purchase-incentive for Volt is no longer available. For Bolt on the other hand, there are a number of "white" stickers still. BMW's i3 qualifies for them, despite having a gas engine. That engine is tiny (650cc) and the gas tank is tiny (1.4 usable gallons). That makes it an EV with nothing but a short-range, limited-power backup. It's a true EREV. Enthusiasts of Volt lashed out when cornered in the past. Now, they've switched loyalty over to Bolt. Seeing Volt abandoned like that is bizarre. It's doomed to remain a niche without any way to draw ordinary consumer interest. Who will the support come from? The observation of what comes next will be interesting. The time to file a $7,500 credit without having to wait until 2017 is quickly drawing to an end. The HOV stickers are already gone. Initial demand has been fulfilled. With the Detroit autoshow promising to stir interest with new plug-in offerings, what will happen to Volt? Remember, 2016 Prius sales are about to begin soon and the price of gas is at record lows.