Prius Personal Log  #730

February 5, 2016  -  February 7, 2016

Last Updated: Fri. 3/25/2016

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2-07-2016 Influence.  The comment was made about now knowing how much we actually have.  Could you really ever find out?  I climbed up on the soapbox again to share some insight: 

Realistically, it doesn't matter.  The end result is the same.  The benefit is they get confirmation of it being an acceptable decision much sooner.  There's a lot at stake.  That helps a great deal.

With Prius, we established a direct line for feedback with Toyota.  They shared information with us directly, a few times with tidbits even before the dealers.  We got confirmation the forums were being monitored for suggestions.  The next-gen rollout included some of what had been discussed.  It was a great exchange.

I was always baffled that this group wasn't able to achieve the same thing with GM... which is why I kept on pushing.  There were several here who insisted we should just be patient and hope for the best.  I'm not that type of person. I also know that reacting afterward is far more costly than being proactive.  Interacting with users during the development is priceless.

25 years into a career as an information engineer (software developer) and having a father as a mechanical engineer taught me a great deal.  I learned the value of feedback long ago.  I established a group beta-testers, who gave candid and well thought out suggestions.  It was a very productive relationship.

Way back in 2003, we knew the design of the hybrid system for Prius was able to deliver speeds of up to 100 km/h (62.1 mph) using only electricity.  We also knew that would be incredibly expensive.  Yet, there were some who experimented with added capacity anyway.  When the next-gen rolled out in 2009, we could see the design continued to support that ability to take advantage of additional electricity.  It was still too expensive.  A few aftermarket providers didn't care.  They tried attracting consumers, despite the high cost.  Toyota saw that, but waited until a configuration actually affordable would be possible.

That approach had trouble from the start.  It was exactly what enthusiasts had requested, but it wasn't what supporters saw as appealing to the masses.  The reason was simple: Volt.  It wasn't the configuration hoped for (since the engine ran often in the winter and the wheels were powered directly at times), yet it wasn't marketed as a plug-in hybrid.  So, people focused solely on range rather than results.  Toyota took advantage of the feedback early on, keeping availability limited to select markets.  It gave them an opportunity to learn more about how widen appeal without trading off price.  In the meantime, energy-density and production-cost of batteries would continue to fall.  When Ford joined in offering their plug-in hybrid, there was no reason to expand.  Observing their progress (which also had challenges), would provide a great deal of valuable information.

That history will, of course, be spun to make it look like goals weren't accomplished.  But sales expectations were never set high in the first place for the plug-in Prius, quite unlike Volt.  It was also a mid-cycle upgrade, rather than an entirely new vehicle requiring a full 5-year cycle.  The cost & risk was profoundly lower for Toyota than it was for GM. Reality is, few will care.  Many here will deny that even happened anyway.  So, there's little chance ordinary consumers will bother trying to figure any of it out.

The point is, what was set out to be achieved will be accomplished.  So what if it was a round-about way of doing it.  Taking an economics class will teach you what to expect.  Market reactions are difficult to gauge.  Both consumer & competitor will do everything they can to resist change and influence outcome.  Still reaching the finish-line without having incurred great expense or done anything inappropriate is what counts.


Friendly Rivalry.  The hope was always to find one.  When there were only two hybrids available, Prius & Insight, things were a mess.  Honda had delivered something that wasn't competitive.  Insight was a 2-seater with a manual transmission and an aluminum body.  It had nothing it common with the 5-seat automatic sedan called Prius.  Yet, the two were constantly compared.  Being the only choices for purchase back then, it was all people understood.  GM had the opportunity to avoid that with Volt.  There weren't any other plug-in hybrids offered.  That was it.  Gas was expensive then too.  Enthusiasts were smug though.  GM didn't care.  There were enough conquest potential to prove the technology viable.  That's all GM cared about.  Enthusiasts didn't want to see that reality.  They saw their population growing.  It didn't matter that money-losing leases and tax-credit dependency made it happen.  They just to claim victory over Prius.  That was disappointing... and frustrating.  Now, we see Volt struggling for an audience.  Almost all the low-hanging fruit is gone now and there's a rivalry growing between Toyota & Hyundai.  It's looking to be friendly too.  That was the very thing people like me had hoped for 9 years back with Toyota & GM.  The situation got ugly quick.  Ford entering the plug-in arena made it worse.  The struggle grew more and more difficult.  There's an unspoken fear growing that Toyota will "leap frog" what GM offers.  That was the hope Volt enthusiasts taunted Prius supporters with, saying it with belittling attitude.  I won't do that.  In fact, it's the very reason I'm extending a hand in friendship.  I'm putting my hope on the chance that we can establish a friendly rivalry instead.  That should be just a matter of focusing on goals, what I had attempted to do countless times in the past.  What's different now is rollout is in progress.  The reality of low sales can get people to change.  Someone offering to help is what they will seek, especially someone with extensive experience to share.


9 Years Later.  Remember back when gas prices were climbing into new territory?  GM had given up the anti-hybrid "stop gap" campaign and revealed Volt to the world.  It would be vastly superior to Prius in every way, the answer to our car problems.  Ugh.  The nonsense started immediately.  It only took a day for vaporware talk to emerge, questions of how that could actually be accomplished.  My initial thoughts were: "I don't believe that is a cost-effective solution for the masses for many, many years still."  The explanations why angered supporters.  What I saw as realistic, they saw as fighting words.  Having experience in that area made no difference.  I was the enemy, because that knowledge came from the supposed competition.  Watching Toyota strive for affordability taught me a lot.  They turned and were basically hostile ever since.  Reading through that history I documented as it unfolded, writing down observations as they happened, sure provides an interesting perspective now.  Looking back is quite different from preserved day-to-day thoughts.  I was right... oh more accurately, I correctly sighted past events as being highly likely to reoccur.  Sure enough, they did.  Volt has been a disaster... not the car or the technology, it was the business aspect.  This was a great example of a "solution seeking a problem".  We were told all about "range anxiety".  Capacity was too expensive.  The approach Volt offered would overcome that.  Catch was, if battery cost came down enough to make Volt affordable, why not just sell an EV to people instead?  That type of plug-in hybrid made no sense.  It required cost to remain high... but then couldn't be sold in large quantity because the cost would be too high for Volt too.  It was a mindset doomed from the start.  Augmenting a hybrid was a business model supporters wanted no part of... which ironically, would have addressed the issue well enough to make prices affordable.  Other automakers see that potential and hope to capitalize on it now.  GM sees battery cost having dropped so much, they're planning to offer an EV which will overcome the "range anxiety" problem.  No need for Volt.  We'll have Bolt instead.  What a mess!  So much time wasted.  Oh well, at least that chapter has come to a close.  GM is now planning to introduce a hybrid and an augmented model now too, just like what was suggested 9 years ago.  Volt will remain an enthusiast vehicle.  It didn't die after all.  It just won't leapfrog either.  This is yet another example of not understanding the difference between want & need.

2-06-2016 Suggestions.  Wanting to encourage & solidify this end, I went all out with the posting:

It's a well-proven practice in my career to review a project upon completion.  You note what worked and what didn't.  I see good reason to do that here.

Voting down facts was probably the most counter-productive activity.  Rather than just trying to hide what isn't liked, a suggestion would be to address it as directly as possible.  Don't leave any opportunity for the topic being brought up again.  That means provide concise reasoning.  Vague replies make it worse.  Excuses validate a problem.  Responses of dismissal only encourage reposts.

Anonymous posting was another major problem that never went away.  What a pain.  Sadly, replies without substance made it worse.  Defenders become the source of further tangents by not making an effort to get back on-topic.  The suggestion is to simply state purpose.  Counter there disruption.  Knowing what the desired outcome is makes those distractions easier to end.

Making it personal and diverting discussion with automaker attacks, that was a huge waste.  Instinct compels us to discredit.  We feel it works well as a deterent.  In reality, it doesn't accomplish anything.  In fact, it tends to reduce effectiveness of following posts.  Casual readers tend to lose interest and abandon the thread.  The suggestion is to prevent is simple.  Don't do it.

Identifying goals is among the most powerful tools for progress available to us.  We've seen great things emerge from learning opportunities.  You try something.  If it works, great.  If not, move on.  Remember, the market itself changes as time advances.  The best suggestion for dealing with that situation is to embrace shortcomings.  Failure is an option.  It's only an end of a chapter, not an end of the story.

Endorsement for both plugging in and lithium batteries went extremely well.  Notice how successful the idea of using electricity became early on?  Everyone was in agreement about that being a major objective.  It allowed us to very effectively focus on how to best achieve that.  We followed the suggestion of trying to deal with next-step barriers by focusing on the future, rather than dwelling on the present.

Bringing up history can be a powerful decision-maker for what to do next.  If something was attempted repeatedly but resulted in disappointment each time, don't do it again.  That seems like such a straight-forward suggestion; however, the trap of dismissal is very easy to fall into.  As painful as it might be to address mistakes, those can be the key to success the next time around.

Celebrating success can be a source of renewal.  You need something to keep the group engaged.  But if you focus on that past achievement too much, that very thing becomes what holds you back.  If you focus on what comes next too much, that hope becomes a liability when circumstances change prior to rollout.  The approach should be to seek out a balance.  Providing compliment with complaint can be a very effective means of advancement when a suggestion is included.

The need to acknowledge the market as a whole was a lessen learned the hard way.  Far too often, past rivalries interfere with attempts to overcome barriers simply by losing perspective.  Focus solely on particular groups allows the bigger picture to be overlooked.  Making an effort to redefine foes & allies based upon objectives goes a long way.  That suggestion should not be taken lightly.  It's a difficult change of mindset.  We've been trained to not think that way.

Finally, the very concept that a single solution will solve all problems is fundamentally flawed.  Yet, that is what we do... over and over again.  Commonplace successes we've witnessed that support differences are easily forgotten, not even noticed or considered.  Just look at how uncommon the vehicles we drive actually are.  Sizes & Shapes vary dramatically.  Heck, even our preferences change over time.  Why can't what powers them be different too?  We need to embrace diversity.  It's a suggestion that will take us a long way.

That's what worked and what didn't.  Let's make a big effort together to start out the next chapter on a good foot.


Chapter's End.  The final battle in this chapter came to an end.  I pushed to make it happen.  Knowing the story wasn't over, it was easy for me.  A small group of particular die-hard Volt enthusiasts didn't realize what was going on.  They thought there was only a single chance, that failure meant death.  It was their battle cry for 5 years... don't like Volt die.  That was the reason why my purpose kept getting questioned and why I kept having to asked their goals.  Seeing more was to come didn't happen until today.  Fear based on assumption overwhelmed rational thought.  I've see this before, hence taking a very different stance.  The end of Two-Mode came about from the announcement of Volt.  Supporters could let it go at that point.  With Volt, it was the announcement of Bolt.  That's easy to see now.  Stages in between are too.  Ford's rollout of Energi was a major set back.  Recently, the same panic erupted from Hyundai stirring emotion with Ioniq.  RAV4 hybrid's initial success made it worse.  I took advantage of that to introduce a moment of reflection.  Multi-Front battles often lead to a finale with online conflict, if pointed out properly.  Sure enough, that worked this time.  Thank goodness.  In this case, a simple observation of what's available now and what's coming is all it took.  GM has delivered what it originally promised back in 2010.  It took as additional 5 years, plus a little more waiting.  That's far longer than anyone imagined, but that "40 mile" range is realistic.  Enthusiasts just plain didn't want to admit the extra 25% capacity required to achieve that in Winter.  They didn't want to admit that it will still take a few more years for overall cost to come down enough to compensate for the upcoming loss of tax-credits either.  Getting them to look far enough ahead to actually see future potential, instead of dwelling on all the lost opportunity, was quite a challenge.  It got ugly, really ugly.  Thankfully, that's over now.  Phew!  The story isn't complete though, only this chapter.


Bumping Heads.  Sometimes, you can tell the tide is changing.  Even with this, I still had a feeling: "He is part of a PiP 'users group'; but PiP represents the trailing edge, not forefront, of PHEV progress."  So, I posted this:  Haven't you noticed that we sometimes actually agree?  Your focus is on the fore-front, considering leadership a measure of technical achievement.  My focus is on the trailing-edge, considering leadership a measure of mass acceptance.  Those are two fundamentally different approaches both ultimately trying to achieve the same goal.  It means we will always bump heads, opposing each other based on perspective but not on purpose.  Progress will be made when you accept that and focus on what we have in common instead.  Toyota isn't interested in breaking new ground all the time; instead, their primary focus is on how to get the technology out in large quantity inexpensively.  Notice how drastically different that is from GM, whose long-term intent is the same but doesn’t wait until the technology is affordable?  Toyota upgrades as cost justifies, along the way.  GM delivers the end-product immediately, hoping cost-reduction will follow.  Notice what Ford & Hyundai have been doing?  No, which is the point.  They decided to lay low until something viable can be delivered.  Why get involved with the bigger players attacking the problem from two very different perspectives.  That is yet another approach, also with the same ultimate goal.  See how this works?


Who?  It was interesting getting asked this question: "Do you work for, or are you compensated by Toyota?"  Since it was from the moderator, I knew that was a sincere act of wanting to know more.  Why would anyone be so persistent on a GM forum, especially someone who owns a Toyota?  I answered with:  Nope, I'm just a consumer with well-informed contacts and a devotion to supporting the masses... hence the continued push to get past this first stage of tax-credit dependency and catering to enthusiasts.  With a strong business background and a career as an engineer, the spin here is a draw.  Participating with the local plug-in owners group adds to the exposure, getting to interact with Volt owners quite different from certain particular ones here.  It's been an interesting experience over the past 15 years.  Back then, it was totally unheard of for anyone to make such an effort to help change along.  Now, it pretty easy to find others wanting to overcome old barriers of the past... like cross-automaker cooperation, targeting the market itself instead.


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