Prius Personal Log  #734

March 16, 2016  -  March 22, 2016

Last Updated: Fri. 3/25/2016

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Competition.  Who is it?  How many times will that continue to be asked?  Hopefully, tomorrow's reveal will bring an end to the mistake of dismissing traditional vehicles as competition.  But for know, it's the simplistic view of only other plug-in vehicles mattering: "They really need to start a "breakthrough" in the relatively small EV market. The only car this really competes with is the volt.  The next Prius Plug-In needs to have (at least) close to the same EV only numbers as the G2 Volt."  Reading that was a bit annoying.  I still took the time to respond though, secretly wanting it to be the last time... I know, that's not realistic:  Volt isn't the competition though.  Toyota's purpose is to draw interest away from customers interested in their own traditional offerings.  Remember, the ultimate goal is to replace traditional vehicle production.  That means delivering platforms compelling enough for people shopping for a Camry or Corolla or RAV4 or any other 20th century approach to purchase a hybrid option instead.  Appealing to those perfectly content with getting a new Corolla when their old one finally needs replacement is quite a challenge.  That won't be accomplished with lots of EV.  It's not as simple as trying to deliver more EV as other automakers.


Constructive Questions.  They are so refreshing.  I was delighted to get this: "Does your inside information give you an insight into the AER of the new PiP?  Care to give us a SWAG?  Who knows, you may win!"  Though some sarcasm following, I didn't mind entertaining the request:  Here are some thoughts...  Toyota has always kept low-cost a high priority.  With the inevitable loss of tax-credits mid-cycle and advancement of EV choices confusing the market, it makes sense keeping the battery-capacity down to a practical size.  We know compromising depleted efficiency would make sales more difficult, it must remain well about what traditional vehicles offer.  Fortunately, the system itself has improved making hybrid performance even better.  Battery technology has improved along the way too.  Currently, only 65.1% of the capacity is used for the plug-in.  That's from EV full to HV 2-bars remaining depletion range, a SOC from 83.5% to 18.4% for routine operation.  We could reasonably expect a widened operating range.  Energy density, as well as packaging, has advanced as well. So, more can be squeezed into limited space.  Cost has obviously dropped significantly too.  Rumor is that around 30 miles, based on the testing cycle used in Japan, is the range the new plug-in Prius may likely deliver.  Knowing that our EPA measurement process results in lower values and a difficult to estimate real-world expectation, it will be a challenge to really understand whatever the kWh rating for the battery-pack will truly deliver.  Estimates in terms of AER are even more screwy, now that MPG well above 100 face diminishing-return issues.  At what point do higher values not appeal?  My routine is to recharge at work, using the massive (85 kWh) solar-array they have available.  That effectively doubles battery-capacity.  But with a 38-mile commute, more would obviously be beneficial.  The gen-2 system will be more efficient as well. But since my commute average is already 125 MPG, no one will really care.  That's already well beyond what the typical consumer is accustomed to.  We'll get some specs soon, less than 12 hours from now.  You and I both know there will be lots of spin to deal with and a wide variety of perspectives as a result. Little of it will matter though. We don't represent the mainstream consumers targeted anyway.  Our participation online to discuss design & approach makes that easy to see.  We're well-informed supporters, not ordinary consumers.  We'll be stuck waiting for sales to tell the real story.


Guesses.  I was quite intrigued to read this: "Any guesses on PiP AER?"  It came from the moderator and content-provider of that daily blog for Volt.  It was just a comment randomly interjected into a discussion thread about the upcoming Cadillac CT6 plug-in hybrid.  I waited 5 hours waiting for a smart-ass response.  I got it: "Not enough."  The hate for Prius from that particular individual runs very deep.  Obsession with the most possible EV driving range has blinded him from accepting anything less than what Volt has to offer.  All of the other plug-in hybrids are inferior to him, period.  Of course, his hate for BMW's i3 isn't exactly a secret either.  It's interesting to witness the behavior of someone dead set against everything else.  Heck, he doesn't even acknowledge the existence of hybrids without plugs.  They are a complete waste as far as he's concerned.  Needless to say, I couldn't resist:  Who is the market for Volt?  That question was asked many, many times over the years gen-1 was offered.  The reason was to point out that the target market was very, very different from that of the plug-in Prius.  With gen-2, we expect the same thing.  Volt offers a design that strongly appeals to enthusiasts.  That's fine.  There's nothing wrong with wanting to utilize plug-supplied electricity as much as possible.  It serves the intended audience well.  They are pleased with their purchase choice and consider it an excellent recommendation for anyone else seeking those same performance traits and willing to tradeoff a few of the traditional purchase priorities.  Prius has a very different audience.  The target market is ordinary consumers, those who will seriously consider purchasing a traditional vehicle.  These are the people that would like some EV driving opportunity but are not going to accept cost & space penalties.  They'll be happy with seeing +100 MPG results.  That's enough.


Great Expectations.  The anticipation of what tomorrow will bring certainly has stirred discussion.  Many who didn't say much in the past are now sounding off.  Without much reasoning, were seeing posts like this: "30-35 miles of range would do it for me."  As great of an expectation that is, I don't see it as realistic.  Where the heck would you put that much battery?  It simply too much of a size, weight, and cost tradeoff.  I just plain don't see Toyota doing that.  A doubling of the existing capacity makes more sense.  It may be a hard sell in terms of EV range.  But then again, the new plug-in Prius will still be a Prius.  I returned the hopeful post with:  How many are willing to pay that cost and willing sacrifice that physical space?  Toyota will strive to achieve a balance, something like 50km (Japan estimate) is a reasonable expectation.  That capacity translating to real-world 22'ish here would be nice for ordinary consumers.  There will naturally be disappointment & backlash from enthusiasts who's interest is pushing boundaries.  But what difference does their opinion actually make?  They won't be the targeted buyers anyway.  They won't be contributing to the sales goal.  They aren't even interested in choices for the masses.  Everyone would like more.  That's in our nature.  But realistically, that isn't how we (as mainstream consumers) make purchase decisions.


Lucky.  What gets posted just prior to a reveal is fascinating.  I homed in on this today: "I think all of us who are waiting for the rev II Pip are lucky that it's even being offered up, much less whether or not it will be delivered to every state."  That came from a frequent poster who's been very upset with Toyota, under the belief interest in plug-in vehicles has been abandoned entirely in favor of fuel-cells.  It continues to baffle me how someone could be so pessimistic, basing expectations solely on anecdotal observations from limited sources and from only specific points in time.  Whatever.  Some of us do research, seeking out a wide variety of input.  Of course, that has left me looking very unlucky.  Much of my study has come from unfriendly forum participation.  Those there can be rather hostile at times, personally insulting you for even just asking the tough questions.  But then again, when I do get an answer from there, I feel quite lucky.  Anywho, this is how I responded to that comment:  Sounds like you've been reading too much into the rhetoric.  We always knew battery advancement would bring about a new generation. We also knew they would focus elsewhere in the meantime.  I saw no benefit from Toyota joining the former market with so many problems plug-in offerings were having to deal with.  True, their distance was spun as anti-EV, but that has no connection to next-gen rollouts.  We've seen many examples of that in the past.  What makes us lucky is Toyota staying true to aiming a product directly at the masses, not giving into enthusiast misdirection.  The true competition is traditional vehicles, not other plug-in vehicles.


Why Not?  With the reveal of the next plug-in Prius just 4 days away, there's a growing anticipation... as well as some uncertainty.  This particular comment caught my attention: "And I doubt this would be called Prius Prime, Prius Plugin suits it ... come on!"  I couldn't help but to jump on that opportunity to sound off:  Why not?  Don't you think the technology is ready for prime time yet?  We've seen plug-in hybrid struggle in the past.  Volt was far too expensive (production cost).  Ford's Energi required too much interior space compromise.  Prius PHV attempted to strike a balance, but needed to wait for the battery technology to advance.  Haven't we arrived at that tipping point now?  Personally, I would like the "prime" label... since I was the first who suggested it as Prius identifier... back in 2009.  There is a great deal of potential for plug-in hybrids.  Remember 15 years ago when Prius was just starting to get recognition as a possible solution for the masses to reduce emissions & consumption?  Some couldn't imagine how the added motor & battery would appeal to consumers.  Yet, we are now seeing Toyota approach the 9-million sales milestone.  Greater battery-capacity and the addition of a plug seems such a natural next step.  It doesn't have to be enormous or powerful.  The non-plug battery certainly didn't deliver that, yet it was a huge success anyway.  People focus so much on extremes, they overlook the obvious.  Simply consider the success of ubiquitous technologies.  Things like touch-screens have become so common, we don't give their actual specifications a second thought... even though they are restrained much more than they would have to be. There's a balance of need & want.  Toyota is striving to deliver that.


Dieselgate.  That label for the VW disaster is set in stone.  People will be referring to this dramatic end to passenger-vehicle use of diesel that way for decades to come.  The scale of the damage caused is so far beyond comprehension, no one could have ever imagined it.  Prius supporters always knew the push for diesel as a clean & efficient solution was irrational.  It simple couldn't compete in honest tests.  Even the side-by-side contests rigged to favor diesel struggled to actually deliver.  And that was in the past too, prior to the gen-4 rollout.  The most die-hard of diesel supporters were dishonest... with themselves.  It didn't make any sense when you took the time to consider what was claimed.  How could they possibly expect a "50-state" minimum rating to compete with PZEV emission levels?  Those were opposite ends of the CARB scale.  Hybrids like Prius were far cleaner in terms of smog-related pollution.  So what if carbon was close?  You can't just ignore what you don't like.  Of course, 6 months later, we see the much improved Prius... which handles far better than the previous generation... delivers MPG way higher than any diesel can achieve.  There's no contest.  Even without the scandal, there's no aspect of being competitive.  That's without taking into consideration the upcoming next-generation plug-in Prius... which coincidently, just happens to have a reveal date the day before the final deadline for VW.  In other words, next week will be historical.  Diesel is a mess and there is no hope for any type of comeback.  The expectation is that it will fade away from consumer interest... while causing a great deal of industry pain.  The thought is VW will not be able to deliver an acceptable fix.  That means buybacks and some type of goodwill are the only options available.  That will be very expensive... a costly mistake which will bring about new restrictions, permanently souring the appeal for diesel as a consumer choice.


Scary.  I got a kick out of reading this: "The biggest news here to me is the statement that they need to sell 500,000 to be profitable.  That is a really scary business plan!"  It was about Tesla's approach.  Supposedly, that's scary.  True, it is a major endeavor, but success means fear for the automakers not aggressively pursuing sales.  Ironically, the comment came from a Volt owner who hopes sales of Volt will dramatically increase... but hasn't expressed the same concern.  Tesla's dedication and concise message of purpose is a dramatic difference from the wishy-washy mix of intent we hear from GM.  It's an interesting situation... which, thankfully, is finally getting attention.  Remember all those years of blowing off sales & profit concern?  This is how I responded:  There are plenty of investors who see the solution to overcoming tax-credit dependency as high-volume production & sales.  That's a vital next step, something Nissan is also committed to dealing with in a big way.  Scary is the position it puts GM in.  Heavy investment in Bolt could push Volt out of the spotlight, a vehicle already too specialized for traditional buyers.  200-mile capacity is quite compelling, basically eliminating range-anxiety concerns.  Would you really expect Tesla to not attempt to penetrate the mainstream, breaking out beyond initial expensive models?  There's a large potential for ordinary consumers to be drawn to the 200-mile offerings.  Why not capitalize on that, becoming well established as an EV automaker in the process?  We see efforts to spread FUD and resistance from those unwilling to change.  There's the on-going problem of climate issues, oil dependency, and polluted air to deal with too.  Seeing serious plans to overcome all that is what we've wanted for a very long time.  This is long overdue.  Many will step up to help make it happen.  In the grand scheme of things, that half-million is not a large amount.  There were over 17 million new vehicles purchased in the United States alone last year.


First Sighting!  Today it happened.  I saw a 2016 on the road.  It was pulling out of a parking spot, so I got to watch it from every angle.  That was the first time I had seen the brake lights illuminate.  It was difficult to tell how they would be integrated into the design of the long curvy lights.  The result was really nice looking.  Of course, the entire vehicle is that way.  It's among the few on the road that don't conform to "plain" styling.  Those traditional shapes of the past have got to the point of being "blah".  Why would you want to drive something that looks just like all the other vehicles already on the road?  Close resemblance to the majority only goes so far.  People get tired of the being the same.  We're approaching that point now, where everything appears so similar, people are beginning to seek out something different.  It never ceases to amaze me how people don't see the pattern.  We've witnessed market saturation in so many ways, you'd think the outspoken wouldn't fight against change so hard.  But then again, it only takes a few loud voices to misrepresent.  Anywho, it should be obvious that I find the new look appealing.  Like in the past. Toyota is paving the way for others to follow.  That's what leadership is all about.  The obsession with technology alone is so short-sighted.  There are many aspects to drawing sales.  Watch what happens as more new Prius become available at dealers.


Very, Very Different.  Yesterday brought an announcement that the gen-2 Prius PHV will be revealed in a week.  Volt enthusiast hate for the first generation plug-in Prius made for genuine curiosity about how they'd respond to this.  Long ago, they claimed competition was Leaf.  The solution Volt delivered would be a cure for "range anxiety" an EV like that would supposedly cause.  Well, turns out, it didn't.  So, focus was shifted over to Prius instead.  They knew it was an easy target to insult, belittle, and criticize.  They didn't care about well-being of the automaker or relying upon tax-credits.  It was an obsessive compulsion to brag, boast, and be smug.  That trophy-mentality had clouded their judgment for years.  That was the past though.  Gen-2 of Volt is now available.  Had the lesson of need verses want finally been learned?  Turns out, that may actually be the case.  I chimed in on that daily blog by pointing out how goals still remain fundamentally different, that Toyota is focused on cost and delivered a system capable of high-volume profitable sales without any dependencies.  Oddly, they seemed to recognize targets are not the same.  Competing head-on with traditional offerings requires taking an entirely different approach.  GM's priorities & schedules are most definitely not the same.  That's a profound change, a paradigm shift of enormous magnitude.  The enthusiasts had felt threatened in the past.  Now, they aren't fighting back.  It makes you wonder why.  Could it be that sales of the new Volt are proving to be a struggle?  I keep mentioning the reality of low-hanging fruit.  That's because it is a cliché which points out the situation well, reinforcing the prior excuse of "early adopter" audience.  In other words, the answer to the "Who?" question is now overwhelmingly clear.  The situation now is very, very different.


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