Personal Log  #740

April 14, 2016  -  April 17, 2016

Last Updated: Tues. 5/03/2016

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Wrap Up, resentment.  You'd think I've have some... for it to take nearly a decade until the message was finally understood.  Geez!  Who knew that way back in the days of Two-Mode that it wouldn't be until the successor of its successor rolled out before that importance of reaching mainstream consumer could be discussed constructively.  There was obviously a lot of barriers to overcome.  The scale of which overwhelms.  Toyota's approach of being flexible helped it weather the storm.  That really upset some.  They saw that "after thoughts" rather than being responsive to the market.  It's too bad the proactive measures were dismissed as nonsense.  True, not all of those ideas paid off.  Capturing the hearts of the masses means dealing with the fickle.  They are incredibly misleading, saying one thing but doing another.  To complicate matters, they abruptly change their mind along the way.  When you are stuck on a course like GM, lacking that ability to adjust quickly, there isn't much hope.  So naturally, pretty much all constructive criticism offered is brushed aside, believed to be a clever way to undermine.  That sets up an atmosphere of suspicion & panic... a recipe for disaster they cannot see.  The resulting behavior is quite predictable... hence all this blogging about it over the years.  Witnessing the entire cycle would be worth the effort... which is why I'm not resentful about all the crap the enthusiasts put me through.


Wrap Up, dismissal.  It didn't work.  No surprise there.  He simply entirely dismissed what I had posted and attempted to change the topic: "That was a lot of words about nothing. Back on topic, how does Toyota make a plug-in that will appeal to mainstream consumers to compete with the Corollas & Camrys?  Does Toyota even want to?"  That topic he had chosen was intriguing.  I got the impression it was that subject matter which irritated him most.  So, why not ask me the same thing.  I didn't bother.  What a waste.  I have been asking that same thing since way back when Saturn Aura was the most people of GM's sedans.   That was long before the bankruptcy was settled.  It was before the gen-1 Volt was rolled out too.  Disappointed that he still remained so stubborn and unwilling to even try, I replied with:  Like I said, you simply enjoy the discussion. Since I've been asking that very same question of GM about Cruze and Malibu for years, you go first.


Wrap Up, perspective.  Oddly, I got a little bit of a let-us-give-it-a-try opportunity from him.  Without high hopes, I did:  I understand the perspective.  It could seem to be that.  It's not though.  Take another look.  I'm striving to find a middle ground, where there isn't an absolute polarizing every topic.  You interpret the back-step to achieve that as a change of stance, a contradiction.  That's unfortunate.  It's really an effort to let some things go.  Watch for that.  Using the term nit-pick was an attempt to point out that there's no reason to take every little detail so literally.  After all, the market isn't that exact anyway, as we have witnessed.  Remember, there are many purchases influenced heavily by emotion.  That's reality, but should not be accepted.  Sales are essential.  Losing them is a major problem.  Whether we like it or not, the fact is that automakers are running a business; they must make a profit to continue.  There was an obsession with gen-1 engineering, always the desire be to the best was underlying reason to keep trying.  That doesn't pay the bills.  So, it can be that way anymore.  As 2016 progresses, it's becoming clear that much of low-hanging fruit has already been picked.  There isn't a group of early-adopter consumers remaining... hence the change.  We're dealing with a totally new situation.  Think about that.  We have a different market to address.  Do we continue to butt heads or try something new?  After all, it doesn't make sense comparing choices of the past to vehicles of the future.


Wrap Up, elsewhere.  It went well, on the big Prius forum.  On that daily blog for Volt (which now only rarely gets mentioned), there were issues.  Almost all of the trouble comes from a single individual not.  Pretty much everyone besides him has welcomed change.  He continues to stay hung up on the past, desperately holding onto it as long as possible.  That's too bad.  But his actions have become so obvious now, it's easy to get rather terse without upsetting others.  They seem to be tired of his rhetoric and have been allowing the attempts to bring that to an end a layer of forgiveness.  So, I poked:  The endless nit-picks of wording, the dismissals, the distractions, the parroting, it's all so telling.  That serves as strong confirmation of being on the right track.  We all knew what was meant.  We all know the goal is to deliver something affordable for mainstream consumers which makes a profit and will be able to sustain high-volume sales.  Absolutely refusing to join in with others and instead taking the stance of superiority by belittling others is so childish.  It's quite refreshing being able to point out such terrible behavior.


Wrap Up, brief.  The want for a quick & easy understanding of the situation was requested.  The history, even just those highlights, was too much to follow.  So, I added this:  Volt did not reach mainstream consumers, it ended up being a niche.  There's nothing wrong with a specialty vehicle though.  That left us wondering if gen-2 would change radically, like gen-2 did for Prius or another vehicle would be offered.

4-15-2016 Wrap Up, history.  Discussion of Volt's struggle has become a popular topic on the big Prius forum.  This is what inspired me to write up a history of how it got to this point: "I'm baffled as to why the Volt wasn't more of a success, when it had the plug-in market to itself, in such favorable market conditions..."  Needless to say, I had much to contribute on that:

I have literally thousands of blog entries documenting that history as it was unfolding, noting many forgotten influential events as they took place, with no way of knowing what would come next.  They offer perspective unlike what looking back long afterward can reveal.  There is much detail a summary cannot address, but we can at least give it a try...

The problem with Volt that immediately comes to mind was the setting of expectations.  GM fed the hype leading up to rollout, allowing it to spread excitement through vague statements then not providing clarification as assumptions grew.  The most obvious resulting from that was the impact heater use in the winter caused, reducing EV range far below what was hoped.  People had been led to believe 40 miles was what GM would deliver. Real-World driving revealed cabin-comfort in freezing temperatures dropped EV range to the 20's.

The second biggest factor was likely marketing.  Support completely fell apart.  There simply wasn't any uniform message.  Enthusiasts took over, sending out a chaotic flurry of supposed goals... many conflicting with the intent of Volt.  That's how the "Who is the market for Volt?" question came about. It was originally targeted at mainstream consumers.  What got delivered was being promoted as something entirely different though, a vehicle for those who would appreciate paying a premium for superior performance.

From the automaker perspective, production cost was a serious issue.  GM decided to gamble, hoping they'd achieve mainstream sales level (minimum rate of 60,000 annual here) by the end of the second sales-year.  That turned into a disaster. Inventory piled up, despite the rollout of Cadillac ELR. Purchase interest continued to be a struggle.  So, the third model-year came with a $5,000 price drop, with the continued hope that economics-of-scale would bring down production cost.  Despite that, sales still didn't increase.

Falling gas prices, recovery of the economy, and growing demand for Leaf & Tesla made the bad situation for GM even worse.  No one really knew what to expect for the second-generation design, yet focus had almost entirely shifted over to it.  Hope was blinded by desperation.  The first-generation model was left to struggle on its own.  Nothing was able to ignite excitement for the technology in Volt.  Viewed upon as a small, complex, expensive plug-in vehicle with hybrid MPG well below Prius, it just plain couldn't find an audience.

Problems continued to mount as Volt leases began to expire.  The original deals were deeply discounted, making the choice very compelling to take advantage of.  Unfortunately, 3 years later, the resale values for those older Volts had plummeted.  Growing competition from Nissan, Ford, and Tesla along with the $5,000 price reduction left little reason for lease holders to stay loyal to GM.  Those conquest sales which enthusiasts had flaunted were turning into large abandonment numbers.  Even the original audience was being lost.

Evidence of GM changing course emerged in 2014, when we started to here about an EV that would be offered.  By late summer, confirmation of Chevy Bolt being revealed at the Detroit autoshow in January ended any doubt.  The fundamental strength of Volt had completely fallen apart.  The solution for "range anxiety" had become a battery-pack large enough to provide 200 miles of electric-only travel, no engine necessary.  At that point, the success became even more uncertain. Supporters were being drawn to Bolt.

Most people are familiar with what happened from that point.  Details of the second-generation Volt were revealed.  Promise of a design able to compete directly with other GM vehicles on dealer's showroom floors was lost.  When rollout finally began, only a small number of states received delivery.  The rest of the nation would have to wait another 6 months.  By the time that happened, the production version of Bolt was revealed. 3 months later, Tesla revealed Model 3 and began taking reservations.

2 weeks later (that's today) we have no clue what GM has planned for Volt.  It appears as though resources will be spent primarily on Bolt instead, to take advantage of the delay Tesla will have prior to Model 3 production.


Wrap Up, summary.  There's no debate, the market is moving on.  We're seeing the competition between Tesla and GM really heat up.  Count of reservations for Model 3 hasn't been published in awhile.  The last report stated 325,000.  That was more than enough to fuel the fire for Bolt.  The stance taken by GM is to remind us their EV will be available for purchase this Fall and no deposit to reserve one will be necessary.  It's providing Bolt with an unbelievable amount of attention, so much so; no one is giving regard to Volt anymore.  Hope surrounding the second-generation model has vanished.  The only expectation for buyers are enthusiast & supporters who have long endured the wait for rollout.  The anticipated purchase by those outside of that realm are absent from any discussion.  Nothing.  None.  Zip.  Zero.  The gen-2 delivery was expected to be met with a fire storm of excitement, creating demand well in excess of what Toyota had to deal with upon the gen-2 delivery of Prius.  So far, it's been upset after upset.  Rather than be available nationwide right away, only CARB states got any last year.  The rest of the nation had to wait until the second month of this year.  That wouldn't have been much of a big it, if certain assumed upgrades would be available upon the delay's end.  The biggest one was the hope for adaptive-cruise control with automatic-braking.  Since I've had that on my Prius PHV for 4 years now, it made sense would offer it for Volt too.  That didn't happen.  To make matters worse, leg & head room issues again for Volt.  That's the result of not having a 5th seat in Prime... which enthusiasts for many years have stated isn't needed for Volt anyway.  After all, there was belief that a radical new design would be taken for gen-2, just like Toyota did for Prius.  That seemed reasonable, since technology for moving large battery-packs from upward locations to buried under the floor has been the desired approach.  Long story short, this rollout has been a fizzle.


Sad Reality.  This came from a disenchanted supporter: "GM management and GM dealers are not interested in selling EV's. Plain and simple. Tesla is."  The new of Model 3 interest taking the market by storm, it's not just Volt struggling.  There are concerns Bolt will face issues as well.  I tried to help, or at least be empathetic:  That's a sad reality.  Prius supporters had to endure quite a bit of grief over the years trying to point out that great engineering alone was far from enough for Volt to be successful.  Every different approach tried ended up getting twisted into the scared belief that it was really an effort to show Toyota was superior to GM.  Thank goodness that is over!  Only a handful of stubborn individuals still believe it and they simply are not worth bothering to help.  They are grossly outnumbered; all the rest of us have moved on.  There is a growing group of plug-in owners trying to figure out how the heck to get dealers interested.  The local club here has begun by creating an online expert-list.  We identify those few very well informed salespeople who really work to sell plug-in vehicles.  We figure sending more business directly to them is a win for everyone.  Realistically, it is up to us as supporters to provide the education.  Salespeople getting asked lots of questions they know little to nothing about for a vehicle that will provide a small commission and will require more work to get is of no appeal.  Most don't even bother.  As a result, dealers see no reason to carry more than just a few (if any) in stock.  It's really unfortunate.  Tesla's approach is facing criticism now.  Yet, the effort continues anyway.  Toyota is pushing ahead too.  Their increase in lithium battery production along refinement to the motor, control, and software is still just brushed aside, claiming not enough AER indicates no interest in EV propulsion.  That's nothing but a bunch of antagonist bull and I thank everyone helping to show that.  Yesterday's heat-pump discussion provided a wonderful example of working together.  Thank you!  As the gen-2 offerings rollout, we learn more about what's new & refined, then share that information.  It's a win-win situation.  It is not an effort to undermine other automakers.  The competition is traditional vehicles.  For proof of that, look no further than the dealer's showroom floor.


Pushing New Territory.  Using new terminology can bring about unforeseen circumstances: "It's more difficult to "push into new territory" if your vehicle doesn't have standard utility. This is their second plug-in and it should have been as mainstream as the previous."  I joined into today's discussion by responding to that.  The hope was to get the exchange to attract others.  That push reference provided a fresh look.  The risk is pointing out an attractive feature Toyota offers that GM doesn't or the fundamentally different approach with design.  Toyota provides upgrades.  GM reduces cost.  I prefer Toyota's, since it offers flexibility and doesn't take the massive risk of correctly guessing what the market will actually want & need.  GM backed itself into a corner with Volt and now struggles with it as a result.  My attempt to get constructive feedback was:  Toyota has been taking the flexible approach.  That's why the mid-cycle rollout of the plug-in came with a "subject to change" note.  Few paid attention to that plan to adjust based upon market observations, but that was the intent even before rollout began.  Another obvious, but often overlooked, part of the plan was to increase battery-capacity as cost justified.  After all, it would only be a few years, rather than having to wait an entire product-cycle.  So, we always knew that the next generation wouldn't take long and would bring about a range & power increase.  As for direct "mainstream" targeting right away, we could see that wasn't realistic as the 200-mile race heated up.  The bump in price that would carry meant some more flexibility for Toyota.  Tesla, GM, and Nissan would all be in the mid-30's.  Why not add a couple of luxuries onto Prime, since it would be the premiere plug-in for Toyota?  That's how the goodies like the 11.6" screen and the LED lights came about.  Reaching that new territory (consumers who haven't shown any interest in hybrids or plug-ins yet) requires new approaches.  Notice how even Model 3 is breaking new ground by placing all dashboard interfaces onto a single screen?  (That had been exclusive to only the high-priced luxury offerings.)  More EV alone won't be enough.   The hope would be that around mid-cycle, we'll get either some new packages for Prime or a second plug-in choice.  It all depends how the rest of the plug-in market plays out in the meantime.


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