Prius Personal Log  #78

September 19, 2003  -  September 22, 2003

Last Updated: Sat. 10/04/2003

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9-22-2003

Preparing for the downfall.  The reign of the SUV is about to end.  They won't disappear, they'll just become practical again.  You know, where owners actually use them for the purpose they were designed.  A novel concept, eh?  Sizes will shrink too, no more monster-size.  Toyota's next step is to make 2 full-size SUVs available as hybrids.  Having a hybrid design so well established that such a feat is possible must really scare the heck out of other automakers.  Not only is it a strong contender on paper, it is also proving to be popular on dealer's lots too.  A car of all things, not a SUV, is capturing consumer's hearts.  So when the hybrid SUV debuts, it's all over.  People will begin demanding much better fuel-efficiency (not to mention much cleaner emissions) from the type of vehicle they like to drive from the automaker they like to purchase from.  Those automakers sure didn't realize the fate they were creating for themselves.  Think about it.  Toyota started designing Prius back in 1993 when their were refused the opportunity to join PNGV.  By the end of 1997, Prius sales began.  Now 6 years later, over 120,000 are on the road all over the world.  How could any automaker just beginning to realize now the opportunities hybrids have to offer compete with Toyota?  Saying "Oops, we didn't see that coming!" would be an understatement.  But they have to do something, the downfall has begun.  I wonder how much the appeal for car-like vehicles will continue to grow.  Hmm?  It is likely that only the practical aspects of SUVs will survive, evolving into a vehicle that doesn't at all resemble what people used to desire.  It's rather exciting seeing the 2004 Prius.  A hatchback so large is something that simply hasn't been available.  Toyota is obviously prepared.

9-22-2003

How much longer?  Today, Ford announced yet another delay with the introduction of the Escape-Hybrid.  They showed off their fully-functional prototype at last year's 2003 Auto Show kickoff.  It was already late then. Now it looks like it will take an additional 2 years more from that point to consumer delivery.  So it basically it will end up taking 4 years to re-engineer their vehicle to use pre-existing hybrid technology (Ford signed a deal with Toyota to use what was already in the classic Prius).  Toyota is waiting for the rest of the industry to catch up.  In the meantime, they are improving the technology, refining the manufacturing process, and educating their salespeople & mechanics, while also building a reputation for the HSD system.  Originally, the Escape-Hybrid was going to be available at dealers for anyone to purchase the end of this year.  Then it got changed to fleet-only, with the consumer release postponed until the summer of 2004.  Now all availability is delayed for everyone until late 2004.

9-22-2003

More Sunset Photos.  Realizing that I hadn't taken sunset photos with a Prius in awhile, I sought more out last night when I noticed the clouds appeared to be cooperating.  And sure enough, I got some.  3 to be exact.  You'll find them all here... photo album 55

9-21-2003

Hybrid SUV.  The absurd misconception that Prius supporters are forcing the idea of everyone switching to a Prius continues to come up.  A those believers see is Prius itself, they don't realize that if you step back the actual object-of-desire is HSD (Hybrid Synergy Drive).  This design is modular.  It allows for the adaptation into other vehicles, one of which can be a SUV.  In fact, early next year that will happen.  The Lexus RX400-Hybrid will become the first SUV to use HSD.  So those that don't understand the intent of hybrid technology won't have to wait long before they see how much more it has to offer.  No wonder the 2004 Prius offers so many luxury-oriented options.  Toyota knows they still have to make sure consumers understand that hybrid vehicles are nothing like "economy" vehicles of the past.  Buying a hybrid SUV sure would make an odd statement, it means you wanted a big, fierce, powerful vehicle but still cared about the environment and our dependence on oil.  Hmm?

9-21-2003

Temperature.  The +100's, like what people experience in Arizona, are hard on all types of batteries. Just ask someone from there how often they have to replace their 12-volt battery.  Here in Minnesota, it's pretty sweet.  The battery-pack appreciates the cold.  NiMH batteries generate a lot of heat, operating in a cool environment helps out.  So expect those that live in the North, who just drive normally and never abuse the pack (ex: driving after you run out of gas), should be the ones to set distance records well past 200,000 miles.  But predicting how many is nearly impossible, since routine use of the pack also helps promote longer life.

9-21-2003

Remember the deliver wait?  I always thought the wait for my 2001 Prius took forever, until the PT Cruiser came along.  People were waiting as much as a year for delivery.  Whoa!  That helps to put this initial demand blast for the 2004 Prius into perspective.  At first it will be long, but the resulting anticipation makes everyone happy in the end.  They get what they've waited for and production is finally increased to please those that later want to purchase one immediately, right off the dealer's lot.  So the old "it is worth waiting for" advice applies yet again.

9-21-2003

Second Nature.  I wonder what kind of efficiency new hybrid owners will achieve when they get behind the wheel of a 2004 Prius.  I'm an expert now.  After over 3 years and 58,500 miles of driving, knowing what to do and what not to do is second nature.  I take advantage of the engine when it turns on and I shut the engine off when I want to engage stealth, all without thinking about it now.  It's no different than when you drive a manual transmission, you don't even think about shifting, it just happens.  For that matter, the same goes for Rollerblading.  I don't give much of any thought to them as I roll down the path.  I just enjoy the beauty summer day and watch for traffic.  What me feet are doing never really occurs to me.  So I know the same will happen almost immediately after getting my 2004.  That will make other wonder how I achieve a few more MPG than they do.  In fact, I may even wonder myself.  Hmm?

9-21-2003

That Good Feeling.  This was totally unexpected.  A sweet, little, old lady pulled up on the side of my Prius today.  Her small car just barely caught my eye as I stealthed down the road.  I turned my head and there she was giving me a big "thumbs up" and smiling.  That really made me feel good.

9-21-2003

What would you list?  Toyota chose to list 150,000 miles as the expected life of the battery-pack.  That makes a lot of sense to me.  (Who knew my business minor on my Bachelor's degree would end up being used for this?)  The dynamics of the real-world users have to somehow be translated into a one-size-fits-all perspective for accounting & economic needs.  The battery-pack is no different than any other component on a vehicle.  After a certain age, length of service begins to really differ based on specific driving habits, specific road conditions, specific temperatures, specific etc...  So you basically just have to choose a value, and that's what you use for all your "break even" calculations.  Then just count the miles past that as "extra".  We already know of two Prius that have passed 150,000 miles without any trouble, the battery-pack continued to work fine.  But how common will that be?  For that matter, how many vehicles actually make it that far anyway?  Accidents and premature aging (can you say teenager?) skew the statistics, making it difficult to really get an accurate measurement.  Needless to say, the deeper you look into it, the more waiting to introduce a no-frills, all-technology-concealed hybrid (most likely Corolla) makes sense.  Years from now when Toyota actually does that, these questions will have very solid answers based on lots of real-world data.  But in the meantime, you have to study the research papers, not the sales material.

9-20-2003

PZEV.  These cleaner versions of vehicles will finally become available outside of California, beginning next month.  Ford Focus will be the premiere vehicle at first.  It's nice that consumers will begin having the option of purchasing a cleaner version of a common traditional vehicle.  (Deciding with your wallet is a powerful way to make a statement.)  There are others, but no announcements from the automakers have been made about them yet.  This is definitely a good start.  But then again, 2004 Prius is also a PZEV and it doesn't even have a dirtier version available.  The reality is that certain metro areas throughout the United States are now in grave danger of losing their federal funding for road project due to their emission levels exceeding the maximum allowed.  PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle) will help make a difference.  And in California, the sale of each actually results in a "green credit" which is required for the CARB ruling that will be enforced in a number of years.  Those automakers not making their quota will have to pay fines as a result.  The PZEV version of Focus earns 0.2 of a ZEV credit (hence the "P" standing for Partial).  The 2004 Prius earns 0.3 of a ZEV credit, since not only is it cleaner but it also more efficient.  (Prius is actually a AT-PZEV, the "AT" stands for Advanced Technology.)  So cleaner is finally beginning to gain some attention.  Yeah!

9-20-2003

TOC oversight!  TOC (Total Ownership Cost) estimates leave out one very important factor.  It's something that makes Prius even more appealing (so you can imagine the type of response that will get when you point it out to those that don't support the hybrid technology).  A grim reality that more and more people have to face nowadays is the fact that their high-mileage vehicle, which still runs great, does not pass the emissions test. They end up having to spend hundreds of dollars unexpectedly to have the vehicle tuned to be cleaner.  Since the primary purpose of the HSD (Hybrid Synergy Drive) in Prius is to reduce emissions as much as possible, that is the least of concerns you'll have to deal with later in its life.  Traditional vehicles can't claim that.  So the next time someone shows you a TOC estimate, ask them where the emission expenses are for the traditional vehicle they are comparing to.  If they are missing, the value listed should not be considered complete.  Prius keeps getting better and better the more you learn about it.  Sweet!

9-20-2003

More Meaningful Discussions.  Well, it's about dang time!  I was so sick of dealing with performance (speed) enthusiasts attempting to compare Prius (a family car) to the sports car they drive.  It didn't even make sense to make a comparison like that, but they kept trying.  That went on for a long time.  But now that the 2004 is about to debut, they really don't have much to argue about.  The performance (speed) has been improved to the point that their arguments are no longer relevant.  So they've stopped participating in the online discussion groups.  Now those that can really benefit from discussions are stepping in.  Helping them is so much more rewarding than fighting the misconceptions those others were attempting to create.

9-19-2003

Silly NAV positions.  It's rather tempting to use a stronger adjective to describe what I've seen lately.  But for now, I'll stick with "silly".  Start watching television commercials closely, you'll notice other vehicles are beginning to include displays now.  The NAV concept is definitely catching on, but the location other automakers are choosing are, well... silly.  One offers a display down by the cupholder.  Is taking your eyes that far off the road in any way a safe thing to do?  There's a closer alternative, but it's not exactly easier to see.  That location is behind the steering wheel.  If you are the wrong height, you'll struggle to see it even though it's centered.  And of course, that means the speedometer is offset.  So your hand blocks the view of it.  How long will it take before others learn that the location in the 2004, just to the right of the steering-wheel at the top of the dashboard works much better?  (By the way, to see the speedometer in my Taurus I was literally forced to change the way I sit despite having a height adjustable seat.  That was an uncomfortable position for me.  The design clearly did not support a person of my height, which is disturbing since I'm pretty much average size.)

9-19-2003

The Lemon Again.  We made lemonade a long time ago.  But this dang list keeps reappearing.  The Index Ratio, which made it turn up on the list, has very little value considering how few are on the road and how uninformed the mechanics used to be.  An actual count of problems not yet resolved has much more meaning.  And in that case, there are really only a handful.  Focus should be placed on what the market is like now instead.  Once you've taken a moment to think about how Prius got on that list, step back and look at the big picture.  The website is nothing but a promotional tool for some attorneys, something to draw attention to themselves.  Literally, it is just an advertisement.  No detail whatsoever is provided about how they actually got those Index Ratio values.  All that's there is a generic link to a search page for the supposed data.  Then there's some info about how to contact the attorneys responsible for the Lemon List.  It's just a gimmick, one that unfortunately misrepresents Prius but sure draws a lot of attention as a result.

9-19-2003

Efficiency Uncertainty.  On a very regular basis, a new owner will chime in asking about the low MPG they are getting.  What they don't realize is that their driving situation has always been that way, only they didn't have a Multi-Display until recently to tell them that.  If most of those trips are short (10 minutes with a cold engine), then that alone will cause of lower efficiency.  Full idle, just like in a traditional vehicle, is needed during that time for warm-up purposes.  So basically, you don't get to take advantage of the hybrid benefit at all.  There's a whole bunch of other influencing factors (that affect all vehicles, not just Prius) which everyone should be aware of.  They are listed here... owner advice 2

9-19-2003

Business Minor.  I had no idea the minor on my Bachelor's Degree would get used so much and it such an exciting way.  Accounting & Economics classes were not fun for me, but they obviously had a lasting influence.  I guess if you take enough of them, you really start thinking of the big picture rather than just the specific situation you are trying to understand.  My Spanish classes had the same effect.  I took 4 years of language.  That was followed by a year of doing nothing but studying the culture.  No wonder I see & understand the Japanese perspective so much easier than the average person. Combine that with their business philosophies, which focus mainly on long-term investments (very different from the short-term thinking here in the United States), and you begin to understand the approach with Prius.  The first 2 generations worked out the hybrid concepts.  The third evolved the design to a form that can be reused in many different configurations.  Toyota calls that HSD (Hybrid Synergy Drive).  Over the next few years, HSD will appear in various sizes, shapes, and types of vehicles.  My business minor helped me notice that a couple of years ago.  Now I'm actually seeing it happen.  Cool!

 

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