Prius Personal Log  #895

October 10, 2018  -  October 19, 2018

Last Updated:  Sun. 11/04/2018

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Guzzling Electricity.  There are a number of EV offerings now available that guzzle electricity.  Unlike Toyota, some automakers simply haven't bothered optimizing operation.  They just figured out how to make a vehicle go with battery & motor.  The effort to refine their propulsion system isn't as much of a priority as simply having a presence in the emerging plug-in market.  That's overwhelmingly obvious with the reveal of I-Pace today.  That will be Jaguar's first offering.  Focus was clearly on speed & power, not efficiency.  Rating numbers make that obvious.  80 MPGe City.  72 MPGe Highway.  76 MPGe Combined.  With values that low, it's compete with Prime's 133 MPGe rating.  But then again, it was never intended too.  Nonetheless, you don't want to just waste a fuel... even if it is greener than gas.  Of course, generating electricity isn't as clean as it could be yet.  Sadly, we still get electricity from coal in many states here still.  For perspective, remember that Volt was rated at 106 MPGe... in a market where efficiency gets far more attention.  But then again, compared to Model 3's best rating of 130 MPGe, that value of 76 is pretty bad no matter how you look at it.  Luxury or not, guzzling on that level isn't sending a good statement for EV adoption.  Think about how much more battery is needed to deliver competitive range.  That makes the vehicle very, very expensive.


Watching It Fall Apart.  We seem to be rapidly drawing near to an end of GM's current existance.  The reality of what I had been saying for years is becoming so difficult to deny, there's no strategy to repel it.  All of the excuses have been exhausted.  All of the distracts have becoming uninteresting.  All of the hope had faded away.  They have nothing left.  Heck, even personal attacks fall apart.  I wondered how it would all come to an end.  I always knew what the timing would be though.  Such heavy dependence on tax-credits made it obvious.  Sales of GM plug-in offerings were a major struggle even with that $7,500 subsidy and basically no outside competition.  But with Tesla, Nissan, Honda, and Toyota all making their mark, you don't even need to consider the new pressure Hyundai, BMW, and VW will add.  It's a mess that will grow worse very fast.  I jumped into the floudering defense of GM with:  It has been interesting to read opinions here from those who endorse niche approaches with hope of mainstream acceptance.  Their opinion makes sense from an engineering perspective, since design is usually well thought out.  But from the business perspective, their stance is disastrous.  Betting the farm on a plug-in choice that will mostly likely never be competitive with that own automaker's traditional choices is like watching the Titanic sink.  What's the point of pushing a product that dealers won't accept?  This dislike for Toyota's recognition of need is bewildering from a group claiming to want the masses to embrace plug-in technology.  So what if the specs aren't pushing the envelope?  That isn't how business is sustained.  Niche offerings are impressive, but it the so-called "boring" vehicles that bring in the dependable profit.  It's ironic how much Prius gets mocked for being plain, ordinary, unexciting; yet, millions have sold.  That's the very point of mainstream acceptance.  Being ubiquitous means not standing out.  Oh well.  Some people won't ever figure it out.  That's their loss, not Toyota's.


Zero-Emissions Vehicle Division.  Investors of Toyota understand long-term plans and clearly see beyond current early-adopter hype.  Prius Prime demonstrates a profitable path to affordable plug-in hybrids.  Enthusiasts don't see that.  So, response this annoucement of a new division being created being negative online is no surprise.  Other automakers are doing the same thing, but they don't get the spotlight.  Green has been measured against Toyota for the past 20 years.  So when you hear similar from VW, it's definitely not the same.  They have to diesel disaster to overcome, being forced to help with our country's electrification effort as a result of the pollution added by their emissions cheating.  GM isn't the same either.  They put tell a story of electrification, but there's little actual substance behind it.  Their offerings aren't selling well and there's no investment toward infrastructure.  That's why so many turn to Toyota with the hope of rapid advancement, not understanding the work it takes behind the vehicle itself... hence today's press release.  It comes down to raising awareness.  It couldn't have been done any sooner either.   This early-adopter phase we are only now starting to see beyond is how a receptive audience of mainstream buyers is beginning to emerge.  Until tax-credits expire, not much with respect to acceptance by the masses will matter.  Ordinary consumers just plain don't care.  In other words, the difference between short-term and long-term strategy should be easier to understand now that the short is coming to an end.


Explain.  I was asked to provide some insight to what I was sharing in that video.  Feedback like that is how you "know your audience".  Understanding comes from exchanges just like this.  With such diverse backgrounds from people participating in discussions online, that's a good way of moving forward.  So, I tried my best to convery more information without being too overwhelming with detail.  This will hopefully be effective:  The aftermarket device with phone-app give an inside view of what's actually happening as you use the gas-engine to charge the battery-pack.  It's especially important to understand, since misuse of the feature could have a negative impact on overall efficiency.  Also, other plug-in hybrids may not operate in the same manner.  What stands out for me is the bar in the upper-right corner.  That shows how much electricity is getting sent to the battery-pack from the generator.  Notice how that value is often in the low 7's for kW rate?  It's proof that Prius Prime can already accept a faster recharge... another Toyota design feature that's under-utilized initially.  That's a common practice for their tech rollout.


Video: Charge Mode (drive data).  Planning for this particular capture got quite involved.  I needed to verify numbers, to make sure I wasn't choosing a circumstance that misrepresented what you'd encounter from ordinary travel.  So, I tried it several times while on my recent trip to Northern Minnesota.  That set some realistic expectations, as well as provide me with a few ideas about how to best film the drive itself.  You'll see that in the new layout for the video.  I needed a decent span of time to actually do the filming too.  So, this was quite awhile in the making.  It turned out well.  Here's my comments with the publish:  Charge-Mode is a feature Prius Prime offers where the gas-engine can be used to recharge the battery-pack.  In most cases, this isn't as efficient of a charging option as just using the plug.  But when you are on a road-trip and don't have an outlet available, being able to generate electricity while cruising on the highway can be helpful.  That electricity can be used later when you are driving short distances at your destination.  That avoidance of engine warm-up is overall beneficial, especially when taking advantage of steady-speed driving to charge.  Watch data presented on that phone-app (vertical display on the right) connected to the car using an aftermarket ODB-II reader.  It provides detail about power coming from the engine and how much of that is diverted to the generator while charging.  Note overall results upon reaching completion.  Also, notice the turn-around about halfway through the drive.  This helped to take into account any influence of wind or hills.  Watch it here...  Prius Prime - Charge Mode (drive data)


Value.  You'll find that enthusiasts have very different priorities than mainstream consumers.  What they value is what they feel is most important.  That's often a want, not a need.  Mainstream consumers tend base more of their purchase criteria on necessity.  This is why the shift to smaller SUV choices has seen some success.  This is also why saying "it is worth it" does not influence such an audience.  True, some of what enthusiasts focus on is beneficial.  But selling the idea of paying extra for a premium feature is challenging, even it if is worth it.  This is why the tax-credit only had an influence on early-adopter buyers.  Know your audience.  For GM, it was those willing to accept risk.  For Toyota, it will be those wanting a vehicle already well proven.  How to approach audiences with so little in common explains why we have rollouts so different.  Unfortunately, many looking at the tax-credit are not as mindful.  Short sightedness blinds fhem from recognizing this is not a one-size-fits all situation  I try to provide that insight:  Punishing automakers who carefully studied the market, rather than rush to it, doesn't make sense.  They will provide that better value for the money.  It's unfortunate opportunity was wasted, but that's no reason to pull the plug (pun intended) prior to others getting a chance... those who took the time to do it right.  Keep in mind how few vehicles 200,000 actually is.  Our market alone sells over 17 million new vehicles every year.


Profitable.  Time for a reality check.  I see a stir growing for GM's well being.  That hope many had held onto with nothing to support such optimism is falling apart.  For far too long... well over a decade... focus had been almost entirely on engineering.  When you have an economy that's recovering and a generous tax-credit to help new endeavors along, it was a time for taking some risk.   It's wasn't a time for catering to enthusiasts though.  That bordered on stupidity even back then.  Now, it's being looked upon as just plain foolish.  What was GM thinking?  How could a vehicle resembling a Honda Fit possibly compete directly against a sleek looking sedan?  Bolt never made any sense at that price and we knew cost wouldn't drop prior to tax-credit phaseout to make it even remotely competitive.  Who among GM customers would be interested?  This is why further investment in Volt technology to implement it within a SUV would have been a far better choice; instead, the approach of further deploying that tech was abandoned entirely.  I jumped into today's discussion with a dose of business reality, a bitter pill for many to swallow:  GM's profit is mostly from large guzzlers.  That's a formula for major financial challenges to come in world of high production-cost choices with a plug.  Their opportunity to focus on affordability was, sadly, wasted on conquest.  Attention should not have been on chasing Tesla customers.  It should have been on their own demograph.  Legacy customers will be very difficult to sell narrow-margin vehicles to.


Understanding Customer Priorities.  Now, all I can say is:  OMG!  The spin simply takes a different form.  "Let's Talk About Engine Stop-Start, Part 3: Stop-Start On The 2019 Chevrolet Blazer"  This was especially bizarre.  It sighted the mixed feeling about the rapid fuel-saving strategy of halting the engine everytime you come to a stop works.  Part 1 focused on the design and feature random customer comments.  Part 2 mentioned how it could be disabled, using a system hack.  Part 3 pointed out how the newest offerings provide a button.  All of it left you wondering what the heck the point was.  Why would you spend so much time & effort for a feature that customers could shut off?  Remember how Prius was mocked years ago for behaving like a golf cart?  It didn't actually.  But since most people didn't understand how the hybrid system actually worked, they assumed incorrect.  This feature from GM actually does work that way.  What was GM hoping to accomplish?  In other words, this is yet another example of the problems faced when not understanding customer priorities.  This is why I so often end online posts with:  Know your audience.


Compared To What?  All I can say is: Wow!  This article title, from a supposed GM expert, caught my attention: "With the 2019 Chevrolet Blazer, GM May Score Another Win Over Toyota".  Knowing the next-gen RAV4 coming in a few months will be rather impressive, I was quite intrigued to find out what the writer had to say.  To my bewilderment, there was no mention of RAV4.  Instead, the entire article compared the upcoming Blazer to Venza.  That's right.  The 2019 GM was compared to a 2009 Toyota.  It made no sense whatsoever.  The claim that Venza was the only proper comparison, since it was a CUV just like Blazer, was beyond absurd.  It's the same old nonsense we dealt with for Ford.  Remember when C-Max was compared to Prius v rather than the regular model Prius?  The hope was no one would take the time to discover that was totally inappropriate, that those 2 vehicles of the time were very different sizes.  Turns out, all the MPG claims Ford made were bogus too.  Even though Prius v was larger, it did in fact deliver higher efficiency.  It was a misleading effort that failed on multiple fronts.  So, there's not much reason to be concerned with this either.  Though, GM did briefly try to portray Bolt as a CUV.  It is obviously a compact wagon.  Blazer is obviously a SUV.  It will be compared to RAV4... even if some fans attempt to spin it as something else.


What Happens Now?  I keep pushing for answers... or at least acknowledgement:  GM squandered their tax-credits, using them for conquest sales rather than changing the status quo.  This was the problem brought up as a concern way back in early 2007, when details of development indicated more of a trophy-mentality.  Praise for performance became the draw. It should have been what it meant to actually be green.  We saw the potential for an EV that guzzled electricity.  But the bankruptcy recovery plan addressed that by raising the "too little, too slowly" concern.  Volt could be rolled out any way that would stir market interest, then GM would move on to a more practical offering.  Problem is, that never happened.  Instead, Toyota & Hyundai stepped in with efforts to deliver EV offerings that used less electricity to travel the same distance.  Sound familiar?  Detroit obsessed with the wrong thing, yet again.  History repeated.  It's ugly now too, since so much time & opportunity was wasted.  Look at the efforts delivered from Honda & Chrysler.  Consider what BMW & VW are ramping up to deliver.  The other big legacy automakers are taking the situation seriously... well, all but Ford.  So, what happens now? What will GM reveal as that 18-month promise comes to pass, which just happens to be the same timing as the tax-credit phaseout transitions to the 50% level?


What Will They Sell?  That suggestion of targetting mainstream consumers was not well received.  There's a lot of hate still for having been wrong about the market... and me being correct.  There's nothing to gain from saying "I told you so." though.  Instead, I push the look forward by asking an important question:  Don't overlook the purpose of the tax-credits and why the phaseout stage switches to unlimited quantity.  That subsidy was to assist each automaker with production & distribution, allowing them to get their product to a high-volume profitable sales level prior to hitting that 200,000 threshold.  This would make it easy for dealers & salespeople to continue on with business-sustainable sales, despite the reduction of that boost from the government.  GM didn't focus on their own showroom shoppers; instead, sales focus was on conquest.  Rather than use those tax-credits to entice their own loyal customers to replace their aging GM vehicle with a new GM vehicle offering a plug, they focused on selling more traditional SUVs... hence the introduction of both Trax & Blazer, neither featuring a plug.  Existing popular vehicles didn't get Voltec (the technology in Volt) either.   The rollout stalled with a compact hatchback that wouldn't be competitive on the showroom floor without the tax-credit.  In other words, consider the true competition problem.  What will dealers prefer to sell?


Suggestion.  Hearing about a bill that was proposed to abruptly end tax-credits for plug-in vehicles has caused quite a stir.  Those who proclaim "laggard" are celebrating.  They see the 200,000 vehicle limit as a barrier to success.  From their perspective, they see it as an unfair advantage... since they believe the competition is other plug-in vehicles.  In reality, the competition has always been traditional vehicles.  That subsidy money was to be used for helping the shift away from guzzlers.  It was support for electrification, not to boost the reputation of those who rushed to market with a product unable to compete.  Needless to say, there's an obvious panic building ebout GM support taking a plummet.  We already see Tesla taking away attention from the bleeding-edge audience.  The mainstream audience is far more fickle though.  That's where the legacy automakers needed help.  That's was the intended purpose of the tax-credits for them.  Instead, GM squandered that money.  Looking back, it's easy to see the wasted opportunity.  So many chances to bring about change were neglected.  I called them "missed" at the time.  Now, it's easy to see those involved simply didn't care.  The bet everything on hope of an abrupt shift, a very risky gamble with serious consequences.  That mess must now be dealt with.  I kept my reply to the situtation very simple:  Revise the bill to reward those building vehicles that actually target mainstream consumers.


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