Prius Personal Log #907
December 12, 2018 - December 18, 2018
Last Updated: Tues. 12/18/2018
page #906 page #908 BOOK INDEX
Closure, Mixed Messages. The fundamental problem which hampered progress of Volt was never really knowing what it was for. This reaches beyond even the "Who?" question. What was GM attempting to accomplish with the technology? No one ever really knew. It wasn't like with Toyota. Their hybrid technology had a blatantly obvious purpose... to reduce emissions & consumption. With the technology from GM, answers differed depending upon who you asked... hence all the reminders of audience. Enthusiasts pushed the angle of all-electric driving. That primarily came about as a differentiating factor from Prius PHV. They wanted the goal of Volt to not have those same blending operations known. They did everything in their power to suppress mention of it at every stage, especially when GM tried to promote it more as a gen-2 refinement. That message of purity ended up drawing the most attention, drowning out mentions from GM, like the "1,000 miles or more per tank" advertising. Never using the gas-engine was a direct contradiction to the purpose of Volt. It repurposed the device, portraying it as nothing but an emergency backup... a very, very expensive rarely ever used backup. Why bother with such an expensive & complexity when increasing battery-capacity would serve the same purpose so much better? That's how Bolt came about. Enthusiasts claim that was the plan all along. Abruptly shuttering the factory where Volt was built and laying off those employess proves otherwise. That most definitely wasn't what GM intended. Of course, no one knows what GM intends now. The outcome is already disastrous. Could GM make it any worse?
Closure, Plans? It was like dealing with a black-hole. You know at some point there will be a collapse and everything near will get sucked in. That's been the situation with GM. You knew they'd screw up and harm efforts the industry have been striving for. It became obvious early on. Volt was losing money. Enthusiasts would lie about that, claiming the design was profitable despite an overwhelming amount of proof to the contrary. The recent layoff announcements provided confirmation. All doubt has been removed. Of course, there shouldn't been any in the first place. Seeing how hard Toyota struggled to squeeze out razor-thin profit from Prius is all it took to understand the difficult challenge of making money from new technology. Anywho, that brings us to the collapse. If we are about to witness GM placing all its bets on Bolt instead, abandoning EREV in favor of EV only, how will that profit be made? Hyundai is about to rollout their own EV, one that very much takes on Bolt directly. Their plans to penetrate deep into this emerging market include taking advantage of tax-credits GM no longer has. How exactly will GM compete with that, especially knowing Hyundai's offering will be a SUV rather than a wagon? This is why I kept redirecting discussion back to GM's plans. It made no difference whatsoever how Toyota approached the market. That was clearly just a red-herring. Toyota is focusing on their own customers anyway, not making a conquest play like Hyundai. Think about the differences between the well-established Japanese automaker and the up-and-coming Korean automaker. Hyundai seeks growth. Toyota retains loyalty. That leaves GM without much hope... hence the collapse. What will an automaker dependent upon large guzzlers do without any type of affordable green technology?
Closure, S-Curve. I'm really surprised to see the market-spin taking on such a deceptive approach. More and more articles are being published about the boom of EV sales. True, we are seeing a genuinely impressive ramp-up of Tesla production... which is why so many have given up on GM, especially since their own ramp-up had been promised. But vital information about tax-credit phaseout isn't included. That intentional omission is very, very misleading. There's a huge interest in Model 3 purchases right now simply due to the fact that tax-credit phaseout has already been triggered. In just 15 days, that $7,500 subsidy will be cut to $3,750 and you won't be able to collect it for an entire year. That's a potent reason to rush purchases. A reasonable expectation is that demand will drop noticeably next month as a result. That isn't mentioned though, nor is all the promoting of fossil-fuel sources by the current administration. It's a greenwash effort from an unexpected source. They are feeding a narrative that will ultimately present barriers, very much like Volt did. Good intentions created a problem extremely difficult to overcome. That's bad enough when there aren't many challenges to deal with anyway. This is denial on a dangerous scale, since it promotes an effort to ignore signs of trouble. It's really unfortunate people don't use critical thinking anymore. Rhetoric has far more of a hold on attention than what we were taught to do. The brainless terms, like "big oil" and "global warming", are trouble. Call out for detail. Push those refusing to provide it to step aside. You're in for disappointment otherwise. We must set realistic expectations. Tesla Model 3 sales will drop soon. That's ok. It's part of the normalization process, if you plan accordingly. If not, expect damage-control to get out of hand... just like we saw with Two-Mode, Volt-1, and Volt-2.
Closure, Dead. A blogging topic was posted yesterday on the big EV website. It was about GM having hit the tax-credit limit and how difficult it will soon be for GM to compete. Naturally, the distortion element of "EV market" was what it had been based upon. Rather than actually addressing the reality of Volt & Bolt having to face traditional vehicle competition, we got the usual slant of other automakers. Fortunately, the tone of that was lighter than in the past. GM's failure to capitalize on the timing opportunity for getting Volt technology spread to other offerings long before this is finally getting attention. It's still not much of a priority though. Most people are just writing off GM entirely, giving up on their hope about the legacy giant. This is precisely what the "too little, too slowly" concern was all about. It came about from the automotive task-force assigned to help GM with bankruptcy recovery. That's a scope far bigger than Volt, something the enthusiasts absolutely refused to accept. Now, they are dealing with a dead Volt. Few care anymore, as the lack of response to my post on that topic confirmed: "GM's choice to concentrate on conquest sales, rather than focus on their own loyal customers, will be confirmed as a terrible decision for tax-credit use. What suggestion is best for their next step, knowing that generous subsidy won’t be available?" No one had anything to contribute. That's because there is nothing whatsoever coming from GM. The silence is deafening. Not a peep, from an automaker who usually brags about industry leadership, it a sure sign of it being over. This race was lost. The hare failed to beat the tortoise.
Closure, Promises. The biggest problem I had with Volt was it came from GM, who had a very well established position of "over promise, under deliver". Most people don't remember any of the "stop gap" campaign from GM. It was a smear effort when Prius was first rolled out from GM. The greenwashing message conveyed was that hybrids were a waste of resources, since fuel-cell technology was the future. That's what GM was to deliver by 2010. We all know how well that turned out. GM embraced hybrids, delivering Two-Mode and BAS... neither of which worked well. In fact, they were failures almost immediately. Price was high and efficiency gain low. Both were discounted, rolling out next-gen offering with new names to disguise the previous attempts. Volt gen-1 and eAssist, both of which found struggle right away. Volt was especially bad. It had so many shortcomings, enthusiasts diverted attention to gen-2 early on. The rhetoric got nasty. Lies about the plug-in Prius were rampant... hence the problem. Volt got in the way. Promises of "leapfrog Prius" were broken. The sales never materialized, despite heavy discounting and irresistible lease offers. Conquest obscured actual progress. That created a barrier for Prius. The effort to advance forward on the affordable front stalled. Volt was in the way. With its abrupt death though and Toyota well thought out timing, we are suddenly seeing a surge of Prius interest. The move to deliver a more aesthetics more appealing to a wide audience and offering AWD seems to be a winner already, even before rollout. 50 MPG from a better looking, more capable Prius with a highly competitive price is a winning formula. It's a nice complementary offering at the side of RAV4 hybrid too. Meanwhile, GM has nothing... but is no longer blocking with an empty promise. I was so tired of always hearing about Volt whenever Prius was mentioned without any substance to actually support the comment.
Closure, Looking Back. It has been a wild ride over the past 3 weeks. The worst of those antagonists attacked relentlessly. He feared the day would come when Volt would die and I'd be there to deliver the eulogy. Pointing out that engineering was a victim of imbalance, where neglect of business need was the problem, made it too much to accept. I'm not supposed to say anything good about the technology. I was spun as an enemy to defeat, a competitor seen as squashed by an ironic twist of fate. "Know your audience" held true though. It became overwhelmingly obvious the real competitor was indeed traditional vehicles, that I was correct from day 1... well over a decade ago, back when Volt was first revealed. That left him cornered. He literally had nothing else to try. All the tactics & excuses had been exhausted. It was just like when Two-Mode died. I still remember that well. The analogy then was the antagonists were trapped in a corner, like prey about to be killed. In a surprising ironic twist, his very last post to me even sounded like that. It was: "Hissssssss..." He was attempting to call me out by identifying me a snake; you know, I was supposedly trying to sell snake oil. That fact that he was actually reflecting and made such a specific sound was truly remarkable. It was him, not me. Snakes are indeed predators. So, he thought he was safe, despite being in a corner. He didn't realize snakes can also be prey. I have proven to be an eagle (note always seeing the bigger picture). Oops! He went silent. Thank goodness that's over now. It wasn't a waste of time either. I had always wondered if that was the best use of resources. Turns out, much was learned from the experience of attempting to have constructive discussions with those who do not want to. Rather than a friendly venue, I chose foe. The fights there revealed much about what must be done to appeal to ordinary people. Those mainstream consumers couldn't care less about the opinion of enthusiasts; however, they do want to know which offerings have a reach beyond just being a niche. My effort was to research & confirm. The technology in Prius is a clear winner for the middle-market. That's the target, not early-adopters. In that regard, Toyota's effort is paying off. They worked hard to strike a balance. The needs of business were not neglected in favor of trophies. They know their audience.
Closure, Rushing. The entire development-cycle of
Volt was rushed. GM had fallen far behind and was struggling to
recover from that, as well as bankruptcy. You could see the temptation
to take shortcuts was overwhelming. Rather than study their own
customer priorities to draw appeal from them, they would pursue sales any
way they could. 200,000 tax-credits seemed like a massive quantity,
especially when no other automaker was offering a plug-in hybrid yet.
It was only a matter of stirring interest from early-adopters, getting sales
from that low-hanging fruit. Turns out, there weren't that many
actually interested. Price cuts and incredible lease deals were
required to keep demand alive. Supply was piling up. GM rushed a
product to market that didn't appeal to anyone beyond those just looking for
the best opportunity at the moment. Nothing related to loyal was done
to retain those buyers. When leases expired or the next best deal came
along, they abandoned GM. The story repeats relentlessly throughout
recent years in these blogs. Those enthusiasts didn't care. They
just moved along. So much wasted opportunity... I always stated
the situation of rushing as not bothering to make the choice affordable.
GM hoped for a miracle that would drop battery-cost so low, it would make
Volt an obvious choice. I wonder for who. If batteries became
cheap, why not just purchase an EV instead? A large-capacity pack
would be the better choice if the point was to avoid using the gas-engine as
much as possible. Notice how many Volt owners took great pride in
going extremely long durations without refilling the tank? With
charger availability increasing, the EREV concept made less and less sense.
They became their own worst enemy. That's what happens when you rush.
Enthusiasts didn't think things through and their own push on GM for their
beliefs ended up contributing heavily to Volt's demise. This is why I
kept repeating the message of purpose. I could see their obsession was
preventing the recognition of priorities, as I again repeated today:
Why don't you consider the priority of being affordable for the masses
serious? Sacrificing price for the sake of more range & power was a gamble
which clearly didn't pay off for GM. Keep in mind that a fuel-cell
vehicle is an EV with a small battery-pack to supplement the stack. All the
necessary components are used for electric-only propulsion. So, the
technical expertise & experience provides a dual benefit. Heck, even the
platform itself can be shared as Honda has demonstrated with Clarity. Toyota is refining design while waiting for the uncertainty from Tesla
and the mess with GM to settle down. There is simply no reason to rush to a
market still in the early-adopter stage.
Closure, Bad Business. Outside of that terrible daily blog, there are some efforts to discredit Toyota. They aren't as blind or desperate though. Somewhat objective discussion does take place. Sadly, most posts are just abandoned without any follow up. I suspect this will be one of them: "What I would say is, this effort by Toyota will probably deserve an entire chapter in: The Book of Bad Business Decisions." It originated from an attack against hydrogen. Unfortunately, there are quite a few EV supporters who don't like fuel-cell use in any form. They think it is a waste in every regard. The thought that it serves as a means of storage for electricity when large banks of batteries are not practical doesn't ever get addressed. Think of some commercial applications. That absolute doesn't make sense. We need capture as much energy as possible. So what if that isn't the most efficient means? Our goal is to be carbon-neutral. Don't forget purpose. It's far too easy to fall into that trap. Many do. Again, we don't want to add carbon to the air. If conversion from hydrogen to electricity isn't the best use of energy, but it doesn't result in any type of pollution, why is it still considered bad? Think about that for the big picture and end goal. In the meantime, consider what is good & bad business, as I did: 152 horsepower, 247 lb-ft torque from the AC traction motor used in Mirai. That's a component essential for a future EV that is already in real-world use. Imagine that transferred over to a Corolla with a plug. Toyota is clearly planning ahead for widespread reuse of their developing technology. Nothing bad about that.
Closure, Failure. This is what I plan to be my final
post on that nasty daily blog, in response to: "Sales in the USA are what we in the USA care
about. Prime has been out long enough for it to have had a nationwide
rollout. You refusal to admit it is a design failure obviously is not shared
by the dealerships around the country and by Toyota itself." That
venue served as a valuable resource in the past, providing ample opportunity
to learn about denial and the efforts to impede. Their claim of green
was shrouding with problems. I pushed and pushed and pushed to make
them understand, while at the same time figuring out why they didn't over
the course of an entire decade:
WHO IS THE MARKET FOR VOLT ?
That question was asked over and over again as sales of gen-1 Volt became a struggle. It was obvious GM had focused on appealing to a niche and the impression was they'd repeat that with gen-2. It was also obvious that those posting here couldn't care less about the global market. That meant they would force that perspective on others, even though it only applied to GM.
Toyota's focus has always been on the global market, targeting ordinary consumers, and not having a financial time-constraint like GM. So, waiting until year-3 of Prime for rollout to the rest of the United States and not really advertising until then was perfectly fine... no loss, especially with the state of the EV market and the timing opportunity for mid-cycle updates.
As for the impression of "unbridled hatred" being portrayed, that should be obvious. I was correct about GM doing too little, too slowly with Volt. Certain individuals will always resent the fact that I called out concern, seeing the financial risk growing as sales continued to struggle. GM didn't diversify in time. Volt died as a result.
There's extra resentment due to the fact that Toyota did diversify. From Prius came several other hybrids in several markets. Now from Prime, we see the same potential. And I most definitely do not "lambaste GM" for not having electrified everything yet. I get on them about not having set any clear expectation. There's nothing still. Their own loyal customers have no idea what step GM will take next. It's that uncertainty that makes investors and dealers uncomfortable. Know your audience.