Personal Log #1087
August 15, 2021 - August 21, 2021
Last Updated: Sun. 11/28/2021
page #1086 page #1088 BOOK INDEX
Bolt Abandon. Here was the comment about Bolt from
one prospective shopper: "Oh, well, here goes
one of the BEVs on my short list. Then again, no one is making a lot of cars
now. I may have to wait a few more years before switching to a full
BEV." That came from an online friend who is well informed and
not afraid to express opinion. So, I jumped into the conversation
Toyota's ramp up of RAV4 Prime has been slow & steady. That was many, many years in the making to achieve success on that scale right out the door. That's because detail involving all aspects of the EV driving, including battery draw & charge, were addressed prior to that. They get labeled as "laggard" for doing it right though, taking the time without a spotlight to refine the technology first. Sadly, building upon experience in small steps is not regarded as a wise approach.
GM's rollout of Bolt was a rush to beat Model 3. It was a gamble, diverting resources away from their invest with plug-in hybrid technology. Choosing to abandon, rather than diversify, has consequences. Think about what this does to reputation. There is nothing plug-in to purchase anymore. Where's the commitment to change? Regardless of whatever fix becomes available, damage from customer confidence has already happened. It is called disenfranchisement. We already saw that play out with Volt owners. The same is now happening with Bolt owners.
In simplistic terms, what will a showroom shopper purchase? We hear stories of loyal Toyota owners stumbling across an available Prime and purchasing it simply based on the basics they uncovered during their in-person shopping experience. That is truly amazing considering how little salespeople tend to understand about plug-in technology. This is why Toyota is taking the time to get every aspect of the ownership experience thoroughly worked out prior to "bZ" rollout. Mistakes can be costly... as we are seeing with GM.
My hope is to get a bZ4X right away. That still means a wait until next summer, at least. In the meantime, I will continue to closely study the market and confirm how well Toyota has done to make the technology work for it. Balance of technology with need & want is incredibly challenging. I respect Toyota's resistance to enthusiast exhort. They remain focused on goals to satisfy dealer & consumer, not to appease the initial market. Patience can be rewarding. Good luck with your wait.
Horrible News? Again, rather than seeing opportunity,
enthusiasts choose to play the victim-card. While the world has your
attention, why squander that chance to make a difference? Ugh.
That's why this comment stirred a response from me:
"Horrible news for the entire EV biz." That was the entire
post. No even trying to find some means of recovery... just wallow in
self-pity. Ugh. I chose to be constructive by replying with:
Not really. Ordinary consumers expect issues with new technology regardless of what actually happens. It is an interesting forgiveness built into the process.
This is why there is such loyal to "appliance" vehicles like what Toyota sells. The reputation for reliability comes from those years of initial trial. That's why Toyota has been advancing painfully slow from the enthusiast perspective. Details of operation collected from real-world data comes about from subtle production early on.
So what if RAV4 Prime only delivers 42 miles of EV range? So what if UX300e has 54.3 kWh of battery-capacity squeezed into an existing platform rather than one designed specifically for BEV use? So what if DC fast-charging started as CHAdeMO before switching to CCS?
Ordinary consumers won't care. They'll see 2023 models.... like Toyota's upcoming bZ4X... as an evolution in the process. The industry learns along the way. The entire thing doesn't just crash & burn. After all, rechargeable devices are everywhere and are continuously improving.
Opportunity. Enthusiasts like to make excuses and
place blame. As a result, they miss opportunity. We saw out
disastrous that was for Volt. It was an endless effort to divert
attention rather than address issues. I suspect the same lack of
constructive outlook will be the case with the recall of Bolt.
Nonetheless, I can still point out the opportunity:
Think of how many naysayers do everything they can to argue against plug-ins, sighting battery end-of-life as a big problem. If GM was smart *cough* this would be turned into opportunity by using it to address a portion of the EV industry supporters like to talk about but have little real-world support data... BATTERY RECYCLING. Think of how many they will have to dispose of now. Why not take advantage of such an ugly situation by providing the industry with something beneficial?
It has been quite interesting to watch all this play out. Toyota has been attacked on many fronts, but never faced anything on this scale with regard to electrification. Heck, there are individuals here who slammed them for using their well-proven battery stacks in the pack for Prius Prime. That approach consumed a lot of cargo area, but the stacks themselves had already been proven robust and cost-effective... so much so, Toyota leveraged that expertise to deliver RAV4 Prime and UX300e. The latter comes with a 10-year/1M-km warranty as a result.
The point is, it is very easy to fall into the "more" trap, where delivering more power & faster speed becomes too much of a risk. That proved a terrible gamble for GM. Just imagine if GM had made the decision to diversify, spreading their expertise to both Volt and Bolt. Repair to reputation wouldn't have been as much of an issue now. There would be Equinox owners driving daily with Voltec under the hood who would provide endorsement for GM with real-world data. Instead, Volt owners have moved on to other automakers and Bolt owners are about to do the same.
Making this right is vital. Remember the birth of Lexus back in 1987, how Toyota had reputation of their new brand on the line? It became a nightmare situation the competition dreamed about... a recall involving a defect from their new premium offering. How Toyota addressed owners would make all the difference. It could have turned into a disaster; instead, it ultimately solidified the brand. Toyota ended up bending over backward to make owners happy and did such a great job Lexus became an established brand. Phew!
GM could really screw this up by focusing on reimbursement from LG. If they don't suck it up and accept the consequences of what rushing to market and putting all their eggs in one basket resulted in, GM might as well step aside for other automakers. This is an opportunity that could easily be lost.
Response. Decades ago, Toyota faced a serious reputation problem with the new brand they had just introduced, Lexus. It was a public relations disaster due to the way the problem had been handled... much like what GM is doing now with Bolt. It should have been obvious just how bad the defect actually was simply due to how complex detection was. Late 2019 was when the first fire got reported. It's not like traditional vehicles either, where the cause is rather obvious... shortly after an accident. These fires were quite random, when the vehicle was just sitting there parked. No change via software can properly address prevention for that circumstance. The suggestion of parking your vehicle outside until further notice and avoiding high & low capacities (which resulted in a range loss of 100 miles) wasn't realistic. Of course, proposed module changes aren't either. Think about what it takes to open the battery-pack (if I remember correctly, there are 57 threaded bolts) and handle the 5 large modules. Connections for wiring & cooling must be perfect. What are the odds a mechanic with little to no opportunity to practice that procedure will achieve factory perfection? Think about how long it will take for GM to safely deliver (transport of large lithium batteries require extra transport packaging & procedures). It could easily take an entire year to reach all 142,018 owners and perform the switch. GM would be better off shipping full replacement battery-packs. After all, the cost is already estimated to be $1.8 Billion. With such a logistical nightmare, why not centralize some of the process? Use a team of experts to assemble & inspect. Whatever the case, there will be quite a few owners who will abandon their support of GM in the process. An opportunity for good will has already passed.
Silence. The middle of yesterday brought news of GM's recall expanding to include all Bolt model-years. Nothing emerged on the blogs though. News media exploded though, reports of all types were published. Silence among enthusiasts was rather bizarre. Early the next morning, not hearing anything from that group, makes you wonder. They had looked upon GM's rush to market as proof of unstoppable progress. All that talk of how quickly BEV would take over have suddenly been given a good dose of reality. The assumption had been made that nothing else was needed, that the technology had matured to a point of non-issue. Many challenges to overcome still remain. Fire risk is very much one of them. That's why Toyota has been working to set realistic expectations. Enthusiasts spin that as an effort to "slow down" inevitable change. Those of the early-adopter mindset don't like the idea of PHEV sharing plugs with BEV. They insist upon purity. They also will not settle for 50 kW as a maximum for widespread DC fast-charging... despite that standard taking hold with many stations. What does the expense... and risk... of faster really provide? Pushing for more without sound reason why the way of enthusiasts. They didn't see the difference between need & want. The silence seems to indicate a possible awakening. Actually taking priorities seriously would be a miracle. Perhaps we stand of chance now.
Another Oops! Rather that hearing more about the latest GM fire, this morning's news brought the first ever report of a VW fire. The video was there for all to see. The report was that an ID.3 started to smoke then burst into flames shortly after being unplugged. Being over in Europe, it was easy to identify the EVSE it has been connected to was a unit that lowers into the sidewalk after use. That means level-2 charging. And regardless of whether it was the standard 7.4 kW max from an ordinary line or 11 kW from a 3-phase line, we know it was slow. That means nothing related to heat-related problems coming from the much faster DC charging would be present in this circumstance. The vehicle itself could still be taking unnecessary risks though. GM's advice to impacted Bolt owners has been to avoid both the upper & lower limits of battery-capacity. This is something Toyota has carefully avoided. It simply wasn't worth the risk of pushing limits for the sake a squeezing out a little more range. Is this a problem for VW we are only now just discovering? After all, there was quite a scramble to finalize software. Whatever the case, this adds an interesting twist to the growing problem for GM... which seems to be expanding to more of an industry concern.
Oops! There was a video today of a newer Bolt catching fire, one that had not been included in GM's recall. Only the older ones were supposedly affected. They had batteries built in Korea using a process different enough to isolate them from recent ones built in Michigan instead. When word got out that it wasn't among those 2017-2019 models, that it was a 2020 put into service just 7 months ago, the video suddenly vanished from availability online. Enthusiasts had already captured copies though. The information has everyone speculating. I saw a few frame-grabs from that video. They provided good reason for raised concern. My observations of the market are to help provide a look at how progress comes about while drawing attention to what works and what doesn't. My tortoise & hare post a few days ago resulted in this for a response today: "Nobody cares what an anti-EV Toyota shrills spam here." It was quite obvious that information struck a nerve. Adding today's to that will be quite interesting. I wonder how the media will respond. As of this moment, it looks like speed to market was an oops! Getting beyond a mistake like that is very difficult.
Trust. Those who defend at all costs are becoming obvious. No matter how bad the fire situation with Bolt gets, they are there to justify those actions: "GM already decided on this in their earning announcement by allocating $800M for it." I see no need to argue with that. $800 Million is a big deal, no matter how you spin it. Instead, I ask questions. Any constructive-minded person would get you a reasonable answer. Someone who is just trying to protect reputation will attack. I expect the latter from posting this: How does this impact the industry as a whole? For years, it was the tortoise and the hare rhetoric. There was a supposed leader. Despite being is such early stages of the market penetration, lots of mocking & belittling was encouraged. Think of how many times the "laggard" label was posted. What did that achieve? For the hare, it was an appeasement to enthusiasts... which now equates to $800M in unplanned expense, a PR nightmare to address, and a bunch of frustrated enthusiasts waiting for cell replacement. For the tortoise, it will be a just-in-time BEV rollout... which ordinary consumers will see a new choice supportive of initiatives to help reduce carbon emissions and eliminate dependency on fossil fuels. It's still a very long race, but we already see that trying to go as fast as possible can have costly consequences for everyone. In this case, GM will pay the price (quite literally) but there will be collateral damage to others as well. Selling any BEV will require acknowledgement of the fire problem playing out now. There is also the unfortunate reality of how those opposed to plug-in vehicles will attempt to use this to mislead about safety & reliability. Don't be naïve to think taking care of impacted owners is all that will need to be done to restore industry trust.
How Much? I left the rather ambiguous note of "How Much?" to myself as a reminder to blog about later in the evening, as I was winding down the day with a beverage while listening to the sounds of night outside. Unfortunately, I forgot what that reference was specifically about. I believe it was with regard to EV range. But my conversation earlier in the day also included charging speed. The first is relatively easy to talk through. In fact, you can do things like bring up your timeline on Google Maps to get real-world data about daily travel. What is much more difficult is any conversation of DC fast-charging. No one you will encounter has experience or even any background on that topic. "200 miles per charge" has been self-explanatory for years, though the interpretation of what it means to an owner is somewhat muddled. That isn't the case for "50 kW charging" though. It is basically completely worthless. An ordinary consumer would have no clue what it means. That's why newer references like "12 miles per hour" and "25 miles per hour" are catching on for explaining level-2 charger speed. That's the difference between "3.3 kW" and "6.6 kW" or "16-amp" verses "32-amp". That reference to miles-per-hour is somewhat relatable. Problem is, that rate isn't linear and rates vary based on both EVSE (charging-station) available and the vehicle itself. That doesn't address DC fast-chargers though. Those variances are amplified. There is the issue of pricing too. This is why discussions of "150 kW" and "300 kW" are only for supporters who not only understand the technology, they also recognize market. In other words, we are still very much in the early stages of conveying a message of "How Much?" to mainstream shoppers. It's basically, the next stage of the "Who?" question. Knowing your audience means also recognizing priorities & need, then informing the masses with clarity.
bZ4X Planning. Seeing the upcoming state of the market and the financial situation in our household, consideration of getting a bZ4X has begun. There isn't really much actual planning. But discussing expectations is good. By the time I could have an order filled, my Prius Prime will be 5 years old. That is pretty much the schedule I move on to embrace & endorse the next offering anyway. Resale value is still great and there is always someone looking to jump on the opportunity to purchase a used Toyota... especially now with supply so limited. I normally wouldn't see the pursuit of a larger vehicle with AWD drive as worthwhile. That's nice, but it doesn't really promote efficiency. However, it does support market interest. Providing that level of detail I have committed to would indeed be beneficial. Just the bZ3 years from now will likely be a very popular choice. But in 2022, that's not the situation. Focus on concerns beyond just the vehicle are paramount. Think about what I can do to help promote public charging-stations, showing people how DC fast-charging actually works. That's an excuse for road trips. What an interesting situation. My wife and I like to travel to a location that has them along the way. Looking up info on the PlugShare app, I see there are is 1 CCS (50 kW), 1 CHAdeMo (50 kW), and 2 J-1772 (7.7 kW) stations at the outlet mall along the highway. The level-3 cost is $0.20/min with a $5 minimum. The level-2 are free. Heading further north, I see a few other locations with similar setup. Hopefully, the current administration's push to support more chargers will come through. If so, the expectation is that Minnesota will get $68 Million toward that purpose. In the meantime... like usual... there's lot of waiting. I suspect the detail about bZ4X itself will come around Thanksgiving time, when the LA Auto Show takes place.