Personal Log  #356

November 16, 2007  -  November 26, 2007

Last Updated: Mon. 1/21/2008

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Enthusiasm.  It's quite impressive from the Volt enthusiasts... though, odd.  At first, their comments reminded me of the past... an amazing 7.5 years ago.  Now, it's just plain weird.  The discussions on their dedicated forum are following the very same pattern.  They are completely unaware of Prius history.  In a way, that is good.  They can experience the discovery process first-hand... just like we did.  But to wonder about questions that we have long since found answers to does seem a waste.  I guess that is progress.  It's certainly not the way I would like it... because it is going to take much longer than just picking up where the competition had already progressed to.  Oh well.  At least there is support now.


Disingenuous Compares.  At some point, it can be considered intentional misleading.  Calling it "disingenuous" is being kind.  You decide what's appropriate for this:  "The city mileage figure, 21 mpg for the two-wheel-drive GM SUVs, is a 50 percent improvement over that of gasoline-only versions and is on par with the EPA city ratings of popular four-cylinder midsize sedans such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord."  I call that selective data sharing.  Because if you also include the highway mileage figure, a different story is told.  Those numbers are in favor of the non-hybrid.  The 31 MPG highway estimate for Camry is significantly higher than the 22 MPG highway estimate for two-wheel-drive GM SUVs.  But they never mention that.  Yet, they make that "on par" comparison anyway.  That is vital information absent from what is supposedly a trustworthy comparison.  I consider that dishonest.


New Hybrid Interest.  Now that GM is finally getting into the game, their loyalists are writing articles favoring hybrids.  That's quite a switch from the recent past.  And yes, they still degrade and mislead about the competition rather than just saying they have joined in to compete.  But none of that concerns me.  It's the amount of incorrect information being published.  There are errors within descriptions of GM's own offerings.  Clearly, those writers have not studied the material yet.  The most blatant never mentioning GreenLine, claiming that Malibu & Aura would be offered with Two-Mode then listing the GreenLine EPA estimates.  Naturally, there was no mention of emissions whatsoever, neither type.  Of course, the thing I find most amusing is the number of models being offered gets a great deal of attention... claiming that is the measure of success.  You are given a false impression of what really matters.  The actual production quantity is absent... which is what truly makes a difference.  Though very confusing for consumers, new hybrid interest in this form is better than nothing.  Two steps forward, one step back.


Purchase Justification.  A wonderful outcome of that new owner frustration thread was these questions: "Why are we the ones who have to justify our purchase?  How come they don't have to justify their emissions, their gasoline consumption, their funding of foreign government?"  That makes a lot of sense.  We shouldn't have to explain why we did the right thing.  We saw the need and supported it with our wallet.  People rarely ever have to justify upgrade options for their vehicle purchase.  Heck, the choice of automatic transmission is accepted as normal, even though it clearly is not the best choice for efficiency.  Yet, people don't ever have to provide reasoning for that.  After awhile, there will be no excuse for not getting the hybrid option.  Continued improvement of the technology along with increasing gas prices should make that a no-brainer decision.  But I bet there will be people to the bitter end that continue to fight progress.  What do you think?


New Owner Frustrations.  She asked how to respond to vehicle comparisons.  Her examples were very much like what I've been dealing with for many, many years now.  So, I chimed in with this advice...  I typically don't respond.  It's simply not worth it.  Just ask the person what MPG they actually get.  You'll quickly discover they don't have a clue.  Their impression of efficiency is based upon just some crude one-time measurement, without taking into account any of the factors of influence we as Prius owners know all too well.  Then there's other stuff Prius that is never given any monetary value for.  The emission rating is almost always dismissed entirely.  The Multi-Display, speedometer, and aluminum rims are ignored, despite all being obvious upgrades.  The pleasure from stealth is overlooked.  Most are totally unaware of how much smoother the engine in Prius is than that in Corolla.  The list goes on and on.  In other words, don't expect constructive discussions about hybrids.  They are extremely rare.  As a new owner, you just have to accept that smug smile that inevitably emerges.  It sometimes takes a very long time for others to understand why you've chosen to take that step forward.


333,333 Miles.  Believe it or not, his Prius has traveled way beyond anyone's imagination... and still going strong with the original battery-pack!  This is that magic data we have always desired, a way of absolutely squashing the distance misconception.  Some people worried that lots of travel would spell certain death and inevitable replacement.  Clearly, that's not the case.  Those that drive long trips often don't have anything to worry about.  You can squeeze out efficiency gain even from high-mileage needs.  The amortization of cost can indeed be spread across longer than usual distances over a shorter than usual ownership time span.  Needless to say, he sure is having fun with his Prius... owner:  Jesse


Grille Blocking, User-Guide.  Now that it's colder out, the time had come to add a page for Grille Blocking.  Along with two new photos, there's a summary of what to expect and when to actually do it.  Hopefully, it's straight forward enough.  But being clear is quite difficult when the topic itself is rather ambiguous.  I suspect those without an aftermarket gauge will be somewhat intimidated still.  Some that participate in online discussions are, despite be way better informed that the typical owner.  It varies quite a bit depending on the region you live anyway.  Here in Minnesota where the forecast for the coming week is highs only around 25 F degrees, the decision is obvious already.  Even colder temperatures are on the way.  In less hostile environments, I understand the apprehension.  Heck, I certainly didn't see the need for the first 7 years of ownership.  But now that I am so well aware of how the system operates, it's no big deal.  There isn't a need, but the gain definitely makes taking that step worth it.  You decide for yourself... User-Guide  (HSD)


Sunroof Added.  Back when I owned a larger car with a smaller interior (a 1994 Ford Taurus), I really enjoyed having a roof that could be opened.  But when I bought my Classic Prius, that option was not missed.  The larger interior cancelled out the sensation of being cramped.  So I never looked into adding an aftermarket sunroof, despite having seen two examples in person.  Then when I upgraded to the HSD Prius, same thing.  It would be nice, but by no means necessary.  Now after so many miles already driven, that cost cannot be justified.  But it is awful tempting asking myself if I'd do that with my next hybrid.  Take a look what he had done to his Prius and you'll understand why... owner:  Craig


Self-Destruct.  The big GM forum is dividing from within.  Misconceptions are alive & well.  There's a group fighting hybrids entirely.  There's another absolutely obsessed with the biggest and most powerful hybrids, dismissing all others as a waste.  There's a group heavily in support of the mild hybrids, focused entirely on price.  There's another that views Volt as the ultimate answer, with no concern for price.  They disagree on virtually everything, except emission rating.  The unifying message is that they simply don't care.  Now that the details about smog-related emissions from Two-Mode and BAS has been revealed, they're attempting to disregard it's importance.  Ignoring a problem won't solve it.  Too many choices are tearing them apart.  That makes the most exciting topic the plug-in version of Two-Mode.  Each group has something negative to say about that.  What direction will the automaker take if supporters are sending so many different messages?


$98.18 Per Barrel.  Watching the price of oil continue to rise is troubling.  This week's closing wasn't even peak.  There was a brief time when the price was a dollar more.  Concerns about the housing market and oil prices dominate talk of financial well-being.  Those uncertainties influence other markets, raising business risk.  We are not in good standing right now.  That makes the spread of hybrid technology more difficult.  That's bad.


Grille Blocking, warmth.  The daytime highs are now only in the 30's and the evening lows in the 20's.  Those are temperatures cold enough to start collecting data from blocking the lower-grille too.  With only the upper-grille blocked, there wasn't much need for extra warmth.  Early in the season like that, I was mostly just expecting a benefit from the aerodynamic improvement.  But now, it's colder.  I suspect this additional blocking will help quite a bit with engine warm-up, since the amount of air allowed to squish through the radiator itself will be reduced significantly.  Then after the engine has been running for awhile, the behavior of the thermostat should be more stable (like I've seen with only the upper-grille blocked in warmer temperatures) despite it being much colder.  In other words, the MPG data 6 weeks from now should be very interesting.  It will likely drop down to the usual seasonal low of -15 F degrees.  I bet the results will be quite impressive.  Too bad we didn't have an affordable & convenient way to monitor coolant temperature years ago like we do now.  Oh well.  Better late than never.


Artificial Barriers.  GM argued that their recent action with Volt was in response to a "not possible" claim Toyota made.  Back when I first heard about a response coming, I wondered what the heck GM was talking about.  I certainly never heard that.  But like on the big GM forum, supporters hear what they want... not what you actually say.  So without providing any detail to this, you can easily surmise that it's a way of stirring to pot to draw attention.  After all, they still won't have anything available for sale for at least 3 years still.  Starting a controversy by inferring a vague comment actually meant something else would be an effective way to stall, keeping focus on them in the meantime.  It's an interesting way of setting up artificial barriers.  They can claim a challenging milestone was achieved, even though no one doubted that could be done.  Isn't all this hype fun?  Thankfully, the population of Prius and Camry-Hybrid will continue to grow while we wait... since they don't have any barriers.


No Direct Electricity.  That particular rumored Volt design really caught me off guard.  Supposedly, electricity from the generator will never be sent to the thrust motor directly; it will always pass through the battery-pack first.  Why?  That seems rather strange converting from AC to DC then back to AC again.  It's unnecessary aging of the battery which could easily be avoided, and is by the "full" hybrids.  That explains why it will be require liquid cooling for Volt.  Needless to say, not having actual detail available doesn't help.  Rumors like this need to be officially responded to, especially since so few understand how the competing designs work.  It allows for speculation that misconceptions thrive on.


Liquid Cooling Considerations.  Hearing that Volt will use liquid cooling for the battery-pack is in interesting twist.  Toyota always went way out of their way to avoid that.  Risk of getting too hot is less in a "full" hybrid anyway, since it depends less on the battery-pack than a "series" hybrid would.  So the extent of need for Volt operation in extreme heat is hard to identify, but the expense, weight, and space penalties should be obvious.  What about in the extreme cold?  We're talking January in Minnesota, where temperatures routinely drop below 0 F.  With a battery-pack encapsulated in freezing cold coolant, operational heat from the battery itself will be leeched out.  The liquid cooling would likely have a negative effect in that situation, making warm-up take a very long time.  Do you think GM would choose to startup the engine then?  At some point, there is likely a tradeoff to consider.  I wonder how enthusiasts will react if a low temperature threshold emerges, where the system is better off just running the engine initially.  Hmm?


Actual Sales.  The talk of "most" advanced engineering and "most" model quantity is gaining traction.  Unfortunately, that's a clear indicator of hype.  They are just things you read about, only words.  Enthusiasm alone isn't enough.  It's actual sales.  That's what truly makes a difference.  Hearing about something you can't buy doesn't do any good.  To be the traditional vehicle replacement, it actually has to replace.  I'd put that penetration level somewhere around 60 percent.  Both Toyota & GM produce over 9 million new vehicles annually.  That's an expectation of around 5.4 million hybrids from each, each year.  Shouldn't that be a realistic 10-year goal to set?  Imagine what the oil-supply and climate-change concerns will be a decade from now without any action.  Not setting a production goal would make you wonder, especially since they have to commit to supplier agreements anyway.  This is a serious need.  Actual sales is an appropriate gauge of progress.


Prototype Battery.  GM does get credit for keeping us informed... now.  Prior to this is a different story.  Anywho, today's new details painted a fairly decent picture of the situation with the timing of Volt production.  None of this will surprise any of the Prius supporters.  We know all about the concerns of high-power, high-capacity battery-packs.  The first thing is that Toyota prefers to avoid liquid-cooling.  GM doesn't... but never said that until today.  Arrgh!  This prototype uses that.  So overheating is far less of a concern... but it makes the battery-pack much larger & heavier, as well as more expensive.  Weighing in at 200 kg (441 pounds), the t-shape 16 kWh prismatic assembly is 6 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 1.5 feet high.  No wonder they want so much time to continue research & development.  That's a really, really big battery!


Naive or Smug?  I would like to know how to interpret the new attitude emerging on the big GM forum.  They figure their new monster-size hybrid is the answer to our problems.  No expansion to smaller vehicles is necessary.  Because it saves so much gas, there's no sense in producing a vehicle like Prius too.  Don't they see that the ship they are partying on is sinking?  Perhaps, they do know and simply don't want to wreck those final moments.  Whatever the case, the concern about climate-change is growing rapidly and the price of oil closed this week at $95.10 per barrel.  Reality will come crashing in on them if they ignore the signs.  Don't they realize how many years it takes to develop a hybrid in the first place and how many years behind they still are to competing directly with Camry-Hybrid?  The threads there have turned into a feel-good post for enthusiasts not interested in constructive discussion.  Sound familiar?  A very similar thing happened on the Escape forum, where discussion about the hybrid was quickly pushed aside in favor of the traditional model.  That's sad.


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