Personal Log #357
November 27, 2007 - December 6, 2007
Last Updated: Mon. 1/21/2008
page #356 page #358 BOOK INDEX
Top-20 List. As of the end of November, Prius is ranked number 14 for the year in the United States. Sales strong enough to make the coveted top-20 list (for all vehicle types & classes) is pretty sweet. That most definitely ends any all doubt about hybrids becoming mainstream. It now has officially happened. Purchase quantity has risen higher than quite a few traditional vehicles. Using less oil and concern about the quality of our air is finally getting the attention it is due. Next year, things should get really interesting. Gas prices will likely rise. The presidential campaigning will undoubtedly address oil dependency concerns. Lots of HSD Prius owners will join the 100,000 mile club. Sadly, more evidence of climate change will emerge. GM hybrids will get reviewed... and hyped. Ford's new hybrid sedan will finally debut. There will be much happened. Hopefully, for the better. This particular milestone certainly was.
Ethanol Efficiency. Finally! Analysis of engine performance using ethanol blends higher than 10 percent for non-flex-fuel vehicles is coming to light. Good thing too, Minnesota has a mandate to increase to 20 percent in 2013... even though the data for E20 use is quite limited still. Many newly commissioned studies are in progress. But based on this one, the outcome should be quite favorable. Anywho, the choice of whether or not to use E85 is far from certain. Unfortunately, most flex-fuel owners choose not to. A mandate for all gas to be E10 uses far more anyway. That guaranteed demand will help fund programs to further invest in the expansion of ethanol produced from waste biological material, rather than a food product like corn. So it makes sense to study how realistic that is. Currently, no automaker bothers to certify (warranty) beyond a mix of 10 percent. Pushing for a higher blend to be certified now will help when it becomes required later... hence studies like this. Turns out that the Camry, Fusion, and Impala non-flex-fuel vehicles actually performed the opposite way they were hypothesized to. Since ethanol has less energy than gas, it was assumed that higher blends would result in lower efficiency... as we've witnessed with E85. That isn't the case for E20, E30, and E40. So not only is the vehicle capable of running using a higher blend, it is actually yields a higher MPG. How about that!
Assist & Mild. I read my first review of
Malibu-Hybrid today. The comments about BAS were very much like that of
IMA upon initial release. The electric motor provides only a modest amount
of power and the state-of-charge for the battery-pack is usually low. This
"mild" hybrid system is basically just a smaller version of the "assist" hybrid,
so the same passive charging approach is taken. He complained that the
engine didn't shut off that often at stops because electricity was in short
supply. That's very different from the persistent nature of the "full"
hybrid. As a result, the recommendation from the reviewer to upgrade the
A/C to electric simply isn't practical. Basically, you get what you pay
for. The low-cost BAS delivers minimal hybrid features.
Can't Take It Anymore. I thought I could tough it out
until sales of Two-Mode began. Getting thoughts & beliefs before that
point is the best approach, since supporters tend get defensive and
fixed-focused after product release. This has already revealed itself to
be too late with respect to emissions. They have grown very irritated by
that topic, choosing to ignore or dismiss rather than address. I wonder
what's going to happen with real-world MPG data. Hmm? Many are now
declaring victory, even though none are on the road yet. There's no aspect
of cooperation. In their mind, the competition is other types of
hybrids... not traditional vehicles. Don't they realize the type of
resistance that will come from the anti-hybrid? That's why I hold hybrids
to such a high standard. The under-qualified won't be able to survive
attacks from antagonists. Oh well. I tried to inform.
Seasonal MPG Averages.
Tracking MPG based on Month & Lifetime averages has been a common practice for
Prius owners. Grouping data like that makes sense. What hasn't captured much attention
though is the perspective of Seasons. So, I took a stab at it today by
grouping months together with like temperature ranges here in Minnesota.
Having over 4 years of data
already collected, I was intrigued to see what crunching those numbers resulted
in. The graph I was able to build from my spreadsheet turned out great,
simple & concise. Take a look at in on this webpage...
personal data 11
Price Concern. After a Volt comment like this today: "The
only question now is: How many will they build in year 1? I would assume
that 60,000 is the going number, with potential to reach 100,000 based on
demand." I had to interject a sense of reality...
How come so many of you still ignore the issue of battery cost?
Choosing to sell a vehicle at projected market value by accepting a loss
initially is a really big deal. It could take years of production before modest
profit is achieved. How much money is GM willing to sacrifice for the sake of
establishing a reputation for the new technology? That "nicely below $30,000"
target price is currently quite unrealistic, based upon the battery supplied by
A123 for aftermarket augmentation of Prius. Do the math. Losing $3,500 per
vehicle for 3 years at an annual production of 100,000 would be a loss of over 1
billion dollars! Meanwhile, you have to also consider the infrastructure cost. Training and equipping mechanics costs money.
Sorry, but taking comments about status seriously is difficult when fundamental
questions still remain unanswered.
November Sales. Prius exceeded it's annual goal already... and there isn't even a tax credit available anymore. The number sold so far this year is 167,009. Sales for the month were up 109 percent over the previous November, at a very pleasing 16,737. Camry-Hybrid did pretty good too, the 5,118 sold in November represents a 65 percent increase. That brings its annual sales up to 35,409. Growth is slow, but the demand is certainly there. Seeing more on the road now helps. I bet many still don't know what to look for though, since the signs of it being a hybrid are far from obvious. Recognition of the subtle takes awhile to learn. In the meantime, continued sales at this rate will do. Reputation building takes time anyway.
Scaling. The belief that HSD wouldn't scale well has been the argument in favor of Two-Mode for quite some time. But now that it is proving to be false, the antagonists are switching their strategy to saying "the simple hybrid system in the Prius" instead... hoping you'll just assume it's all that's available. In reality, there are now 3 different configurations. HSD scales from a 4-cylinder compact car to a midsize SUV able to tow 3,500 pounds to a full-size sedan capable of 438 horsepower. Meanwhile, there's Two-Mode which scales from midsize 6-cylinder sedan to a full-size SUV able to tow 6,200 pounds. Look at the worldwide market. Consider what types of vehicles there are more sold of. One hybrid system can serve a much larger number of consumers than the other. The upcoming new higher CAFE standards are going to raise the importance of volume sales. Lots of 4-cylinder hybrids will be necessary to achieve that 35 MPG requirement. Two-Mode doesn't scale down to that size in an efficient & affordable manner... hence no plans to deliver it. What will GM sell for midsize cars?
Backlash. Pressure continues to build. Resisting
change like that makes for a tough market. It's a strong reason why GM is
doing so much promotion for Volt already. Emphasis on such a small vehicle
is quite contrast from their heavy investment with monster-size vehicles.
Hopefully, the result will be wide acceptance with few misconceptions right
away. After all, years of positive focus should prepare consumers
properly. But there's no way of truly knowing. Then you've got the
extreme to consider. There could be a backlash from being too successful.
Consumers won't be thrilled by long delivery waits and high price markups.
It's definitely an interesting situation that will unfold, especially
considering what the automakers will be doing at the same time.
35 MPG. It looks like the House & Senate are coming to an agreement about what the new CAFE standard should be. The current is 27.5 MPG for passenger cars and 22.2 MPG for light trucks. That's way too low. 35 MPG by 2020 should be realistic... especially since there has been no increase for cars for 22 years. Taking about not even trying. Details from the 1,000 page proposal have not be released yet. But there are some, like a 1.2 MPG credit for vehicles capable of using E85. Nothing has been said about support for E20 though. And there has been no mention of how plug-in hybrids will be measured. This requirement on the federal level would override the dozen CARB states that wanted a 30 percent carbon emission reduction, which translated to a 43.7 MPG standard for cars. So, there's a mixed feeling of both victory and defeat. It will be interesting to witness how this plays out.
Grille Blocking, first month. The results for November can't be used for much... bummer. The lower part wasn't blocked until the last week. The final fill-up of the month was affected by both bladder-effect and an overly sensitive pump (so it was under filled). And I was away from work for awhile, so there was no typical commute drive to compare with. Next week, I'll be away from work for a few days too. But, at least it's a start. The weather varies tremendously from year to year anyway. Nonetheless, even without being able to well quantify the results, it's still pretty darn obvious that there was indeed as efficiency improvement. This month's MPG average was most definitely the highest November ever for me. The whole Winter season will likely show that too. That's enough... well worth the $2 and 1 hour spent to do the grille blocking.
Multi-Stage Hybrid. Camry-Hybrid differs from Prius by having a second PSD. The purpose is to enable delivery of a second speed, much like gearing. GM enthusiasts weren't thrilled to learn of this, especially after having discovered of the implementation of Two-Mode wasn't actually as efficient as the on-paper design implied. The Lexus LS600h takes that Camry-Hybrid design a step further... offering essentially a three-mode system. That second PSD divides the sun carrier into two pieces; one with a clutch and the other connected directly to the large electric motor. The planet carrier is doubled, serving as both input & output. The single ring carrier has a clutch on it too. The resulting configuration is three levels of user-selectable force: Hybrid, Power, and Snow. It's not cheap. But it is a threat to GM, ability that enthusiasts claimed wouldn't ever be possible. Hopefully, that is the formula for serious competition... a situation where everyone wins. Let's hope that's the case.
Annual Capacity. Production of the new model Vue-Hybrid began today. The plant in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico has an annual capacity to build 6,500 hybrids. That's it! The United States and Canada will have very few available. Heck, that's less than 2 months of Camry-Hybrid sales and only 2 weeks of Prius sales in the United States. That's what I consider just a token quantity. Even the first year of Prius sales here, way back when gas was cheap and misconceptions plentiful, was double that amount. Why so few? You'd think this upgraded version of BAS is what they've been hoping to deliver. But the numbers certainly don't support that.
Emission Type. A frightening number of people still have absolutely no idea that there is more than one type. Many are under the assumption that improved MPG means lower emissions... which couldn't be further from reality. In fact, today's discussion about Two-Mode actually increasing smog-related emissions totally blew a few away. Even after providing an explanation of how that is possible, some were still in disbelief. Running the fuel mix a little leaner than normal. Cylinder-Deactivation preventing thorough combustion. Driving with a cooled engine, making the catalytic-converter less effective. There's a variety of possible reasons why. Whatever the case, the emission rating clearly shows that the hybrid is indeed dirtier... but you'd never know that from just looking at the MPG.
Engine & Motor Behavior. It's quite refreshing when you
hear a question like this from a new owner: "Shouldn't easing off the gas
cause it to slightly charge the battery?" He had noticed the
difference when traveling faster than 70 MPH. I pointed out...
Nope, engine-speed relation to travel-speed isn't as straight forward as you
It's like when you accelerate while climbing up hill. You'd think the battery
would always kick into heavy use. Instead, that only happens up to moderate
power. When the need is high, just the opposite happens. The engine contributes
heavily, resulting in the battery getting recharged instead of being drawn from.
After awhile, the behavior becomes second-nature. But initially, it will leave
you scratching your head. That's why so many attempting to compare hybrid
designs guess incorrectly. What happens under the hood is not obvious.
New Low. Sometimes you have to add a log entry just for
the sake of documenting history almost too outrageous to believe. There
are some that are dead set against Toyota, blindly supporting the competition
without logical reasoning. Forums members notice that pattern after
awhile. They eventually get exposed and lose all credibility. A rare
few aren't though. These are the ones that helped cultivate the forum
itself. Members are afraid to speak out against them. So, they
basically get to say whatever they want. In this case, one of the top posters on
the big GM forum absolutely hates discussing detail about hybrid design...
knowing the facts are stacked against him. That has lead to this attempt
to quickly change focus on that thread:
"For the last time, the Prius isn't a symbol of how smart you are. Rather it
is a symbol of how DUMB you are." Needless to say, this is a new
low. I never expected such childish insulting.
SUV Comeback. The thought was that dropping inefficient
and rarely ever used aspects of the SUV, you'd have something that would appeal
to those still wanting a large & bulky vehicle. It didn't turn out that
way. That vehicle, known as a "Crossover", never really caught on.
Sales have been modest compared to the SUV. Fortunately, that market
overall is shrinking. But there are some that just don't want to give them
up as one-person commute vehicles that never go off-road and never tow anything.
And now with the introduction of new hybrid SUVs, the excuse to continue using
them that way lives on. It's the sad reality we face.
Hypothetical. In the past, discussions about vehicles
that were not being produced yet had very little traction. There was
simply no certainty available. How appealing a design looked on paper made
no difference when it came to the reality of production, cost, supply, and
support issues. But now that GM is pushing a product still years away from
availability, concerns about being realistic get overlooked. Hypothetical
is considered good enough. That lowering of standards is a risk we
shouldn't accept blindly. That understanding of the difference is quite
clear in the computer industry. When will the automotive industry,
especially those feeding the hype by publishing idealistic articles, come to the