Personal Log #374
May 16, 2008 - May 25, 2008
Last Updated: Sun. 6/01/2008
page #373 page #375 BOOK INDEX
Vue-Hybrid Confusion. It continues. Yet another article about BAS (the "assist" hybrid from GM) using information about Two-Mode (the "full" hybrid from GM) was published. The reporter mixed up the two and didn't know it. I bet he wasn't even aware of the fact that there are two different designs that will be available this year. It's something that should cause great concern. At some point, some innocent consumer will fall victim to such an error. They'll purchase the wrong one and not discover their decision was based upon incorrect information until later. Then what? Suffering from something that should be preventable will be really bad for the hybrid market. I wonder if GM will launch some type of educational effort to reduce future occurrences of this problem. Confusion like this caused by the press can be quite harmful.
So High, So Quickly. Remember a year ago, when my requests for detail about Two-Mode were responded to with hostility? Those enthusiasts didn't want to hear anything at all about Prius, even if it was just to provide clarification about the kind of information I was seeking. My reasoning was to find out how that design would work in vehicles like Malibu & Aura. What was GM planning to offer that would compete directly with Camry-Hybrid? They were furious, unwilling to consider use of that technology on smaller platforms like that. It was very much a "power & size" mentality back then. That engineering would save the slipping sales of massive trucks. Now, they themselves need to consider the very detail I had been asking for. Little did they know gas prices would surge so high, so quickly.
Too Much, Too Late. The reviews for Two-Mode continue to trickle in. All compliment about how well the system is designed. None want to face the reality that the market for massive vehicles is collapsing. Basically, very few consumers are interested in the premium for something that is overkill anyway. They simply have no actual need for such a large 8-cylinder vehicle. A more appropriately sized vehicle with a 6-cylinder engine is a different matter though. The 3,500-pound towing capacity is more than enough and the price is significantly lower. In other words, it sure looks like GM is going to aim all attention toward the upcoming Two-Mode Vue to distract from how low the interest has been in the Tahoe & Yukon hybrids. At $4.00 per gallon, they are coming to terms with offering too much, too late.
Quick Death. Just over the past 2 weeks, that fragile house of cards has fallen. Large vehicle appeal has rapidly turned negative by even those that had praised them. It's over. The once fabled threshold of $3.50 per gallon has indeed proven true. That's the level at which many said the desire for guzzling would sour. And now with the national gas price average approaching the $4 mark, serious production reductions are being announced by automakers. Death has come rather quickly... before Two-Mode could gain any traction. 21 MPG simply isn't appealing, period. Being a hybrid is meaningless. That pain at the pump hurts too much. The favor toward vehicles like Prius has changed dramatically within a surprisingly small amount of time. In fact, that red-herring measure of "payback" has dropped to just 3 years, providing overwhelming proof of what some owners have been saying for years. Expensive fuel is now a reality.
Terminology. Interestingly, deception from
over-generalizing is becoming considerably harder. Enough desire clarity
now that providing detail is not met with resistance. Things are changing.
We have moved well beyond just calling any vehicle with a battery-pack a "hybrid".
Focus has shifted to include plug-in options. People want to know what the
differences in technologies are. I think that is because it is no longer a
matter of philosophy. People are now engaged in discussions because they
are researching an actual purchase. Deciding what's good for their wallet
is taken far more seriously than what's good for the planet. Needless to
say, I felt the need to respond to the confusion in a light-hearted way.
Hopefully, that's the way this was taken...
What's this "parallel" technology you speak of?
Since IMA and BAS have almost nothing in common with HSD and Ford's hybrid
system, calling them the same causes confusion.
The proper term is "series-parallel" for hybrids like Prius. But most call it a
"full" hybrid since it offers wider range of operational modes than the other.
Volvo ReCharge. Competition with Volt has emerged. But rather than announcing a concept vehicle a year in advance like GM did, this one is already at the prototype stage. Details released state the electric-only driving range of this small car (this C30 body) will be 60 miles when battery-pack depletion is taken to the 30-percent level. The engine is a 4-cylinder, so efficiency when it's running will be lower than Volt. Handling should be quite different, coming from the fact that each wheel will have its own electric motor rather than just a single big one. No hint of price was provided, nor production intentions. Nonetheless, it certainly does liven up the potential market for plug-in hybrids.
Hybrid SUV Sales. According to a spokesperson for GM, the sale of over 1,000 units (Tahoe & Yukon hybrids combined) for the past two months is something to be pleased about. According to the executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds, the sale of 2,578 units (Highlander-Hybrid) for April means it has failed miserably. So, which is it? Outcome perspectives vary dramatically... obviously. The spinning of results is quite maddening. I thought the measure of success was supposed to be based on sales goals. In that case, reality is the reverse of what those supposed experts have stated. Toyota sales are on-par for the model year. GM sales are significantly behind. Too bad everyone has their own twist on this topic.
98,000 Mile - Oil Change. Time came again, though I did go an extra 500 miles. The oil was still in way better conditions than I ever see coming out of traditional vehicles. Prius is quite easy on the stuff, remaining thin and translucent from the engine not demanding as much from it. Being so much warmer now, the process was almost just an excuse to play with the car. And of course, there's always the benefit that comes from getting to crawl underneath and inspect everything. All looked fine. Oil change done.
$3.85 Per Gallon. That's what I saw on the drive home from work this evening. Checking online to see what oil was at, I wasn't surprised at all to see $134.83 per barrel. Prices of oil & gas are spinning out of control. Isn't that an indicator of "peak oil" has arrived? When factors beyond just supply have that much of an influence, I don't care what you call it. The turbulence that some hybrid owners predicted (including me) has arrived. Calculations of "lifetime" expense and "payback" period from buying a hybrid were said to be grossly inaccurate, when stated as if the price of gas would remain constant. Clearly, it didn't. Those experts were quite incorrect. We wanted the technology already in place for when the inevitable happened. We hoped it would take longer than it actually did. Oh well. It's not like we didn't say it was coming... someday.
Ideal MPG. I hope the effort to promote isn't
misconstrued. That former foe of mine (the one who fought against Prius
intensely years ago... until he finally figured out what I had been saying all
along) went on a driving trip to show what Prius is capable of, under ideal
circumstances. Even knowing that you won't be able to get MPG as high
under normal conditions, will people actually have a realistic expectation?
I believe some will be disappointed, thinking they'll be able to accomplish
close to the same. They might not realize just how unlikely that really
is. It's the very reason I instead promote the real-world lifetime
average. That's far from ideal, very much a realistic expectation for
anyone that follows the motto: "Just Drive It."
Reporter Research. The lack of it is really starting to become disturbing. Assumptions are abundant. The latest example came from some definitions a reporter apparently just made up: "Mild or one-mode, which assists the engine but does not move the vehicle on battery power alone." That is most definitely not correct. It doesn't even make the Two-Mode enthusiasts happy, since Prius is just lumped into the same category as Two-Mode. Consumers are well aware of the ability Prius has to drive using only electricity. So naturally, this second definition made matters worse: "Full or two-mode, which allows low-speed battery driving and combined engine and battery power at higher speeds." In other words, some reporters don't have a clue. Writing about something you aren't familiar with is tough. But not doing enough research to at least be come close to being correct is a very real problem. One we encounter far too often.
$2.99 Guarantee. Apparently, that price is considered a
draw now. So, that's what Chrysler has been promoting. They'll pay
for 12,000 miles worth of fuel per year for 3 years when you purchase a new vehicle
from them. I think back to the not-so-distant past when $3 was feared.
Things really have changed. Those days of cheap gas when Prius was mocked
as a "stop gap" are long gone. Certain automakers were dead
wrong. Now, they are paying the price for not having diversified.
Isn't that a basic principal of economics? They risked far too much on the
expectation of cheap gas. Now they are struggling to find ways to purge
undesirable inventory. I wonder what a few years of this will bring.
Hmm? The risk simply isn't worth it anymore. Too high of a price is
already being paid... literally, not just metaphorically.
Not Happy. Some enthusiasts of Volt are not at all happy about Nissan's recent embracement of vehicles using battery-packs. They initially assumed the proposed electric-only model would be accompanied by a plug-in hybrid like the one they endorse. But instead, it will be the type like Prius. One response was: "That means the engine will be running all the time." This particular person has been corrected on this error already. That makes me believe he is intentionally attempting to mislead. I figured it was only a matter of time. This same behavior came from the other competition years ago. I would be naive to think it wouldn't happen from them too. It does make me feel a little bit of anger, but clearly not as much as he will from being sighted for spreading incorrect information again.
46 F Degrees. That heat didn't last long. In fact, this evening's commute home was down right cold. It's the middle of May. What the heck! Needless to say, 50 MPG is being pretty darn reluctant to finally arrive. Summer seems so far away still. That taste of warmth the other day is just a memory fading away now. Come back!
Live Green or Die. That's the cover-story from Business Week published today. In short, reality is crashing down hard for GM. Between soaring oil prices and being globally responsible, they've grossly misjudged the end-of-decade market. Now the struggle is to recover from their mistakes. The quote that sums it all up came from Lutz saying: "Everything has changed." There is now a race to deliver better technology than the competition, at an affordable price, very reliably, in high volumes, the soonest possible. The situation has become a moon shot. They cannot afford to fail. So... they are betting the farm on Volt success. Wagoner's comment expressed the automakers new direction: "But these days technology means fuel economy." That's the message (including emissions) I've been trying to convey from the very beginning (8 years ago) when references were made to vehicle "performance". Expectations for Two-Mode have already dropped substantially, sighting the technology cost as the problem. The fact that it wasn't designed for a vehicle as small as Volt was not mentioned, nor what the fact that consumers without plug access won't be included by this effort. It's a gamble like we have never seen, required for survival.
Electric Announcements. Nissan, along with a number of small automakers, have recently announced electric vehicles they intend to deliver to consumers within the next few years. That will make things very interesting. Questions that GM is currently struggling with are facing them too. Solutions for electric-only are more straight forward, but challenges like cold temperatures are not any easier to overcome. The fact of most interest is that all of these proposed vehicles are tiny. Coming to a market that was once dominated by the appeal of massive size is a wave of significant reduction. Makes you wonder how much the mindset of consumers will change.
80 F Degrees. Finally! The warm season has officially begun. I'm so happy!!! The darn cold lasted way too long. It was keeping MPG on the Multi-Display below 50. But the average today climbed up to 49.4 with 365 miles driven on that tank, many in mornings that required a jacket. Tomorrow will be different. Filling up will give a fresh start. That will give the Prius an opportunity to really show off, without even trying. Reading about new owners being drawn to P&G isn't pleasing, though I understand they are still the minority. Most new owners never participate online looking for ways to push efficiency even higher; they just drive it. I certainly will. Carrying a kayak on top to take advantage of the warm drops MPG to close to non-hybrid levels. But I don't care. The other 99 percent of the time, efficiency is fantastic.
Fuel-Cell Commercial. Why the heck is Honda advertising their fuel-cell vehicle? What purpose could that possibly serve for consumers? It's portrayed as if that's a purchase choice they'll have soon... when in reality, it's a technology that will be totally impractical (and way too expensive) for a very long time still. Look at how complicated the availability of ethanol has been. Imagine hydrogen. Also, consider the benefit. What is it? Cost is obviously an issue too. I say it's just an image booster, something to make the automaker appeal better. How about focusing on what they can actually sell today instead?
16kWh Capacity. Since the beginning, we've been told about the importance of the 40-mile electric-only range... to the point of it now becoming suspicious. For those with a much shorter commute, the idea of a much less expensive (lower capacity) option is simply being pushed aside as something to discuss after rollout begins. Well, if you want some thoughts about it now, think about the new Prius. It basically will be that option. No wonder GM is staying away from that; it puts them behind Toyota yet again. So, what if they took that same 16kWh capacity battery and put it in a much larger vehicle? At that point, it would no longer overkill. In fact, the weight, physical size, and price would be easier to deal with. But driving range would also be reduced to... you guessed it, that shorter yet still practical distance. That's an excuse to continue pushing large vehicles used for one-person no-cargo commuting. Interesting, eh?