Personal Log  #375

May 25, 2008  -  June 5, 2008

Last Updated: Sun. 10/24/2010

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$3.99 Per Gallon.  That's the national average now, an paradigm-changing milestone.  It marks the end of an error (era).  What a wonderful coincidence that today just happens to be the 8-year anniversary of me ordering my Classic Prius too.  That duration is what realistic accounting for automotive purchases target.  Anywho, remember how absurd it was that the purchase of giant SUVs was promoted as "good for the economy".  Those of us familiar with economics knew quite well that was a recipe for disaster, a short-term fix at best.  And sure enough, exactly the outcome we feared is what happened.  GM doesn't have much competitive to sell.  Both Toyota & Ford will offer "full" hybrid sedans.  Ford has the next generation Escape (small SUV hybrid).  Toyota has the next generation Prius.  A flood of sub-compact economy cars will mark a stage of desperation.  It will make the next few years very interesting.


Emotionally Dead.  It is truly bizarre.  A few days ago, the announcement came that revealed total sales of Two-Mode had climbed to only 1,100.  That is so disappointing, the only responses posted by GM enthusiasts were mellow thoughts about it becoming available in other vehicles... much smaller vehicles.  The giant vehicles are dying quickly.  GM announced the closure of 4 domestic plants.  Trucks are once again becoming trucks, vehicles only used for utility purposes.  Using a SUV for commuting to work just plain does not make any sense.  Those cruel troublemakers of the past know that all too well now.  Their fierce defense of Two-Mode use in Tahoe & Yukon has completely fallen apart.  It's over.  They now realize my persistence on discovering what benefits could come from by using that same technology in smaller vehicles wasn't an attack, as they claimed.  I was looking ahead, well aware of the importance of diversification.  As a result, that passion to fight me is gone.  They are emotionally dead to the contributions I now post.  No more resistance.  Change has arrived.  Yeah!


GM Hybrid Sales.  There's no good way of documenting bad news.  So, here it is...  Aura-Hybrid had sales of just 36 for May.  That's down from the 48 sold in April.  Malibu-Hybrid did "better" with 282 for May.  Vue-Hybrid made it to 340.  Two-Mode saw "improvement" with combined sales of the Tahoe & Yukon hybrids at 589 for the month.  In other words, both designs are selling quite a bit fewer than their anticipated annual goals (27,000 for BAS and 12,000 to 15,000 for Two-Mode).  What this means for GM remains a mystery, especially with the recent battery recall.  Many factors influence production & inventory.  But it ultimately comes down to sales.  That's how business is sustained.


Volt Announcement.  The GM chairman voted to increase funding for the project.  Goals restated were to deliver the first production model by November 2010 and to reach production capacity of 100,000 in 2012.  That's fine, but nothing else was mentioned... no other vehicle types planned to use that same technology, not even a hint of BAS efforts continuing, and no suggestion that Two-Mode would grow beyond the pickup and a small SUV.  The plans for plug-in Two-Mode were strangely absent too.  I got the impression that GM is learning to keep silent about intentions until being much closer to implementation.  With so many recent upsets, it simply isn't worth risking anymore bad publicity.  Their imagine is serious in need of repair.


Mini-Gathering.  I thought it would be just the two of us at the coffee shop that afternoon.  I was quite wrong.  Besides seeing our two Prius, I saw several other HSD Prius... and a Classic Prius... and a Camry-Hybrid... and an Escape-Hybrid.  All that certainly supported the conversation we were having.  Those vehicles are examples of proven hybrid technology.  Upgrades are coming in the next year too.  The next generations of Prius and Escape-Hybrid are well worth the wait.  Refinements to the design will definitely stimulate the market.  The long-awaited Fusion-Hybrid certainly will contribute to that as well.  Ford & Toyota will move "full" hybrid growth forward.  GM is currently subtracting, putting a tarnish on the reputation.  I sure hope that changes soon.  Needless to say, we had lots to talk about.


Oil Overfill.  Here's an interesting insight to that problem, something which hadn't even crossed my mind until a friend clued me in...  Prius is made in Japan.  The engineers there used measures most convenient to them: metric.  For example, the "sweet spot" for highway cruising with the Classic model is 62.1 MPH.  That just happens to be the HSD maximum speed for electric-only driving too.  It's a rather odd value, until you consider metric.  That's because it is precisely 100 km/h.  You know what else is a precise quantity?  It's the oil level.  We (as owners in the US) determined the ideal to be about a quarter-inch below the "full" mark.  That's a clumsy amount when dealing with quarts; however, it is not for the metric equivalent: 3.5 liters.


May Sales.  Prius is back at the monthly expectation of 15,011 units... though I doubt antagonists will interpret the situation that way.  They'll claim the previous two month's spike was reflective of demand, not supply.  But we've dealt with that nonsense in the past.  So, this shouldn't be too much of a problem either.  Remember, last year's original goal of 150,000 was easily met (181,221 were sold, which is a 15,000 per month average).  Monthly ups & downs are just spin, having little to do with total annual allocations.  Inventory fluctuates due to many supply variables.  Anywho, Camry-Hybrid didn't do too bad in May either; its 5,999 sold is something to be quite pleased with.  2,644 purchases of Highlander-Hybrid ought to make GM a bit worried.  That's way more than Two-Mode sales overall... in just one month!  Heck, 2,155 Lexus RX-400h were also sold.  Continuing at this pace sounds good from my view.  Consumers will gobble up the increased battery supply next year, along with the new model Prius.


BAS Recall.  It looks like those sporadic problems with the GreenLine vehicles are actually widespread.  All 9,000 of them are getting their battery-packs replaced.  Having such bad news occur at this particular moment is horrible timing.  Both gas prices and Two-Mode sales were making for a bad business situation; now this to compound an already difficult struggle.  Hopefully, the replacement will solve the problem (when battery-pack failure was detected, the system reverted to constant non-hybrid operation).  But it won't fix the reality that sales are awful.  Only 282 Malibu-Hybrid were sold in May, 340 of Vue-Hybrid, and 36 of Aura-Hybrid.  With numbers that low, it's as if they don't even exist.


8-Year Anniversary.  It's in a few days.  That's when I put down a $1000 deposit on the purchase of my, well, second Prius.  My first was actually only a matchbox-size model, but that does count.  8 years later, quite a bit has changed.  We've went from the automotive enthusiast magazines making fun of Prius, saying it was "an expensive way to save cheap gas", to now honoring it as the hybrid that started the new age.  Little did I know that my own contributions would still thrive after all this time.  But the monthly statistics clearly show that the User-Guide is attracting strong interest.  (There were 33,718 downloads of the PDF format last month!)  So, it certainly looks like I should keep doing what I've been doing and look forward to celebrating more anniversaries.  It's been fun being a participant in both Prius history and contributing to the internet itself.  Remember, I started documenting my experiences long before the word "blog" had even been coined.  It was a very different time.  In fact, for those first few years I was accused repeatedly of working for Toyota... because back then, there were few that devoted their personal time in a such a way.  Now providing support of this nature is simply considered a hobby.  Sweet!


Mistakes.  Ignoring purpose continues.  That pointless "trophy" mentality is thriving.  In other words, the need for efficiency solutions has become urgent and facing reality is difficult.  Today's hot discussion topic for the Volt enthusiasts was the ambition for Lutz to avoid "making the same mistake again" with hybrids.  They interpret that as developing a superior technology.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  His mistake the first time was having nothing to compete with.  Will the second be the same?  Even with a miracle break-thru that drops battery prices substantially, you still have to commit to high-volume production.  Otherwise, what will consumers buy?  When Volt debuts, Toyota expects to be producing 1 million hybrids annually.  How long will GM take to do the same?  That choice is the mistake that could be made.


Where are the SUVs?  Look in the parking lots.  They have become scarce.  $4 per gallon is clearly the threshold.  SUV use for purposes other than it was actually designed has become out-of-fashion almost overnight.  Rather than a symbol of prestige, they are now a symbol of stigma... of course, that's here.  The rest of the world always looked down upon using a large truck like that for single-occupant, no-cargo commuting.  The engine, tires, and suspension were all gross overkill.  But with cheap gas and vanity, such excess was overlooked.  It isn't anymore though.  Trucks will again become trucks, used for the capabilities the offer.  None of that terrible waste anymore.  The "U" will finally stand for "Utility".


Getting Warmer.  The lunch time drive to the gas station resulted in an entire 5-minute segment displaying as 100 MPG.  Finally reaching that ideal outside temperature range makes a huge difference.  Too bad it took so darn long.  The drive after filling the tank was even better, believe it or not.  Those 8.5 miles result in an average of 61.4 MPG, which included a short drive on the highway at 70 MPH.  The Prius was very happy.  That's a true indicator that the cold is finally gone.


Cold May.  It has been quite irritating.  Disappointing weather all month long hurt efficiency and really impaired my plans for outdoor activity.  It was a great example of how being under that ideal temperature range the EPA used to measure efficiency (minimum of 68 F degrees) made a considerable difference.  The persistent cold dragged down my Lifetime MPG, rather than help restore it from the painfully long Winter this year.  I'm definitely looking forward to the big improvement June will bring.


Forum Attacks.  The big Prius forum had two interesting examples this week.  The first came from a very upset owner (disappointed from the MPG while driving with a cargo-carrier on top), who was clearly just looking for an opportunity to vent... because everything constructive that was offered resulted in a hostile response.  Sometimes the voice of reason falls on deaf ears.  He needed to say his piece.  The other came from a well known troublemaker, simply looking for a fight.  He blatantly provoked, by promoting Two-Mode using false facts and insulting the members participating in the discussion.  It certainly wasn't anything that would qualify as a debate.  My guess is the high gas prices are beginning to irritate some much more than others.


More Green Bars.  I'm seeing them more often than ever before, routinely, in fact.  That's unusual for late Spring.  The engine running more often in the Winter was the cause before.  But now that it's warmer, I'm growing convinced that late-life break-in is the reason.  Moving components within the Prius continue to loosen up as the car ages.  That appears to contribute to greater energy being captured by the two motors.  In other words, instead of 6 blue bars showing on the Multi-Display, I am seeing 7 green bars frequently.  Sweet!  Remember how "having the blues" was considered normal years ago... back when this Prius was newer.


Two Electric Motors.  As the interest in reading articles about hybrids grows, the incorrect information does too.  I'm not exactly thrilled about this type of exposure.  The assumptions reporters are making contribute heavily to the confusion.  At some point, consumers may begin to feel overwhelmed.  This time, it was the claim that Two-Mode meant the hybrid had two electric motors instead of one... and that was it!  Other misinformation of this nature at least attempted to explain how this would effect efficiency.  This time, nothing!  More just implied "better" design, stating this was the next natural step forward in hybrid evolution.  That seems pretty convincing too... being so vague... until you discover on your own that the first was that way.  Back in 1997, the original Prius offered two.  In other words, these writers typically know little about automotive engineering.  Don't assume they've researched enough.  There's growing proof many haven't.


Diesel Price.  On the topic of diesel, the prices here have reached that irritating discrepancy again.  I wonder if any of the supporters have a plan for dealing with it this time.  That higher per gallon price does not appear to be temporary spike, like before.  This time, it basically defines the start of a new reality... for us.  After all, paying more (though for different reasons) has been the norm in Europe for quite awhile now.  However, their taxing structure allowed diesel to be cheaper than gas.  Here, the pricing influences are causing it to cost 90 cents more per gallon.  That certainly sours appeal.  Higher MPG from hybrids has become more compelling, especially with most of the hybrid misconceptions now just a frustration of the past.


Clatter, Clatter.  How can the diesel owners stand that?  Whatever the case, I understand why luxury buyers in Europe are seeking out the Lexus hybrids.  Quiet is a sought after aspect.  The clatter of a diesel engine certainly doesn't cater to that.  I can hear my neighbor coming around the corner in her Jetta TDI.  The sound stands out from all the other cars in the area.  I what priority consumers around here will place on that.  Hmm?


New Document.  There didn't seem to be much need for an analysis of anti-hybrid activity anymore.  Many of those techniques the troublemakers used to impair the progress of hybrids simply haven't emerge lately.  Some of that is the result of people understanding hybrids more.  Some of that is the result of more people simply being interesting in buying hybrids.  We are well past the curiosity stage.   Misconceptions about efficiency are what many discussions focus on instead.  That's a big step forward.  Too bad it took so darn long to get here.  Needless to say, I replaced the old homepage link with one for this brand-new, plain-english, non-technical document, something more helpful to the situation now we face...  Efficiency Misconceptions


Reducing Cost.  Thinking about the choice of engine used for ReCharge verses that in Volt, the topic of cost crossed my mind.  The Classic model Prius became profitable in part because of the engine.  When Echo debuted, it used the same one.  Sharing many of the same basic components meant a benefit from high-volume production was possible.  With the 3-cylinder engine unique to Volt, that won't be possible.  What else could use it?  Makes you wonder what approach GM will take after initial rollout, eh? 


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