Personal Log  #377

June 14, 2008  -  June 28, 2008

Last Updated: Sun. 7/06/2008

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Ford Plug-In, part 1.  The hot topic of discussion today was about a interview comment a Ford senior manager recently made toward plug-in hybrids.  Essentially, it was that they would wait until the market emerged.  The response by the Volt enthusiasts was that Ford isn't even going to try, that they'll wait and play catch up later.  Refusal to acknowledge the capability of FULL hybrids is making me crazy (so much so, that I'm now always posting the identifier in upper-case letters rather than denoting with quotes marks).  Continuing to evolve their electric platform in the meantime makes a whole lot of sense to me.  The new generation of Escape-Hybrid coming this Fall, along with the rollout of Fusion-Hybrid, most definitely follows that approach.  Figuring out how to make the design profitable and more efficient along the way is great.  A reputation is established as they go too.  It makes the offering of a plug-in option rather trivial at that point.  Thinking of that as a "performance package" choice, much like the way other options are offered now, is something consumers could easily embrace.


$140 Oil.  The per barrel price shot all the way up to $142.81 today, closing at $140.21 for the week.  That's starting to panic those in support of monster-size vehicles.  It is quite obvious at this point that the invasion of tiny vehicles is about to surge.  Their appearance on roads is increasing as fast as the disappearance of guzzlers.  The statement that makes about consumer attitude now cannot be denied.  The message sent from the consumer's wallet speaks louder than anything else.  Remember the talk of $100 oil was that of only speculators?  Change has come.  The days of "use without consideration of the future" are over.


Poorly Informed.  Reading incorrect claims about how Prius operates is bad enough.  But when the Volt enthusiasts start that with GM's own Two-Mode, there's reason to be concerned.  Loyalty is getting in the way of logic.  They aren't stopping to ask questions, which is leading to assumptions.  Posts of "superiority" are abundant, yet none address why there is no plan to compete directly with either Camry-Hybrid or Fusion-Hybrid.  The market wants a 4-cylinder "full" hybrid midsize sedan... and it sure looks like that is going to turn into a need soon.  Then of course, there isn't a plan for direct competition with the configuration of Prius either.  The "trophy" nonsense must stop.  That starts with education.  Those that know information shouldn't remain silent until provoked, which he only way I can squeeze out detail from them sometimes.  But we know how that goes.  Being poorly informed keeps the discussions lively.  So some make an effort to prevent clarification.  That intentional undermining is quite frustrating.


100,000 Miles.  I sold my first Prius just shy of 60,000 miles.  So my wait until seeing 100,000 miles took way longer than expected.  But last night, this Prius hit that mark.  With my video camera on stand-by, I was ready to film the moment while driving.  I even managed to do a celebratory honking at the same time.  The result is somewhat cheesy, but that's the point.  There's no doubt about it being authentic.  Watching the 99,999 vanish to be replaced by an extra digital was great!  I wonder what others will think after seeing that.  Hmm?  The event, especially with a digital speedometer, is something many people actually get to witness.  And of course, there's all those naysayers who claimed the battery-pack will need to be replaced shortly thereafter.  Being able to document experiences contrary to that is vindicating.


3,800 Dealerships.  That's how many GM has in the United States.  How long do you think some people will end up waiting for their Volt?  Only 2 or 3 being delivered to each dealer that first year is spreading the inventory awful thin.  I can't imagine the backfire all this hype in the meantime will generate.  The anxiety that comes from waiting after rollout has begun is far more intense than that during the announcement phase.  The saying "too little, too late" takes on a whole new meaning from that.  Meanwhile, Toyota will have around 2,000,000 Prius on roads worldwide.  Talking about a future GM never imagined.  I sure how things will somehow change.  That kind of struggle is the very thing hybrid supporters were trying to prevent.


Dedicated Engine.  It simply didn't make any sense how GM could hope to achieve profitability from Volt with an engine that could not be used in any other vehicle.  Remember where Echo came from?  Toyota took the Prius engine and detuned it, changing the from the Atkinson-Miller pumping-cycle to Otto and using a few heavier components inside.  True, it wasn't as efficient that way.  But it could propel the vehicle entirely on it's own, inexpensively... since it shared a lot with Prius.  Both vehicles benefitted from increased production volume.  Needless to say, GM is now considering that same strategy.  Rumors were flying today that there would be a switch from the planned specialized 1.0 liter 3-cylinder engine to a standard 1.4 liter 4-cylinder.  That sounds like a sensible plan.  If not for the profit incentive, I bet they discovered a power advantage from the mule testing.  Of course, how the enthusiasts take the news is an entirely different matter.  A change like this wrecks the ideal picture they had painted.  Oh, darn.


640 Pounds.  When I was at the hardware store, focus of loading the Prius was on volume... not weight.  It hadn't crossed my mind just how much heavy those 18 cases of laminate-flooring, the rolls of padding, and box of plastic would actually be.  But when I saw the suspension sink on the rear of the Prius, I was excited.  That was a rare opportunity to find out just how well the car could handle loaded down with a heavy bias in back.  I figure there was about 640 pounds of cargo.  That's well over the weight of any aftermarket battery augmentation.  I embarked on the drive home.  It wasn't really any different... until I got on the driveway.  Carrying all that stuff to the side door of the house was not something I wanted to endure.  So, I veered to the right and proceeded to drive across the lawn.  That was great!  The Prius handled it all wonderfully.


Disheartening Discovery.  The discovery that Volt is long-term project, not a vehicle for direct competition anytime soon, seems to really be disheartening some enthusiasts.  Those of us who have supporting hybrids for years tried to point that out from the beginning.  But the message conveyed was repeatedly ignored.  Establishing a new market is a slow process.  Once production begins, you've got first-year jitters, popular media, and competition to deal with.  Salespeople & Consumers remain poorly informed until a decent amount of real-world data (minimum of a full annual cycle) is available.  And it is simply too much of a business risk to make high-volume commitments until progressing beyond the initial sales boom.  Now what?  $4 gas is already here.


No Profit.  The news from GM has been interesting lately.  Today we also heard that profit won't be possible from Volt, even if it were sold for $40,000.  I don't know how to respond to that.  It seemed to be the case all along.  Too specialized of a vehicle with such a large battery-pack is a challenge for any automaker.  No timeline or volume information was provided.  So, the expectations after rollout begins is unknown.  There's basic no plans at this point, other than the fact that their intentions do put them on the right path to meeting the federal efficiency mandate for 2020.  Of course, profit has to come from somewhere in the meantime.  I wonder what they'll sell.  Money for development has to come from somewhere.


No More Truck Updates.  It's official, GM has pulled the plug on next-generation Pickup & SUV development.  The newest designs already in the system are the end state.  This is a major money-saving decision.  And with the market collapsing, does anyone really want a more powerful one anyway?  Heck, even improved efficiency is a losing proposition for consumers who desire a more realistic sized work vehicle... and very few enjoy the idea of using them as a commuter vehicle anymore.  Focus is being reset to more appropriate venues.  It's about dang time!  You can only delay the inevitable for so long.  Those days of carefree waste are over.


Placing Blame.  President Bush blamed the Democratic-Controlled Congress today for "the rise of gas prices to record levels".  Hearing that is hard to take seriously, without first being both amused & frustrated.  His administration was the one responsible for promoting increased consumption, claiming it was "good for the economy".  Now there's at least acknowledgement of the true problem... since talk of just how long new drilling sights take to establish.  But waiting a decade for those reserves to join in wouldn't have prevented this anyway.  Increased consumption got us into this mess.  And more oil does nothing to address the emissions problem.  For genuine progress to be made, solutions need the attention... not pointing fingers.  Don't you love all this political nonsense?


On The Soapbox.  An attitude adjustment was needed today.  Certain enthusiasts still don't get it.  So, I let them have it with this...  $4 gas is here already, with no hope of going down much.  The masses expect mid-20's for the price of a ubiquitous hybrid.  Automakers need technology that will generate on-going profit.  Why is that so hard for some to see here?  Solutions are needed now!  How the heck will the development & refinement for Volt be funded if the business is continuously losing money in the meantime.  Look at the components of Volt and Prius.  Cost & Size of engine, motors, and controllers basically balance out.  The battery is significantly bigger in Volt though.  So, it will always cost more.  There's simply no way Volt could compete with the non-plug configuration of Prius, which is exactly what the current market is begging for.  In other words, kudos to GM for their effort to develop a viable product to meet the 2020 efficiency mandate, but what happens until it is available in large quantities at an affordable price?


Real-World Data.  If they don't provide it, there's very little reason to believe it's accurate.  We've seen it before.  Estimates rarely reflect everyday driving conditions and spot-checks are often misleading.  It's the on-going average that you really need to draw conclusions with.  Getting that isn't common.  In fact, you usually have to fight for it.  Knowing this, Volkswagen hired a third-party tester to provide some numbers.  I'm not sure how representative of genuine real-world data that will reflect.  But it's better than nothing.  Anywho, the 2008 DSG (automated-manual) Jetta TDI (diesel) produced a 38 MPG city and 44 MPG highway average... which isn't too bad.  Of course, that was during ideal temperatures.  And compared to the new Prius, it doesn't pose as much for competition.  Being quite a bit dirtier and requiring more expensive fuel won't draw many buyers.  I wonder how many will be produced to be sold here.  Hmm?


Ford Closures.  The plant that produces Expedition & Navigator will sit idle for 9 weeks.  Inventory is piling up.  Sales are way down.  It's getting ugly.  Ford sure is having trouble now.  Remember when they were in denial, when the announcement was made that the monster-size SUV would be discontinued in favor of producing an extended-length Expedition instead?  Now there's distaste for the Expedition too.  People simply are not interested anymore.  Smaller is in.  Guzzling is out.


More Drilling.  It's hard to believe that's the solution presumed presidential candidate Senator McCain is promoting for our energy problems.  How will that help?  New sites can take an entire decade before oil can be delivered.  And consuming more certainly doesn't reduce emissions.  We need the equivalent of a "Manhattan Project" instead... technology advancements, not using up an non-renewable resource even faster.  What is it with this old-school thinking?  The world is rapidly changing.  We must adapt to preserve the things we hold dear.  That seems counter-intuitive.  But then again, refusing to adapt is what got us in this mess in the first place.  $4 gas is already here.


For Automotive Use.  I've been reading about the differences between magnet and induction electric motors.  It was strangely vague, with the question of purpose not hitting me until I finished.  There wasn't any perspective provided.  You were never informed of the intended use.  Automotive was assumed, but that certainly wasn't stated.  Looking back those statements could have applied to anything using electric motors... a car, a train, a stationary industrial machine.  There was no way of knowing for sure.  Those are big differences, totally overlooked.  For example, cooling is a very big problem for a machine operating indoors.  But for a vehicle swooshing through the air outside, it is far less of an issue.  It was too much of a generalized paper to determine objectivity due to the seemingly out-of-context locale.  In fact, I was reminded of fuel-cell arguments, where the same type of "use" intent was missing.


Flying Chair.  I was in the store for less than 15 minutes... but it sure seemed longer.  A lot had changed for such a short amount of time.  The sky had darkened.  Rain was starting to fall.  The soft Summer breeze changed to a force so strong the corral for shopping-carts was jumping up & down.  A chair flew across a path through the parking lot.  With the store closing soon, I really didn't want to get stuck there.  A storm was coming, fast!  So, I jumped in the Prius and attempted to reach the most logical shelter in that situation, a 24-hour grocery store.  In those few minutes that passed, the weather turned to pouring rain... enough to hint that I was making progress getting away from the madness.  So, I kept going.  It lightened up considerably.  When I got home, the news was reporting winds were 60 to 70 MPH.  It could have easily been worse.  I got lucky.  Phew!


Fear of Change.  It manifests itself in very odd ways.  This latest example in a published article boggles the mind.  That heavily proven false report from CNW was sighted in defense of large vehicles yesterday.  Remember how the primary argument was claiming the life-expectancy of Prius was incredibly short?  Well, then did it again.  But rather than using Hummer as the cherished vehicle, it was Tahoe.  Here's that intentional attempt to mislead:  "Would you believe a big Chevy Tahoe SUV has a lower energy cost-per-mile than a small import hybrid?  Which is $3.25 cost-per-mile while the Tahoe sports a CPM of $2.94.  The math, they say, is simple.  The Tahoe has a lifetime expectancy of 268,000 miles while the compact import will last 109,000 miles."


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