Personal Log  #379

July 11, 2008  -  July 20, 2008

Last Updated: Sun. 8/03/2008

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Natural Gas.  That was the new fuel for our vehicles an oil company executive recently proposed.  How will that help?  True, it does address both types of emission.  But switching over to another non-renewable energy source doesn't sound like a good solution to me.  Focus should be on electricity.  The improvements to wind & solar over the past few years shouldn't be ignored... or in the case of certain politicians, be made aware of.  Sadly, limited knowledge is a big part of the problem.  There's a number of misconceptions to deal with too.  I sure am thankful for owning a Prius all these years.  The resulting real-world data extinguishes many arguments about direction.  But unfortunately, the aspects of quantity & pace are challenges still.  Embracing natural gas is a distraction.  In other words... too little, too late.


Challenge Backfire.  Last week the general manager of a VW dealership in Washington made the claim that their new Jetta TDI would do better in a non-stop highway drive from there in Auburn to San Francisco than a Prius.  He had a film crew to document it.  He even provided a quote to ensure his assertion was quite clear: "Volkswagen's new generation of turbo diesels are poised to take over the market that hybrids currently dominate."  5 days after the event took place, all we have is a mention of progress midway... nothing else has followed.  That's highly suspicious.  The Prius owners think it's a sign of regret.  Keeping silent about the final results would help to alleviate embarrassment.  We believe the Prius won the challenge.  Why else wouldn't the outcome have been published?


Flip-Flopping.  4 years ago, the republican stance was that it should never happen.  They were quite insistent upon that.  But now when their own presidential candidate did it, somehow that's ok.  Arrgh!  Anywho, this flip-flop was who should regulate carbon emissions.  Last month, he stated his favor for national standards.  Yesterday, he changed that to the state setting them instead.  Make up your mind!  Not doing that means we'll never get to the step that asks what the levels should be.  That's typical.  Keep the debate alive to avoid actually making a commitment.  This topic is far from new.  It's been discussed in Congress for years already... which this senator has been part of.


Victim Help.  This morning started out with a rude awakening, for some.  For me, it was no surprise.  The government promised quick relief to those that suffered from hurricane Katrina damage to their homes.  3 years later, things are very much a mess still.  The need is obvious.  Yet, help is still a problem.  It's a harsh reality for efficiency woes too, a rude awakening to say the least.  How exactly will assistance be provided for that?  People who purchased a guzzler out of want are now struggling with the need to spend less at the pump.  Higher MPG guzzlers are not the answer; however, a certain automaker claims that is the solution.  Regardless of technology, only getting 20 MPG hurts.  Double that is what consumers are now begging for.  Disasters, whether natural or politic or economic, are difficult to overcome.  Planning better for the future is a necessity.  Will we learn that lesson from all this?


Silverado-Hybrid.  The EPA posted official estimates for it today.  The rear-wheel drive Two-Mode model came in at 21/22 (city/highway MPG); the 4-wheel drive at 20/20.  That efficiency was an upgrade, using software updates not available on this year's Tahoe or Yukon hybrids.  How do you think those numbers are going to be accepted?  The actual market for pickup trucks that large is quite small.  Few consumer have cargo that heavy.  A smaller model (what used to be considered large not too long ago) would do the same job just fine without using as much fuel.  It's time to ask what you truly need, rather than what you want.


Carbon-Free Electricity.  Former Vice-President Gore proposed we set that as a 10-year goal for our country.  Why not?  Providing phone & electricity service for everyone in the country was a lofty effort of the past we most certainly benefitted everyone.  The same is quite true of the highway system too.  It makes sense that serious goals are set to make the world a better place for the children; otherwise, they'll end up having to deal with the mess themselves.  Isn't that what every parent wants for their child?  The clean, renewable technology for this is available and well proven.  Not investing in it is the problem.  That's sad.  Initial responses to this proposal were mixed.  Some people fell overwhelmed by economic troubles already.  Change is not welcome for them.  Others are screaming that this is long overdue, where further delay only makes a bad situation even worse.  I find it quite reasonable.  After all, my perspective comes from placing a deposit on a Prius over 8 years ago.


Green Fatigue.  How much can people take?  Recycling.  Global Warming.  Alternative Fuel.  Terms like that have been discussed for ages.  Now the field of green is expanding... and far less obvious.  The confusion surrounding hybrids is a perfect example.  With fundamentally different technologies now available and more on the way, how are consumers who don't know how their current vehicle works going to respond?  To make matters worse, upgrades are on the way.  Understanding details about new computers is hard enough.  Imagine trying to explain differences for a product with many moving parts... which is far more expensive.  At what point do people give up?  Only so much can be taken.  Where should priorities be placed?  All are quite important.  None can be dismissed.  Fatigue is a very real concern.


Broken Promises.  At this point, even some of the most dedicated Volt enthusiasts are feeling what disenchantment can be like.  Too many details, especially price, have changed over the last year and a half.  Not knowing what to cheer for anymore is a genuine problem.  To make matters worse, some are beginning to undercover the history before Volt was initially revealed.  Many promises were made then who's status is far from promising... some even broken.  For example, the PNGV included several prototypes for vehicles that strived for a goal of 80 MPG.  (In fact, that effort was how Prius came about.)  So, what happened?  Where did they go?  Why aren't they talked about anymore?  How come those automakers went from concern about reducing consumption to intense promotion for guzzling SUVs?  What caused that drastic shift in priorities and how are we suppose to believe they are sincere now?  What's different?  Are they really taking MPG seriously now?  Who's lobbying for increased oil drilling?  And why are the new promises so vague?


More Reductions.  Truck production is being reduced even more.  Today's news was GM wanting 300,000 less by the end of 2009.  There's still too much capacity for the smaller inventory automakers want to carry.  It's becoming way too expensive to get stuck with unsold guzzlers.  So, they are permanently cutting back, not just idling work temporarily.  It was inevitable.  This is the third year in a row that clearance time meant slashing prices to the point where serious money was being lost.  Unfortunately, that's not the only type of reduction taking place.  Another cost-cutting measure is to shrink the salaried work force by 20 percent and to suspend common-stock dividends.  That's bad news.  Struggling to survive like this sure isn't what automakers had in mind just a few years ago.  It's amazing how quickly & drastically things can change.


45 MPG Highway.  That efficiency rating for Prius is endlessly mocked.  They claim hybrids should do much better, that the improvement isn't a whole lot more than what a non-hybrid can achieve anyway.  If that were true, where are those 45 MPG non-hybrid vehicles?  I'm seeing many advertisements and lots of television commercials pushing efficiency "as high as 30 MPG".  It's a conspiracy to mislead.  Their inventory is loaded with guzzling vehicles, so they attempt to set expectations low... hoping to greenwash consumers enough to get them to buy.  Reducing the mindset only goes so far.  Even slapping a new label on a barely improved product has limits.  They cannot publicize their way out of this mess, not this time.  The real-world data is painful.  They feel it clearly in their wallet.  Gas inflation has caused a cost-of-living increase which has become quite noticeable.  Excuses to dismiss the significance are fading.  45 MPG on the highway is growing enticing.  Too bad so many fought against that for quite a few years.


Dishonest Reporters.  It's common to read outdated information.  Research is sloppy & incomplete at times.  Some rush to cover the topic of hybrids with whatever the newest twist is.  Today, it was an article about GM's eminent financial disaster.  Recovery efforts are too small and too slow to keep up with the rapid pace of the changing market.  That's pretty easy to see, no surprise there.  But when focus changed from that struggling automaker to the success of another, it got ugly with this: "Prius remains a niche product even after several years on the market.  Its anticipated 2008 sales are a mere 100,000 vehicles."  That's totally dishonest; in fact, it's an outright lie.  Giving the benefit of doubt, where in the world could that supposed mistake have come from?  Last year, in the United States alone there were 181,221 sold.  There was no mention whatsoever of any of the other Toyota/Lexus hybrids available either.  Of course, the reason why become obvious in the following paragraph with this: "Not only is the Volt's all-electric technology revolutionary the biggest industry advance since automatic transmission and perhaps even the perfection of the internal-combustion engine..."  I became really angry upon reading that.  It was propaganda to paint a pretty picture for GM's future and draw attention away from solutions already in production.  Arggh!


Dropping the Pedal.  There was a white van in the distance, going oddly slow off in the distance.  It took little time to catch up to its 25 MPH movement on that 35 MPH road.  Being such beautiful afternoon, what could the reason be for driving so much less than the posted limit?  I fell back so the driver could clearly see me in their vehicle's mirrors.  After a mile of tolerating that, the road turned to 45 MPH.  And sure enough, the driver speeded up but still remained 10 MPH slower.  Why couldn't that same 35 MPH speed have been driven that 35 MPH road we were just on?  It was like the driver simply had no care in the world.  A mile into that new stretch, a half dozen vehicles behind me all joined in the frustration.  Oblivious to that traffic congestion you cause is dangerous.  Ignoring it is rude.  What the reason was will never be known.  But when the opportunity to pass finally arrived, I dropped the pedal.  Flying by that van felt great! 


The Problem.  It was summed up well by a member on the big GM forum: "GM tries to build cars and trucks that people WANT.  Toyota tries to build cars and trucks that people NEED."  I totally agreed, and responded with this...  Well said.  The vindication of planning ahead is paying off now too.  Some are blinded by vengeance against Prius success.  Acknowledging the use of that same technology elsewhere is still an act of denial.  I was attacked last year when pointing out how important it was for GM to offer direct competition with Camry-Hybrid.  Now what?


Koppel on Discovery, in China.  Vehicles are a new phenomenon in China.  It's a radical new form of freedom for the Chinese people.  Change is surprisingly swift.  Their infrastructure is still developing.  Most families have members learning to drive at very old ages.  Oil demand is intense.  Pollution controls are sometimes absent entirely.  Safety standards are frighteningly low.  Roads there are the most deadly in the world.  Accidents claims & payments are handled on the spot.  9,000,000 new vehicles are added there per year.  Much of their economic future depends upon success of the automotive market, highway development, and the business spawned by it.  Vehicles prices are inexpensive, built locally, and purchased with cash.  Rapid growth is very important.  Expanding sales into America is a strong desire.  Wages are cheap.  Cost is low.  Profit draw is high.  Approach is very different.  Strategy is to make their automotive business the biggest in the world.  Ford & GM sales are actually thriving there.  Global is becoming the mindset, seeking opportunity anywhere it can be found.  The memory of Detroit's dominance will fade.  It's not a future those from the old school envisioned.  I suggest you watch this television special.


Fascinating Trip.  The temperature was swaying between 91 and 93 F degrees.  I needed to drive south, directly at the 40 MPH headwind.  With the A/C running, that 70 mile cruise at 65 MPH wasn't exactly ideal.  In the past, I have been able to achieve much higher than that resulting in an 44.8 MPG average.  Oh well.  The return trip a few hours later had me captivated.  What would that tailwind deliver, especially since it was now dark and the A/C was no longer necessary?  The end result shown on the Multi-Display was 47.9 MPG.  That was a pretty good recovery.  I still miss routinely seeing averages above 50 though.  But with such strange weather this year, I guess there's no reason to dwell on it.  That's certainly nothing to complain about.


$145.08 Per Barrel.  Gas has been less expensive here (Minnesota) than just about everywhere else in the country.  But even so, it is back up to $4 again.  Meanwhile, the price of oil shows no hope of dropping.  In fact, demand will continue to grow quickly worldwide.  American usage is going down a little bit though.  SUVs now seem like niche vehicles, rather than showing the dominance they recently enjoyed.  It's proving a grim reality for GM's poor choice of Two-Mode placement.  I'm so glad Toyota considered the new Highlander-Hybrid as their largest platform for HSD.  It's an excellent size for people that actually need a hybrid pickup truck... powerful without being excessive.  After all, how much is the need for loads beyond 3,500 pounds?  Passing that threshold for non-work use is rare.  And of course, the desire for boats so large they too guzzle has dropped dramatically.  These high oil prices pushing people to make more practical purchase decisions.  Appeal for the extreme is gone.


Rapid Losses.  The consequences of not having a diverse product-line are playing out at an incredible rate now.  It has become a disaster for the history books.  Detroit has nothing appealing to offer for high-efficiency choices.  They were so heavily investing in vehicles that guzzled, that incredibly risky has become overwhelmingly obvious a bad one.  They are in serious trouble... with no widespread solution available for years come.  Meanwhile, Toyota is well into expanding hybrid production... and even that is proving not fast enough.  The industry was not prepared for losses so rapid.  The SUV market was saturated, competitors struggling for sales even when gas was less expensive.  But now with gas at $4 per gallon, sales are drying up for everyone.  Downsizing of pickup trucks is next.  That chapter of carefree waste is over.  Penalties of not being prepared for this change are quite apparent.


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