Personal Log #393
November 12, 2008 - November 19, 2008
Last Updated: Sun. 10/24/2010
page #392 page #394 BOOK INDEX
Disappearing Foes, fighting. Needless to say, those foes are disappearing. Fighting hybrids simply doesn't make any sense anymore. The technology is now well established. Reducing emissions & consumption can indeed be achieved in an appealing & affordable manner. Fighting that in this new economy of ailing automakers is pretty much reputation suicide. As a result, the troublemakers have chosen silence or... believe it or not... given an endorsement for Prius. It's more than just a little odd seeing that white flag being waved. Surrender. Wow!
Disappearing Foes, undermining. I've written quite a bit over the years detailing my encounters with those fighting progress. It started with anti-hybrid undermining. A certain few made claims that were much, much easier to believe back then than they are now. In fact, looking back those statements now appear absurd. Given a few more years, I could envision people asking: "How could any believe that?" But with hybrids so new, gas so cheap, and little concern for dependency or environment, it didn't take much effort to convince people that they were wasting their time & money. Fear of change was the real problem. Some automakers were clinging to the past and supporters were willing to ferociously defend that position.
Not Product Lineup. That was in the claim made today by the CEO of GM to Congress. The automaker wants money and doesn't believe there was a failure to plan appropriately with respect to what they build & sell. Legacy costs are most definitely a problem. But when the questioning came to dealing with higher gas prices, there was a definite evasion taking place by sighting operating expenses in response. There was fierce resistance to addressing the restructuring benefits bankruptcy offers. In other words, it's ugly... really ugly. They obviously have little to sell that's competitive in this newly emerging market. So no matter what effort is expended to remain solvent, reality is that it won't last. Change is required to ensure employment continues. Guzzlers are a dead-end.
Clearly Tell Us. It's like talking to the wall. You
ask what the automaker's plan is and someone replies with this: "Stand up
and fight for your country!" No wonder we are in this mess now.
The idea of big guzzlers being "good for the economy" was actually
believed. And now that it has been proven an awful decision for the
long-term, they don't know what to actually do about it other than proclaim
loyalty. My response, which I doubt will be taken seriously, was this:
Some of us have been for 8 years now... watching GM race in the wrong direction
as they mocked hybrids, claiming hybrids were a terrible business choice. Now it
is obvious that was dead wrong. Investing in the future should have been a high
priority all along.
The reign of engine-only vehicles is coming to an end, and it's being replaced
by a variety of different designs using batteries. The plug-in type will not be
dominant for a number of years still. What will be sold in the meantime is a
question which should be answered immediately. What will be targeted for the
mainstream, those millions of vehicle purchases our economy depends on each
The bailout/loan money must come with a commitment, something very clear... much
better than the vague intentions we've had from the Big-3 so far. Set solid
goals of quantity & price. None of the ever-changing nonsense anymore... since
it will be taxpayer dollars they'll be spending now.
Clearly tell us what to expect and be willing to accept the consequences of
failing to meet those stated goals. Defining deliverables for 2009, 2010, and
2011 to measure progress is what the fight is about now.
Some Progress. Finally! A teeny, tiny bit of constructive discussion suddenly appeared. The topic of timelines has drawn some attention. That's progress. Those "whether or not a federal bailout is a good idea" threads weren't leading anywhere. Not being well informed about the past was likely the underlying reason. A good example of that is when an engineer figures out how to deal with all the technical challenges but doesn't take any of the market factors into account... like resource availability, consumer awareness, competing technologies, and the resistance to change. They have a huge impact on rollout & expansion timelines and have absolutely nothing to do with anything related to engineering. Heck, even the usual "wait & see" delay is a big problem. Mainstream consumers wait for the early-adopters to see what experiences they share before considering a purchase of their own. Progress is slow, even with the best of intentions. To help progress along, we need to address and minimize those slowing factors. Unfortunately, it doesn't speed up the process as much as you'd hope... especially when as much money as a vehicle is involved.
Misleading Claims. What to know why I get worked up, its Volt claims like this: "As we know, the car will drive for 40 miles on battery without gas (charge-depleting mode), and then 50 mpg thereafter should it need to, up until the point it is recharged (charge-sustaining mode)." That's propaganda, clearly seen as misleading to anyone that knows how the system actually works. But of course, the typical person reading that would have no idea. There's no disclaimer noting that those numbers are really just ideal-condition representations. In the Winter, the engine will run briefly to warm-up the system when first started. So, no matter how much electricity is available in the battery-pack, some gas will be used anyway. And then of course, the electric heater will run to keep you warm as you drive. Obviously, use of electricity that way takes away from the overall range available. As for the MPG, that value was only provided as an estimate for the original smaller 3-cylinder engine. The new larger 4-cylinder engine isn't expected to be as efficient. Needless to say, the hype is frustrating. It sure would be nice to have real-world data available.
Saving Volt, variety. Tired of the endless tangents, I finally interjected with the clearest message I could manage in that particular setting. Who knows if it will make any difference. But at least it puts me on record with the problem & need as I see it and leaving it open for constructive feedback... Being competitive (having an appealing product where large quantities will be sold at a profit to sustain the business) means a diverse offering, not just 30 MPG vehicles and Volt. An affordable vehicle (low 20's) that delivers 50 MPG is missing. When will that market be provided with a choice from GM?
Saving Volt, hydrogen. Wasn't that suppose to be the future? None of this saving talk even mentions it. Neither the Volt enthusiasts nor the anyone from GM has made a peep about fuel-cell technology. Heck, we aren't even hearing anything from Congress about it. All that hype in the past has dissolved into nothingness. Supposedly hybrids were only a "stop gap" technology, not worth the effort. The tables certainly have turned. Now things look very different... for them, but not Prius supporters... who feel vindicated. We always knew an affordable solution for the masses wasn't that difficult.
Saving Volt, BAS. Remember how that mild hybrid design was hoped to quickly fill the needed efficiency void? You know, masquerading as product diversification? Well, that obviously didn't work out. Saying it was "too little, too late" would be an understatement. It offers only minor MPG improvement and no smog-related emission reduction at nearly the same system cost as Prius. And with the technology in Prius so well proven now, it makes you wonder what GM will decide (or be forced) to invest in. I'll certainly be glad when clear direction is taken. These personal log entries are making me crazy... noticing how well they reflect the craziness that's been going on lately. What should be saved? When should we expect results? How much progress will actually be made?
Saving Volt, effort. Focus should be on quickly repairing the financial woes of the Big-3. These automakers must begin selling practical vehicles to keep the business alive. Investing heavily in Volt simply doesn't make any sense. There's no reason to kill the development program, but placing the immediate survival on it makes no sense. In other words, deal with the excess inventory of the guzzlers and begin the push of sensible-sized vehicles. That way, consumers will be more receptive to Volt when it does finally rollout. Proposing an effort become responsible does not mean abandonment of plug-in technology. Yet, many enthusiasts genuinely fear Volt will somehow be forgotten if the spotlight isn't always on it. Of course, their effort to fight FULL hybrids has always indicated an all-or-none attitude. Someday the SERIES hybrid will join in. But making that happen certainly shouldn't be the priority now.
Saving Volt, purist. The self-defeating attitude of certain enthusiasts could ultimately be its downfall. They latched on to the "40-mile" mindset early and never wanted to acknowledge anything less, despite how much of a price penalty that requires. Why not offer less? And now which such urgency to deliver something competitive, their refusal to compromise in any way is a sign of trouble. Of course, this is the same group of individuals that didn't want to admit Winter driving would make the sought after electric-only range pretty much impossible. In short, this is the same downward spiral we saw last year from Two-Mode enthusiasts with the "saves more gas" nonsense... which has proven to be a lost cause.
Saving Volt, reality. Options are limited. Traditional vehicles are a dead end. Subsidies can be used to keep that inventory moving. But something else must be delivered soon. The best option I can think of for GM is to quickly adapt Two-Mode for smaller more efficient vehicles. Since they have done a surprisingly good job of development for larger guzzling vehicles, much of the operational aspects are already addressed. Shrinking the existing design is a whole lot more realistic with time so limited than inventing an entirely new platform like Volt. After all, the ability to easily integrate (since all the moving hybrid components contained in the transmission housing) was what they touted early on anyway. There isn't a new market to establish either. Toyota & Ford have already taken care of that, with their FULL hybrids on the road for many years now. Bite the bullet and embrace 4-cylinder engines! The resistance to that change is the underlying problem with GM. They know high MPG from those 4-cylinder hybrids would kill the sales of their vehicles that once brought in large profit. But that's the reality they now face.
Saving Volt, panic. That mood was obvious. Online posts from the Volt enthusiasts were record-setting yesterday. They see the writing on the wall now. What's needed from GM is the same goal Toyota set a decade ago... to deliver a 50 MPG vehicle priced in the low 20's. A product like Volt addresses the high-end of efficiency and Two-Mode the low-end. Problem is, those are both expensive extremes. There is nothing available in the middle, where a majority of vehicle sales come from. Lack of diversity is one thing, but to neglect the bulk of the population is another. Consumer expectation isn't a drastic reduction of consumption immediately. They want taxpayer provided bailout money to be used for retaining employment. Many jobs are now at risk from not planning delivery soon enough. Volt had an aggressive development schedule set, which meant 4 years even before the first one became available. That was too slow back in 2007 when work began. Now, it is at serious risk of being significantly cut back, since the project does nothing to help with the current financial disaster. Yet, enthusiasts insist that's not the case.
$57.04 Per Barrel. The weak & uncertain economy is stalling everything, most notably consumption. So, prices keep dropping. Seeing that for a closing price of oil and actually driving a gas station advertising $1.89 per gallon sure makes you think. Of course, diesel is at $2.99 per gallon. Over a dollar difference indicates struggle still. But signs of that are all over the place anyway. It's pretty clear that change is abundant. Where this leads is quite uncertain. Though, you can confidently predict the SUV market will never be the same.
Two-Mode Delay. It appears to be official. The
260 horsepower, 0 to 60 in 7.3 second, hybrid Vue that uses Two-Mode is delayed.
Rather than sales beginning in about 2 weeks, arrival is postponed until the end
of first quarter next year. That timing is rather suspicious. Do
they actually need more time than that? Is this a PR stunt? With the
"Earth Day" celebrations so close, further delay would really be bad press.
But a debut at that time would draw good press. Last year, rollout delay
blame was placed on the battery-pack. Since Two-Mode isn't new anymore and
they should have made a great effort to prevent reoccurrence of battery problems
again, what's really going on? Is everything crippled even worse than we
had thought due to the financial crisis? Of course, it could just be that
powerful SUVs don't sell well even if they are a hybrid.
Bailout Desperation. Not too long ago, Detroit automakers
were saying the money needed from the government would be a loan. Now, just
a little over 2 months later, the story has changed. It has become overwhelmingly
obvious that regaining a sustainable business will be a challenge in itself, so
the thought of paying back it is totally unrealistic. It's a self-inflicted
disaster, terrible business practices for years led to this inevitable point.
Those approving the bailout see that and want to hold automaker management
accountable. The original $25 Billion was marked for use of retooling
only, to support improved efficiency. That's not enough for this
additional $25 Billion. Fear is growing that it will be used
inappropriately, to pay those that don't deserve it rather than spending it on
efforts to get the business moving again. We'll find out soon.
Hypermiling History. Now there's an interesting topic.
The sighted definition only dates back 4 years. But its origins go back
much further. It was a dark time. Long ago, before we knew anything about HSD. Gas was cheap
and the SUV was rapidly growing larger. I spent much of my time on hostile
automotive forums, where there was a strong anti-hybrid sentiment. My arguments
were based on the real-world data I was actively accumulating and about the
potential the platform had to offer. It wasn't pretty.
Hypermiling originated as a method to undermine the success of hybrids.
Traditional vehicles were used to squeeze out MPG higher than the Classic Prius
and emissions were totally disregarded. Those online exchanges were
frustrating. The host enjoyed all the attention our posts drew, so the
combat went on... and on... and on. But after 1.5 years of that, the
opening questions was finally declared answered. Hybrids were indeed up to
the chore. Want to know more? Read these personal logs. There
are hundreds of entries documenting what happened, as it was happening, to give
you a picture of those times in a way that looking back with a summary simply
cannot do justice.