Personal Log #415
May 1, 2009 - May 9, 2009
Last Updated: Tues. 6/16/2009
page #414 page #416 BOOK INDEX
Number Misleading. From time to time, I still check in on that old diesel enthusiast forum. It's intriguing to see the Volt enthusiast blogging website following that same history... and denying it. The evidence is right there. Yet, they feel their situation is different... even though they too haven't grown. Not reaching out to a wider market is a big problem. Expansion is vital. Anywho, one of the frequent posters there declared this in an argument: "The rejection of the Prius is a prime example." I couldn't help but to be amused. I knew it was an absurd thing to claim, realizing that being vague was key. When you look at the actual numbers, you see the picture is entirely different. Rather than the perception of Prius sales slipping lately, you see that what was said is totally misleading. The actual numbers for Prius was 8,385. The total Toyota/Lexus hybrid sales count for April was 12,930. You get the impression that's small... until you notice that the entire product-line, gas & diesel combined, for Volkswagen was only 16,289 vehicles. That's it! They sure are in for a rude awakening when the 2010 Prius becomes available.
Quarter Losses. As you could imagine, some GM enthusiasts have been wishing for Toyota to suffer. So, they are taking full advantage of their announcement of 7.7 Billion in losses this most recent quarter... because that number is bigger than GM's loss of 6 Billion. Of course, it doesn't take into account the loan money GM used in the quarter which will need to be paid back later. They also didn't acknowledge the reality that Toyota covered its losses with their cash reserve. This is how I responded to the news on the big GM forum: Where did the losses come from? Was it throwing out the baby with the bathwater like GM, doing everything necessary for the sake of survival? Or was it proactively accepting the contraction of the guzzler market and investing even more into efficiency vehicles? The retooling of production for the 2010 Prius, which about 90 percent of the technology for it is new, took place during the first quarter. Think about how the year-end results will look. Meeting the goal of selling 100,000 Prius here between mid-May and the end of December will make that investment a sound business decision.
Wallet Voting. The reputation protection is getting way out of hand. Enthusiasts are focusing on efficiency estimates more than ever now, totally disregarding cost & availability. They don't care whether or not a difference is actually made. They just want bragging rights. It's pretty sad that it has come to this, but they'll inevitably run out of theoretical arguments anyway. Real-World results ultimately overcome all that other nonsense. And it's the count of actual purchases that stand out above all. Sales are what really make the difference. That vote each consumer makes is what ultimately matters. Believing strongly in a technology you choose not to drive doesn't make any sense. If you don't end up buying it, what's the point?
$2.19 Per Gallon. For quite awhile, the price of oil has been hovering around $50 per barrel. That kept the price of gas below $2. Closing this week pushed it up to near $60 though (specifically $58.63) and gas jumped up accordingly. I have no idea what provoked the change in such a long pattern of stability. Perhaps the seasonal effect of warm-weather travel has begun already. It's a bit early; but then again, the economy is still a mess. This is most definitely uncharted territory now. Focus is on vehicle efficiency far more than it ever has been. Hybrid technology is well proven. How much each automaker will embrace it is the question, not if they will anymore. We'll someday see scary prices again. Hopefully, the next few months won't bring them. I would rather like a chance to gather real-world data for the 2010 Prius beforehand. Being prepared ahead of time is great. Whether or not that will be possible is anyone's guess. The so-called experts have lost their credibility. Predicting when is next to impossible. Predicting if is pretty darn easy. Those lows we had been enjoying wouldn't last. In fact, they may become just a memory soon. Time will time.
Done. What else is there to say? Constructive discussion has dropped to almost nothing everywhere. New Prius is just speculation. Old Prius is just repetition. Fusion & Insight are hybrids too new still. Two-Mode and BAS are poor sellers with no funding. Volt was never practical. In other words, this particular chapter in hybrid history is done. Nothing productive in nature is available anymore. We must wait for the next chapter to begin. Thankfully, that's only a few weeks away. Phew! Not being able to progress isn't a good place to be. Knowing it won't be much longer is very encouraging.
The Wait. It's not too bad. I've got lots to
distract me in the meantime. Heck, there's 2 sets of Winter Prius photos I
still need to publish. What makes the wait difficult is reading about all
the others suffering too, especially since they have to endure hearing about how
long the priority orders will take. Combine that will the reality that
greenwashing efforts are growing in intensity, you have a recipe for impatience.
Thankfully, I know the wait is worth it. This is the third time I get to
be a pioneer. Back in 2000, things were very different. Most people
had absolutely no clue what a hybrid was. Then in 2003, many had dismissed
them based on misconceptions and the technology still being so "new". But
now in 2009, none of that exists anymore. The spin is to make Prius appear
outdated... rather than now being a mature technology ready for high-volume
Aura-Hybrid Sighting. The one I spotted this morning was my first out in the wild. That's as many as the one Malibu-Hybrid I've seen. Both are quite rare. Neither is much of a hybrid. A large alternator contributes to propulsion at times while driving. The engine shuts off when the vehicle is stopped and no cooling (engine or cabin) is needed. That's it. You really can't get any less. ASSIST hybrids, like Insight, are a step up. FULL hybrids, like Prius, are obviously the next beyond that. I don't suspect the kind like Aura will be sold for long. The price is way too high for getting so little in return for MPG improvement and pretty much nothing for smog-related emission reduction.
No Data, No Sale. Inspiration for that came from the
previous log entry. The Volt enthusiasts have been pushing "No Plug, No
Sale" for ages. It's an absolute I strongly disagree with. So, the
idea of changing their P to a D in the acronym as a terse method of demanding
constructive discussions sounded really good. Here's what I posted online
for them to mull over...
Real-World data is what grows demand for efficiency vehicles. The impressive MPG
numbers being reported for Fusion-Hybrid will likely become a big success story
for Ford. The low pricing of Insight doesn't amount to much without MPG data to
support it. Estimates have proven insufficient.
That's true for Volt too. The plug doesn't equate to much without actual MPG
data. Real-World operation revealing true quantity of gas use will go a long
way. Without that, it's still just hype.
"No Data, No Sale" isn't rocket science. You cannot convince a consumer to spend
that much on nothing but an estimate. Hybrids have already proven that.
Negative Comments. Lack of data being available is turning my hope that a more affordable configuration of Volt simply isn't going to happen. Readers will see my comments as negative overall, not just for the "40-mile" range with a promise of "50 MPG" afterward. Engineering realities are complex to explain. Combining that with Business realities makes for a situation often overrun with emotion. Constructive discussions are a challenge... especially with so much at stake. I suppose once I get my 2010 Prius, the negativity would have emerged anyway. Averaging 50 MPG from a vehicle priced at $21,000 this Fall is what mainstream consumers will hear most about... because it's at a price they can justify and won't have to wait years still before availability. No data means no sale. Estimates alone aren't enough.
Generator Fallout. All we ever hear about Volt is stuff related to the battery operation... and people are beginning to notice. In fact, it's getting bad. No detail whatsoever with respect to the engine operating the generator raises skepticism. Why haven't we been told anything? Why did the most devoted of supporters only get to drive with electricity supplied from a plug? Why isn't the "ER" part of "EREV" (that's Extended Range Electric Vehicle) not talked about anymore? That promise to share information throughout the development process has been broken. Those with technical backgrounds believe the efficiency of mechanical to electrical back to mechanical transfer of energy isn't meeting the goal originally set (50 MPG). That tradeoff of engine optimization at the penalty of too much conversion loss is a risk no one else has taken beyond prototype testing. It's why I believe FULL hybrids offer greater opportunity. They take advantage of the mechanical while also allowing for boost from a plug. Energy management is a delicate balance of many factors. Committing to one specific configuration 4 years before implementation could prove unwise. This generator fallout may be the first clue that something isn't going well.
Detroit Spin. When a newspaper based in Detroit publishes
an article with this as the title, "Prius hybrid sales decline", you
can't help but to get excited. You know you are about to read some
greenwashing. They can spin great stories. The article was extremely
short. This was at the heart of it: "April sales of the once-popular Toyota Prius hybrid declined 61.5%, compared to
the same month a year ago when gas prices were at least $1 higher."
No mention was made to point out how Toyota explicitly targeted April last year
for an sales blitz, sacrificing future inventory supply for immediate
availability. No mention was made about the new model being available very
soon either, pretending April was just another month. Heck, last month's
difference wasn't mentioned either. Of course, pointing out any of that
changes the story. They wanted you to believe the demand is waning, that
the want for hybrids was just a fade. They don't want you to see the big
picture. And sadly, some newspaper readers do indeed take facts presented
at face value without any other consideration.
What if it doesn't? I'm still in dismay from that
question. When at the dealer last week, it's what the salesperson asked.
He was being sincere too. I didn't know how to reply. After learning
about so many optimizations to the design during my visit in Detroit and already
knowing about a few being carried over from Camry-Hybrid, I couldn't see how
anyone could even wonder about that. The system will without a doubt yield
higher MPG, despite the power increase. To what degree is the more
appropriate question. I'm most curious about cold-weather performance.
Highway will obviously be higher.
Prius Sales. The publications based in Detroit absolutely love to point out when Prius sales are low. They spin the reason why, giving you the impression of an overall decline. But in this case, they did nothing but compare it to sales in April of the previous year. Remember what happened then? Toyota put production of other hybrids on hold so they could deliver an extremely large quantity of Prius then, to take advantage of all the Earth Day attention it would get. And of course, that paid off big time due to the rapid increase in gas prices then. Of course, the following month inventory was drained to the point of shortages. And now this April, sales are way down due to the soon-to-be-available new model. They didn't mention any of that though. Numbers were provided in a vague way hoping you'd make an incorrect assumption about demand.
April Sales. We have no idea what the availability was for Insight. So, the 2,096 sold is difficult to interpret. All the television commercials lately (4 different ones), would seem to imply that supply is ample. Whatever the case, Honda is clearly pushing hybrids again. 3,361 Civic-Hybrid were sold in April. That outweighs Ford's overall hybrid total of 2,299. But then again, we don't know about quantity for their newest hybrid either. Ford & GM also has a distorting factor from their "confidence" programs too. They both offer customer assurance for new purchases, covering payments for 6 to 9 months if they lose their job within the next year. Of course, GM only sold 1,534 hybrids. So, what difference would any of it make? Toyota doesn't have that. 12,223 hybrids were purchased here from their Toyota division and 707 from their Lexus division. 8,385 of those were Prius. Next month should be very interesting. The end of the Iconic model supply may be reached and the first of the 2010 will finally arrive.
Orders & Expectations. A discussion about that on the big Prius forum caught my attention. I chimed in with this: At my dealer yesterday (informing them my priority had just been confirmed), I asked the salespeople there what they would point out first about the 2010 model. All responded with the LKA (Lane Keep Assist). Do they really think that's what will compel a typical consumer to buy? Throughout the years, it has been the significant improvement to emissions & consumption combined with a couple of soon-to-be-common goodies to enhance the driving experience. Finding screens in vehicles is indeed becoming common, validating that choice as a mainstream feature. Package V will be fantastic for demonstrating potential, but I can't imagine it becoming common. The consumer view will likely be similar to that of Avalon. Package IV (the one I ordered) is what I expect as the most likely to be purchased by those seeking a "fully loaded" model. The benefits of the moonroof and the solar-panel will be obvious and enjoyed frequently... which is what I'm sure I'll be pointing out first to consumers.
Green Credit, excuses. The denial is remarkable.
Rather than just admit errors of the past and move on, they continue to push the
idea that every automaker acted the same way in the past hoping discussion
readers won't ever bother to check the facts. This explains how one
bankruptcy is taking place and another is about to. Change is difficult.
This is some proof: "Seems like your making excuses, and not very good ones
at that." Accusing someone of doing the very thing you are guilty of
is a play right out of the book of tricks. Sometimes it actually works
too, but only if attention can be diverted elsewhere... since digging into the
detail reveals the true story. This was my reply to that quote:
What excuse? Production of those guzzlers has decreased quite a bit, which is what many of us
wanted by the time the 3rd generation hybrid system became available.
Guzzler quantity shrinks while hybrid quantity expands. It's happening. No spin
will conceal that. Heck, all the exposure Volt is getting is clear evidence that
market wants are changing.