Personal Log  #431

August 18, 2009  -  August 30, 2009

Last Updated: Sun. 10/25/2009

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Horsepower Craze.  Remember how ridiculous it got?  The result now is a loss of perception.  Some have no idea what's realistic anymore.  But they want to defend certain automakers move toward fuel-efficiency.  Unfortunately, the move away from horsepower apparently means disregarding it entirely.  I particularly got a kick out of the MPG claims this evening.  No one had taken engine & weight into consideration.  Curiosity compelled me to check out the acceleration times.  The high MPG vehicles among the slowest, just like many years ago.  Only now, Prius is much faster.  Not wanting to really get into that argument again.  I did some searches for horsepower values instead.  It's nice to have a random sampling readily available.  These are the values I found for base models:  170 Jetta, 169 Camry, 169 Aura, 155 Cobalt, 148 Mazda3, 140 Sentra, 140 Focus, 140 Civic, 138 Elantra, 134 Prius, 132 Corolla, 128 Scion xD, 118 Mini, 108 Aveo, 106 Yaris, 70 Smart.


Middle-Market.  It was one of those absurd debates which resulted in that term emerging as an easy identifier.  They weren't being the slightest bit constructive, just a bunch of die-hard old GM enthusiasts redirecting attention to their favor.  This was my favorite quote: "Toyota has nothing to compete with the Volt, Silverado, Camaro, Corvette ZR1, the list could go on."  None of those vehicles are for the typical consumer.  You know, the kind that would purchase a Camry or Corolla.  Offering a product appealing to those wanting a mid-size & mid-price vehicle is very important.  That's where a bulk of the sales come from.  It's a source of profit which shouldn't be disregarded.  Yet, the online debates don't focus on them.  Those aren't vehicles which stand out.  Since so many people own one, they don't draw much attention.  Enthusiasts thrive on the extremes.  The last thing they have interest in is that the market in the middle.


Advertisement Spending.  This got asked on the big Prius forum today: "Why would Toyota spend money advertising a car for which they cannot keep up with demand?"  Newbies typically don't have enough background to realize what factors are at play.  The scope is simply to large.  Long-Time supporters are well aware of the situation.  This was my response...  The biggest reason is to get the word out about the NEW GENERATION of Prius now available.  It's far too easy for that to go unnoticed, especially in a now mixed up automotive market like this.  Serious investment is being made in production capacity.  Advertising is an effective means of increasing demand to support it.  You build a large base of satisfied owners who will later spread the word about their positive real-world experiences.  Those endorsements will be what sells Prius later, as supply increases.  The timing should work out nicely.  We've already seen how well anticipation works, several times throughout Prius history.


Cold Summer.  Morning temperatures in the upper-40's and evening temperatures in the upper-50's isn't my idea of enjoying Summer's end.  The second half of the hot season was only warm.  You can clearly see that in my real-world data.  The graph shows a clear drop of a few MPG as a result of the colder-than-usual weather.  Testing out my heater for the first time last night wasn't exactly something on the agenda.  I don't want the cold season to start so soon.  There is much data to capture still, long before the snow falls.  Don't rush me!  I was having a lot of fun with the kayaks & bikes... not to mention taking advantage of having a sunroof now.  Oh well.  The return of Spring was always an exciting event with a Prius.  Of course now, with all the thermal improvements in the 2010, it probably won't be as big of a deal.  We'll find out.


32 MPG Highway.  The hype of emphasizing only highway efficiency estimates in advertisements is turning into a big problem.  The new Equinox SUV delivers an impressive 32 MPG highway, which is states as "even better than the Escape hybrid".  What they don't tell you is the city estimate.  For Escape-Hybrid, it's 34 MPG.  For Equinox, it's only 22 MPG.  That's huge!  One vehicle offers a nice balance of city & highway efficiency.  The other is optimized heavily for just highway.  So, regardless of engine size or even vehicle size, there's a difference consumers may not be aware of.  Promotion like this is quite misleading.  It's the very same thing we saw before the bankruptcy.  Supposedly, things have changed.  I'm not seeing that though.  I'm not impressed by 32 MPG either.  That's setting the expectations pretty low for the technology we now have available.


Questioning Hype, years ago.  Remember the absurd obsession with Hummer?  It's hard to believe that much hyped vehicle is now dead.  Anywho, the main argument in favor of it (after consumers discovered safety was compromised due to its ability to climb obstacles, including guardrails) was how well of an investment it was compared to Prius.  If all you looked at was the summary, the numbers did indeed support Hummer.  But when you dug into the detail, the story changed.  The agency doing the study stated Hummer had a lifetime of 300,000 miles and Prius only 100,000.  Outrage from such misleading resulted in yet another need to dig into detail.  The revised report changed the lifetime for Prius to 109,000 miles.  What kind of nonsense is that?  Needless to say, the lesson learned from that was what helped dealing with this.  The annual mileage is stated as an unusually low value.  Now, we know what difference that makes.


Questioning Hype, today.  That was called an attempt to discredit just a few days ago.  Now, no one seems to care.  The hype itself is quickly dying.  So many other people are questioning the "230" estimate that my voice has simply become just part of a crowd.  Unlike with traditional vehicles or even the hybrids, YMMV (Your Mileage May Very) takes on a whole new meaning for plug-ins.  It "may" is not the case.  It will.  Using that plug-in spreadsheet, I entered numbers looking for patterns.  What became overwhelming clear was the DTW (Distance To Work) value made a huge difference, assuming 100 other miles were driving for non-commute use weekly.  You had to lower it to 10 miles to fit within the distance often quoted as "typical".  I always wondered why such a strange and unusually low value of 11,390 was used.  Now, I know why.  If you go much above that threshold, it makes Volt look bad.  17.25 miles is when things start to look ugly, despite the fact that it represents the standard 15,000 annual miles most publications use.  I don't know if pointing that out is considered discrediting, but it certainly does provide detail previously not available.


Two-Mode Sighting.  It finally happened.  I actually spotted one in use... on the road... one person... no apparent cargo.  Funny part was, there was a Prius behind me at the time and two approaching from the other direction.  What are the odds?  I've had it with enormous vehicles like that.  Back when we kept getting the promise of smaller Two-Mode configurations to follow, it was tolerable.  But now that the idea of a 4-cylinder option has been abandoned and the 6-cylinder has been postponed to over 1.5 years late, there is little reason to find an 8-cylinder hybrid delivering only 22 MPG appealing... especially when smog-related emissions aren't improved at all.


690,114 Clunkers.  That appears to be the official tally, now that the second allocation of funding is used up.  The monetary total comes to $2.877 Billion.  Was it worth it?  Probably.  Of course, this will be the first year in automotive history where there wasn't an annual clearance.  Excess inventory before the start of the next model year has already been cleared out.  Hopefully, that means decent profit for dealers around the country.  That could prove an effective way of stimulating the economy.  And based on the clunkers I saw, not having those old guzzlers on the road anymore should be good for everyone.  We'll see.  If nothing else, it was a boost to the speed of change.  The population of vehicles on the road is clearly different than it had been.  Remember what things were like just prior to $4 gas?


Accepting Change, contributions.  One contribution to constructive discussion was a diagram featuring distance and the resulting overall MPG.  It was an excellent example of clarification for the consumer.  They could easily see how distance affects efficiency overall.  This was my contribution to that...  Think about how long it will take to use up a tank of gas.  The variation of driving throughout that entire duration could be extreme, leaving the person wondering why their MPG differs so much from tank to tank.  So when they take a long drive, they want to know what to expect.  Try converting consumption-rate to gallons-consumed.  In other words, if the trip to Grandma's is 50 miles each way, that means somewhere around 1.2 gallons of gas will be used.  If it were 25 miles further each way, that would be 2.2 gallons.  See how clear the distance perspective makes it?  Remember, the rest of the world uses QUANTITY/DISTANCE rather than MPG.  They want to know how much gas is actually being used, not how much is being saved.


Accepting Change, priorities.  It has been fascinating to watch the influence of the antagonists fade.  They were once the voice of the forums, they'd command a great deal of attention.  However, the "230" campaign has ushered in change they are quite unwilling to accept.  You can see there posts haven't changed.  It's the same old provokes as in the past.  But now, too many other members are interested in those posts, which are non-constructive.  As a result, they are now participating more.  That drowns out the attempts to undermine.  More are becoming interested in learning about Volt and the competing hybrids.  Priorities are changing.  The consequences of bankruptcy seems to finally be sinking in.  Hooray!


Accepting Change, choices.  The absolute refusal to accept change can be amusing to observe.  It's denial to the extreme.  And they just keep dishing it out.  This is the response to my capacity post: "You don't think any of us believe you really think that, right?  A simple search for you over at PriusChat tells different.  The only reason you would like to see GM do a VOLT with a small battery is so you can directly compare it to a Prius and discredit it."  Some people just see conspiracy where there is none.  Whatever.  It gave me another opportunity to chime it.  And I did...  ALSO offering other choices is great. Product diversity has always been a trait of successful business.  But to not offer a competitive hybrid (40-50 MPG, priced in the mid-20's) is business suicide.  There are tragic examples of the one-size-fits-all approach failing throughout history.  How is offering a choice of capacity different from other well-accepted auto-sales practices?  Engine size has been a consumer decision for decades.  Claiming that Prius owners wanting Volt to be offered in more than one configuration is an attempt to undermine is paranoia.  After all, that's the plan for Prius already.  How could offering a choice be bad?


Accepting Change, annoyances.  The only thing the few remaining antagonists have been able to come up with at this point is to create annoyances.  They are discovering that Toyota did indeed provide many refinements to the design, improvements to even the most subtle operational functions.  One that immediately noticed was the cold-engine shut-off.  When the engine is at minimal temperature (just barely warmed up) and you stop, the feel of the engine motion coming to a halt was sometimes quite obvious.  But being at such a predictable moment, it often got dismissed (much like the shifting of gears from an automatic transmission).  Anywho, with the 2010, that halt is now remarkably smooth.  My guess is the smaller motor is now being used to buffer the motion, spinning the engine down rather than just allowing it to stop on its own abruptly.  Without my aftermarket gauge, that process is so smooth it would often go completely unnoticed.  Yet, the antagonists intensely disagreed, claiming Toyota did nothing to improve the engine stopping over the prior generation.  In fact, they even claimed it is a big annoyance still.  It never was in the first place.  But since most readers won't ever get to verify that, they think they can get away with the misleading.  Fortunately, creature-comforts are a far cry from the compromises of the past they once claimed.


Accepting Change, capacities.  The topic of price with respect to Volt & Prius became a popular topic on the big GM forum today.  One member responded to the question of Volt being competitive with this: "No, unless it can meet the Prius' price point."  How about that as a invitation for me to join in?  I did...  There's a market for the high-capacity Volt, but the 16kWh battery is simply too expensive to compete directly with a hybrid using just 1.3kWh.  So, it will sell but not in the same quantity.  A low-capacity Volt potentially could match sales quantity.  CS mode for Volt is said to deliver 50 MPG.  GM should be planning to ALSO offer this configuration. T hat's Prius territory, which is proving to be a large market.  There's lots of potential sales a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't address.  Killer would be cool.  I'd love to see another hybrid also selling worldwide at a rate of 500,000 annually in the next few years.


Accepting Change, claims.  Here's what I posted on the big Prius forum along with a spreadsheet and a document featuring several samples:  Anyone else tired of the vague & misleading claims from the Volt enthusiasts.  Now that GM is pulling the same nonsense, the time has come for us to do something about it.  What I did was create a spreadsheet which allows you plug-in (pun intended!) keys values of DISTANCE-TO-WORK and CHARGE-SUSTAINING-MPG along with individual entries to represent how you drive throughout the week.  In others words, all the numbers are displayed for maximum clarity. After entry is finished (the purple cells), totals automatically calculate and the graphs generate.  The estimate results vary dramatically based on some rather critical values that will be far from consistent from owner to owner... as you can clearly see by playing with the spreadsheet.


Accepting Change, clunkers.  Reality is crashing down for those still in support of old GM business practices.  Those wanting new GM to success are taking notice of what the rest of the industry is doing.  The most obvious, actually quite blatant, is the CARS program (Cash For Clunkers).  750,000 consumers have decided to turn in their old guzzlers for $4,500 used for the purchase of a new, more efficient vehicle.  Ford Explorer is the most "clunked" vehicle.  I'm seeing lots of old pickups waiting for the recycler.  What's intriguing is the purchase choice being made.  Here's the top-10 list (number 1 is first):  Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Toyota Camry, Toyota Prius, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Escape (FWD), Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Honda CR-V (FWD).  All are much vehicles once considered "too small".  Change happens!


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