Personal Log  #432

September 1, 2009  -  September 11, 2009

Last Updated: Sun. 10/25/2009

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Auris-Hybrid.  We got details ahead of next week's announcement.  This is a European hybrid Toyota is planning.  It will be produced locally (in the UK), specifically for Europe.  Auris is their equivalent to our Corolla.  The specific model is a 5-door configuration.  We call that a wagon here, since the back door nearly vertical.  There, they don't distinguish between that and the nearly horizontal type like Prius here.  Whatever the case, the hybrid system itself is expected to be the same as the 2010 Prius.  The internal layout is intriguing.  Rather than the new MID display near the windshield and a digital speedometer, it has the Iconic style Multi-Display and a traditional speedometer.  What I especially liked about the official press release was frequently the new vehicle was referred to as a "FULL" hybrid.  That term is definitely catching on, now that the choices of hybrid have become so diverse.  I really like the idea of Europe getting a model of hybrid styled for their own particular appeal.  That really opens up the opportunity for an exciting small hybrid from Toyota here.  The problem has always been finding something for this very picking market.  Body flexibility is a big plus.


Cost Computing.  It was amazing to see how many who had heard about the upcoming plug-in Prius and just approximated the cost by adding the price of the upgrade battery-pack to the base model.  What kind of computation approach is that?  Pretty much everyone forgot to subtract the cost of the battery-pack already there.  Sadly, I'm sure there were a few who did it intentionally.  Whatever the case, high-volume is the key.  Toyota (as would any automaker) wants to draw in new consumers.  Those who would have settled for a 35 MPG traditional vehicle, not just the consumers who would have purchased a Prius anyway, are the target.  That adds even more importance to keeping the price low.  The decade-long goal of offering a hybrid option for every model builds upon efforts like this.  Cost is a major factor.  I'll sure be glad when computing it won't be necessary, when real-world examples are readily available.  Until then, we have to put up with the forgetful, those who mislead, and lots of assumptions.


GM To Sell Opel.  It's official.  The word today was that Magna of Canada and Sberbank of Russia will be purchasing the European division of GM, called Opel.  That would appear to end & delay some of the plans for Volt here.  The sale of Saturn caused problems for next Two-Mode debut.  This will have some influence, especially since their much touted Opel version of Volt won't be produced.  Ultimately, the smaller GM should be able to cope with change easier.  But the giant we once knew is vanishing.  Selling off this many assets is something supporters never envisioned.  Much of the development of small & midsize GM cars took place through Opel, in Germany.  Losing that resource could turn out to be quite a loss.  The effects of bankruptcy are slowly beginning to emerge.


Purpose Reminder.  Sometimes you have to provide a friendly reminder of the plug-in purpose for Prius, despite the fact that there's an antagonist intentionally attempting to undermine.  The problem is that newbies usually have no clue someone would intentionally mislead.  This was such a response:  Don't forget that the purpose is to BOOST the overall efficiency.  Any time the system is consuming electricity provided by a plug, there is a benefit.  So, the mindset of "range" doesn't play into the big picture as much as the resulting higher MPG.  With this approach, large volumes can be produced & sold and every owner will see an improvement in some fashion over the lower-capacity non-plug model.  What I personally like about this is the targeting of middle-market.  Affordability was given a very high priority.  After all, not everyone has a long commute.  And for me, all my shopping needs are within just a few miles from my home.


Plug-In Prius.  Good news on my 9th Anniversary, cool!  It was exactly 9 years ago today that I bought my first Prius.  Shortly following, I made the comment about many years from now I'd be celebrating this particular day: 09-09-09.  Who knew it would just happen to be precisely when Toyota made a special announcement.  The plug-in model of Prius will be almost exactly like the 2010 which I'm driving now.  The main difference, besides the plug itself, will be a high-output lithium-ion battery... which apparently fits perfectly into the existing location for the nickel-metal hydride battery.  Higher energy density without a compromise of weight or packaging is great for keeping price down.  Taking advantage of the existing production will really help.  Toyota is clearly positioning this upgrade as an affordable option, rather than anything profoundly different.  Consumers will see the price for it and the MPG boost provided, then make the purchase decision.  With the 2010 already well established, that's a nice design benefit... eventually.  Fleet rollout (500 worldwide) starts in the next month or two.  Consumers rollout isn't expected until 2012.


Ramps.  I bought a new set 2 weeks ago and have been very excited about trying them out, despite the effort required to clean up the garage to the extreme that I could publish photos of.  My old set was from the early 90's, rusted and too tall for the Prius to fit under.  These are plastic and low-profile.  For $35.99, why not?  I finally got to try them today.  They worked great.  The next oil change will be nice, especially since the photos turned out really nice.  It's all documented now.  I'm sure glad I got that done already too, since there is now an unconfirmed rumor that the change interval could be extended.  Anywho, you can see what I saw in the downloadable document... Changing Oil


Your Thoughts.  The days of a universal "attack the outsider" mentality are long gone.  It's actually quite bizarre how some former foes now agree with me.  Heck, they even acknowledge the irony.  They are doing their best to accept change.  Fighting the inevitable was always absurd, but was was easy with the crowd chanting to do it anyway.  They've grown silent though.  Things are very different now... except my message.  I just keep repeating the same thing over and over again.  And to my delight, there's far less resistance.  When asked this "So what do you think?" on a GM forum discussing Volt, as I was today, the response was:  The one-size-fits-all approach for Volt is the problem.  With the efficiency of CS mode at 50 MPG, it simply doesn't make any sense to not offer consumers a choice of battery capacity.  That would lower the price quite a bit, appealing to a much wider market.  16 kWh means low-volume production & sales for many, many years to come.  Why not offer a second model?

9-05-2009 Name Calling.  It's quite astonishing how rapidly the new label of "idiot" has swept the internet.  That's the insult of choice now, leaving "smug" just a bit of interesting historical trivia.  With nothing to discuss except vehicles not intended for high-volume production for many, many years still, it makes sense that discussions have degraded this far.  The reality of bankruptcy is sinking in.  The emerging market is very different.  Change is absolutely undeniable.  The days of careful indulgence are over.  Some don't want to let go of that past.  Some feel lost & uncertain.  Some feel let down.  The next few years are going to be rough, and they know it.  The same difficult recovery, just like in the 70's, is facing the domestic automakers again.  Name calling is evidence that the upcoming products themselves leave much to be desired.  In other words, everyone knows there's a lot of waiting required and little to do in the meantime... except watch Prius dominate the new technology market.

Focus Change.  It's fairly common for a supporter to have their credibility attacked when a debate swings heavily in their favor.  Shot the messenger when you don't like the message.  That change of focus often works.  But it's quite temporary and the damage from that desperation can last a very long time.  Words from the head of Audi yesterday fit that situation quite well.  Volt supporters were called "idiots".  I didn't like that at all.  Broad stereotyping is terrible.  You shouldn't dump a large group so carelessly into a category like that.  Being specific, on the other hand...  I had a fantastic example present itself this evening.  I couldn't believe it.  A minivan pulls up along side of me.  It caught my attention because all the interior lights were on and it was quite dark outside.  When I looked over, the guy was leaning over to pick up a big mug, an easy task when you aren't wearing a seat belt, which he wasn't.  What else he was also doing amazed me.  The big mug was in one hand.  The other hand was holding a cell-phone to his face while also holding a lit cigarette!  That's drinking, smoking, talking, and not wearing a belt... all while trying to drive with distracting lights on.  I feel pretty darn comfortable calling that specific individual an "idiot".  But I'm not going to label others so generically.  In fact, I do my best not to interject anything which could change focus in forum message posts.  Here, I comment about observations and emerging trends.


HS250h.  It looked really nice.  Of course, after seeing Conan O'Brien blow up the nastiest clunker in the country, anything would have looked good.  But the fact that the new Lexus hybrid, which has no traditional counterpart, was the prize for that clunker contest proved to be quite the incentive.  The one they found was hideous.  Watching it go up in flames was great!  It's about time embracing new technology gets that much attention.  The awful obsession with size & power is still quite an embarrassing chapter in our history.  Moving away from that as quickly as possible sounds good to me.


Oil-Change Interval.  An interesting new rumor started today.  It seems to have a bit of credibility to it too.  The source is a bit of a mystery, but scope isn't.  It appears as though a few new vehicles from Toyota which use 0W-20 synthetic oil will have there change interval increased to every 10,000 miles after the initial 5,000 mile change.  That's pretty cool.  I wondered how long the trial would last.  It makes sense than an automaker wouldn't push it with a new oil weight and a cartridge instead of a filter.  Oil-Change places have a hard enough time following instructions for the old-school changes.  But my findings after 8,000 miles with 5W-30 were quite supportive of even longer intervals.  After all, for the 2010 Prius, engine strain is even less than the previous models.  That means my next change won't be until the dead of winter.  Good thing I took photos of the first change; otherwise, new owners would be waiting a heck of a long time.


2004 Passenger.  I was one today.  The instrument cluster, especially from that angle, looked tiny in comparison.  I didn't realized how accustom I had become to the 2010 until that very moment.  That experience was exactly like being a passenger in a Classic after getting my Iconic model.  The thought of the difference being so big is quite unexpected.  I guess the natural placement of the new MID and the wide arrangement of information for the "just drive it" experience made me forget how profound the Iconic design was way back in 2003.  Toyota sure did their homework.  When it takes us months to make discoveries, that's proof how much study it requires to find an interface so intuitive without being too distracting.  There is definitely a balance.  Find that with respect to everyday driving needs is a challenge... and it sure looks like they did well.  I'm even surprised.  Kudos.


Top-Selling Status.  Prius has been at the top in Japan for 4 months now.  Last month's there were 21,669 sold there.  The government incentives available are giving the new model quite a kick start.  It takes awhile for enough sales to occur before you start spotting them on the road routinely... which is the ultimate endorsement.  Enthusiasts can hype all they want.  Antagonists can gripe all they want.  The automaker can inundate with advertisements.  There's still nothing as effective as just seeing them on a regular basis as you drive.  With a top-selling status, that means it will become a reality sooner than usual.  Hooray!


The Real Problem.  Sometimes a quote and a response just speaks for themselves: "What happens when high gas prices or government handouts go away?  Americans buy what they want.  And it's usually not compact cars but powerful family sedans and sport-utility vehicles.  That presents a problem for automakers."  The want for high-efficiency family sedans and sport-utility vehicles has always been there.  Last year's $4 just turned the want into a need.  The real problem is automakers not embracing that reality.  It's far less expensive for them to just increase production of very small cars than to embrace new technology.  Middle market has been neglected.  The shift to smaller cars is rather blatant evidence that consumers are ready for change.  Serious automaker commitment (a large chunk of production) must finally be made.  Consumers can't buy what isn't available.


August Sales.  The wait for these hybrid numbers came with much anticipation.  There was finally a small sampling of real-world data available for those undecided about the 2010 Prius.  And of course, the craziness behind the clunker money should have help with sales too.  Results were an interesting mix.  Prius did fantastic at 18,886 for the month.  Fusion did well with 2,353.  But that 239 more sold than Camry (2,114) sure was spun to sound much better.  Insight was at 4,226.  That makes it a hit compared to Civic at 717, but definitely not the runaway hit Honda had been hoping for.  GM is still struggling with Two-Mode hybrids seeing only 222 for Tahoe, 214 for Escalade, 165 for Silverado, 126 for Yukon, and 61 for Sierra.  The BAS hybrids are doing a little better with Malibu at 441, Vue at 414, and Aura at 65.  But considering all the hype lately, that's not much.  The other well-known Ford & Toyota hybrid midsize SUVs saw sales of 1,752 for 450h, 1,711 for Escape, and 836 for Highlander.  The only less-known hybrid to grab any attention was Nissan's Altima, which did pretty well at 3,164.  The Mercury variations were 391 for Mariner and 240 for Milan.  The Lexus HS250 was new, which there were 543 purchased.  Results were interesting, but it's next month that should help indicate what's to come.  August was quite unique.  We'll likely never see such odd circumstances ever again.


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