Personal Log #435
September 30, 2009 - October 10, 2009
Last Updated: Sun. 10/25/2009
page #434 page #436 BOOK INDEX
Heater Threshold. His
what I very excitedly posts on the big Prius forum this evening:
This improvement discovery is a truly amazing experience for me to share with
y'all. Let me start by saying: Wow! It snowed here this morning. The
temperature this evening was only 32°F. Time to block the grille. For the
2010, I decided the 3 lowest slots needed blocking. Then, I went for a drive...
figuring it would help with heat retention while waiting stoplights. Little did
I know what the Prius had in store for me. Blocking is far from necessary.
When the coolant temperature finally dropped to 145°F, to my surprise, the
engine stayed off. Whoa! The Iconic model always started at that threshold.
The 2010 didn't, despite the heater temperature set to HI and the fan on the
second slowest speed. So, I decided to seek out a testing area. There was a
mile-long frontage road nearby: no traffic, 30 MPH limit, non-stop loop at the
end, starting with a coolant temperature of only 148°F. It was an ideal set of
conditions. I drove 1.3 miles on it in stealth (engine at 0 RPM) before the
engine finally fired up for heat. And to my surprise, it quickly shut off
again, automatically resuming my stealth drive. I couldn't believe what I had
just witnessed. The new threshold appears to be 114°F. The reveal in Detroit
at the start of the year hinted at impressive improvements for us to discover
later, but this one really blew me away. Prius driving in Minnesota sure is
going to be exciting for me this winter. Hooray!
Snow! That was a rude awakening this morning. I really wasn't expecting Fall to only last a single day. But the garage door opened to reveal a fresh blanket of snow. What the heck? Now it's suddenly Winter! I guess that made the decision of when to winterize the Prius easy. With the temperature sensors now in a higher location than the Iconic model, the choice of leaving the upper-grille open didn't take much... especially since it is smaller with the 2010. I ended up blocking 3 slots in the lower-grille, in part due to only having 3 half-inch strips of foam pipe-insulation available. The remaining slot isn't full-size anyway, and I'd like to collect data with temperatures now in the low 30's before doing that final block. So, this evening's errand running was enough of a sampling of what's to come. Of course, for those living in less hostile environments than here in Minnesota, it won't get a whole lot colder than this. Hopefully, the snow was just a fluke and we won't see the stuff that doesn't melt away quickly for several weeks still. Stay tuned.
MPG Drop. Having an escape opportunity to Northern Minnesota come at the same time as dropping temperatures made my lifetime graph show a dramatic MPG drop. Fortunately, that was last week and the days to follow showed a nice recovery. Too bad most people won't realize I was dragging two bikes on back at highway speeds for a very long distance along with the interior of the Prius stuffed with cargo (including a 3-wheel recumbent bike) and a passenger. It was an excellent test of the conveniences a midsize hatchback has to offer. The average during that driving was 47.5 MPG. That's hardly anything to complain about, but it's certainly much lower than I've seen with the 2010 so far. Unfortunately, during the time I wasn't on the highway, trips were extremely short with a Prius that sat outside all night. Oh well. Being able to enjoy my hybrid is the point, not doing things to always ensure the the highest MPG.
Surprise Sighting. I think I actually saw my 2001 today! There were only a small number of Green Classic models around here in the first place. Seeing one with a hitch on it drive by me on the highway this morning really caught my attention. That's an extremely rare feature. Could it really have been my first hybrid?
Frost! It happened, Fall has officially arrived. There was a coating of fresh white on everything this morning. The sight is quite shocking too. Rather than just a coating on the ground like snow, frost adheres to all surfaces regardless of orientation or location. So, the scenery change is quite abrupt. Oh, well. This season can be nice too. The tree colors will soon arrive. Leaves don't have much resistance to this much of a temperature drop. Freezing water brings an end to all things Summer, including MPG in the 50's. But with this Prius, I have to wonder how far the efficiency will fall. The mystery adds a whole new excitement to the routine. This will be the 10th Winter driving a Prius; yet, I'm still making discoveries about what hybrid technology has to offer.
Highlander-Hybrid. It's now being produced here, in the United States (specifically: Princeton, Indiana). It's at a plant which builds several Toyota vehicles and employs 4,200 workers. So, this is welcome news on several levels. It's good use of excess capacity caused by the now much smaller automotive market. Being an all-wheel drive hybrid which offers seating for 7 and towing-capacity of 3,500 pounds makes it a well positioned vehicle for the new emerging economy. It's a large size & power without being so extreme, as were the SUVs in the not-too-distant past. Being a FULL hybrid is obviously a good thing too. With the Camry-Hybrid having been produced in Kentucky for several years now, this next step really helps pave the way for Prius production in Mississippi. It's only a matter of time.
Beauty Pageant. That's what the troublemaker's arguments got reduced to. All I had to do was patiently wait for someone else to respond about the Volt engineering superiority debate. With so much attention now being given to automaker well-being and the need for change now, betting the farm on a low-volume vehicle causing a negative cash flow many years simply does not make any sense. People are embracing change now, at this very moment, when the economy is suffering horribly. Those who respond quickly will be part of the recovery. Those who delay are taking a risk they simply cannot afford... and that's becoming all too clear. Here's my contribution to what is becoming a priority awareness thread: Expenses don't get paid with a trophy. Middle-Market vehicles don't stir much excitement. Large volume sales don't come from a substantial price increase.
Slow Climb. The first 80 miles of my current tank of gas (actually E10) was with 2 bikes on the back, all highway driving returning home from Northern Minnesota. That combined with temperatures now only in the 40's is a recipe for lower MPG. But how much different will it be from the Summer? This Prius is designed to cope with the efficiency reductions normally caused by the cold season. And so far, those improvements are proving to be quite effective. I've been watching the average on a slow climb. Each daily commute has resulted in an day-end value of around 54 MPG. That has pulled the tank up to 51.8 MPG, despite the cold. All it takes is a quick check of my lifetime graph for the Iconic Prius to see that this month with the 2010 will reveal a pleasing gain. Makes you wonder what the dead of Winter will bring, eh?
Saturn Inventory. Production ended today. The inventory currently available, about 12,000 vehicles, is what marks the end. When they are sold, there will be no more. Expectations are that 4 months of sales remain. After that, Saturn will be nothing but a memory. How bizarre is that? The consequences of bankruptcy are becoming all too obvious now. It's a good thing the price of gas is still below the problem threshold. That nightmare looms. Shutdown & Recovery will be hard enough if all else remains stable. Another episode above $3 per gallon could make a mess of this already difficult situation.
Time Of Change. Remember the battles with Two-Mode supporters and arguments with Volt enthusiasts? That's all fading away now. Getting back to business... survival ...is a pressing issue. Hype about what a technology could do isn't what pay the bills. The strangely depleted inventory of dealers cleaned out by Cash-For-Clunkers and others with lots entirely empty (due to closing) brings reality crashing down. We are now amidst transformation. Selling the same giant guzzlers which contributed to this mess is a terrible idea that most consumers are understanding of now. We are beginning to witness the demand for efficiency grow, rapidly... which brings us back to those supposed "better" hybrids. Two-Mode sales are terrible, Volt is far from being available, and BAS is so bad no one wants to talk about it anymore. That leaves GM without anything to compete. What the heck are they going to sell to both regain profitability and payback the taxpayer loans? How long can they continue like this, offering only vehicles barely getting 30 MPG? Shrinking marketshare of the remaining brands seems inevitable. The entire industry is changing, putting lots of pressure on all the automakers to scale back traditional designs in favor of practical & affordable motor/battery technologies. Those who don't embrace the need will vanish. That message is becoming quite clear. This is very much a time of change.
Plug-In MPG Assumptions. The problems surfacing from GM's proclamation of "230 MPG" for Volt are starting to become evident. Prior to that, few middle-market consumers actually cared. Concern for accurate efficiency portrayal was really only in the realm of enthusiasts, who are fairly well informed. In other words, they don't assume. Unfortunately, those who only look at MPG estimates do make assumptions... and they don't realize the estimate was only an overall equivalent measurement, not actual engine efficiency. Put another way, some thought they could travel 230 miles with only 1 gallon of gas. This is the very thing some of us were trying to avoid, but instead got labeled as troublemakers attempting to discredit Volt. Arrrgh! It gets worse too. Those same consumers didn't know that estimate was only for city driving, without the A/C or Heater. It's the same ideal condition problem with a whole new level of complexity added. Hopefully, the official organizations contributing to development of a less confusing efficiency indicator will introduce categories. We really need to know about electric draw (motor efficiency) at specific speeds and CS mode (engine MPG after the battery is drained) efficiency, in addition to the kWh capacity available from plugging in.
Traction-Control. With my Classic Prius (2001), I rarely ever triggered it. With my Iconic Prius (2004), it engaged frequently. With my 2010 Prius, the behavior on snow is still unknown... but I got a taste of it this evening. I decided to leave the left turn lane and go straight instead. There was very little traffic, so I thought I'd push the larger engine & motor from a dead stop to see what it could do in that particular situation while still in ECO mode using standard tires. There was only about 2 feet of regular road surface available before reaching the large section of paint for the crosswalk. When the Prius hit it, rather than the usual brief power pause with the Iconic using high-traction tires, the wheels rapidly spun (I could hear them quite well) while the TRAC light flash on & off. That was intriguing. No pause, yet the traction-control engaged anyway... without stopping the wheels entirely! Looks like Toyota did some serious research and found that happy balance we had always hoped for. Sweet!
Those Numbers. We got them. They aren't pretty. Sales totals are shrinking. Every automaker is struggling. Here's how much sales were down in this market: GM 45%, Chrysler 42%, Hyundai 27%, Toyota 16%, Honda 7%, Nissan 7%, Ford 5%, (Kia & VW are not known yet). The numbers make it clear why Toyota wants to capitalize on Prius... especially since its sales dropped too. But as the GM supporters pointed out, Prius is still selling better than Malibu. With gas prices relatively low ($2.35 per gallon), that's not bad. We know someday gas prices will go up though. That gives Prius a definite advantage over all the competition. It's time to make the hybrid a well-established product, a steady source of profit.
September Sales. They were relatively stable here, what
you'd expect as "normal" with all things considered and clunker
money long gone. The 10,984 for Prius
was less than desired, but still not bad when in perspective of the market here
(Prius ranked number 11 overall). In Japan, on the other hand, Prius is
shattering sales records with 31,758 sold for the month. Watching Insight
fall, down to 1764, wasn't a surprise. Civic only stirred 152. That
actually does really hurt. The turn-around for Two-Mode isn't even a dream
for supporters anymore, with Tahoe at 280, Escalade at 189, Yukon at 146, and
Silverado at 120. Results for the 2 mainstream sedans could have been
better, with Fusion at 1,116 and Camry at 872. But surprisingly, the new
HS250h is still hanging on at 1,242. I was surprised to see Highlander
with only 269 sales. Efficiency over power appears to be the theme with
Escape at 787. But then again, the RX400h managed 1,168. Luxury must
still be a draw. With Saturn dead now, BAS pretty much is too, unless
Malibu alone with 156 can count for that entire hybrid type. The results
for October should be interesting.
Waiting For The Numbers. Soon, we'll know how well some vehicles did and others didn't. This month's numbers are especially important. The cash-for-clunkers program caused a huge surge in sales, prior to September. That helped automakers clear out excess inventory. It ended abruptly. Stock was drained anyway. What would follow is anyone's guess. Now, we'll find out what actually did happen. It's a safe bet seeing stable Prius sales. The new model gave the impression of taking hold so well that Toyota is looking into heavily promoting it, along with a large increase in production. Prius is becoming a stable source of on-going profit. That's a fantastic sign for hybrids. The numbers about to be released will confirm this future. Transforming for "still proving" to "well established" is the next step Prius is about to take. Hooray! But first, there's a little bit more waiting.
Last Standing. At some point, you have to wonder if that's all this particularly stubborn antagonist was actually hoping to achieve. Participation on the big GM forum is dropping rapidly. The daily statistics for the big Prius forum dwarf it in comparison. A single vehicle drawing far more interest than an entire automaker tells a story in itself. Anywho, those final posts consisted of personal insults, engineering superiority, and failing to acknowledge business need. It's easy to get tangled up with issues involving the first two, but that last there is simply no excuse for. It's absolutely essential to deal with the business need. That's vital. How else will bankruptcy recovery be achieved, not to mention paying back the taxpayer loans? Needless to say, his efforts to remain on top through belittling & bragging ended up accomplishing nothing beyond a false victory. It's time to move on. Automakers need to sell vehicles. That means lots of sales of modest-profit vehicles, from efficiency technology people can afford. Everyone else seems to understand this but him. I hadn't realized seeing him alone would be so vindicating. But if you look at it from the perspective of having been abandoned...