Personal Log  #438

November 2, 2009  -  November 14, 2009

Last Updated: Tues. 9/21/2010

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Volt Education.  That's become the topic of interest.  It took almost 3 years for Volt enthusiasts to finally realize that becoming a supporter requires action.  Daily blogging simply doesn't cut it and the hope of automaker assistance has faded.  They need to provide that information themselves, making it readily available for newbies.  Resistance to following the success-model for Prius has been a big problem.  The "think different" attitude has been a huge barrier... until yesterday.  Someone took advantage of YouTube, producing a simplistic video comparing the plug-in SERIES hybrid to a pure EV.  That was rather effective.  Of course, without a "for more info" resource, not much will become of it.  But who knows, the upcoming availability of 1080p resolution may open up more video education opportunities.  As time progresses, I'll likely take advantage of that to illustrate the benefits of a plug-in FULL hybrid.


End of 2010.  Have you thought about what that will bring?  GM will finally begin selling Volt.  Toyota is supposedly planning a larger version of Prius in wagon or SUV form using a lithium-ion battery.  Nissan & Ford will be promoting their EV plans.  And of course, the 2010 will be well entrenched into the mainstream with reports of the plug-in data building excitement.  It will make the nightmare of the monster-size guzzlers and the nonsense of fuel-cells distant memories.  Efforts to get millions of consumers to purchase hybrids would have been achieved, transforming the fade belief into mainstay.  Proof of viability, from being reliable to a good business choice for automakers, will be abundant.  It's genuine progress that's easy to measure.  To think though, it would have taken 10 years of effort here to make that finally happen.  Phew!


Hype Frustration.  It's the absence of real-world data.  That reality is starting to make some supporters of Volt crazy.  The desire to take the situation seriously is being impaired by the continuous barrage of detail-less promotion.  Vague advertising is being looked down upon as senseless propaganda.  I'm loving it.  Others are now asking the very same thing I had been, only they aren't getting attacked by the fear of undermining.  Being such a pronounced voice in support of Prius makes supporters of other automakers nervous.  They have an extremely difficult time seeing past brand-rivalry, assuming support for better technology cannot cross that line.  I see it as guzzlers verses hybrids.  Those few growing frustrated of the hype are now too.  Hopefully, they'll finally do something about it.


Changing Attitudes.  It's really weird how much has happened in just this last week.  On the supporter front, this bottom-line message made that clear: "For plug-ins, the main differentiator will be the amount of all-electric range.  Most people could care less if the gas engine is connected to the wheels."  That's a huge change in attitude.  The struggle to make a foe an ally is actually working.  Taking priorities seriously tends to do that.  The continued fallout of Two-Mode is probably helping with that a lot.  The BMW based design is making progress, and the very limited market for it is already easy to identify as a niche.  A technology for the masses is desperately needed.  On the business front, all the talk of high-volume makes that necessity clear.  Profitable vehicles that can be sold in large quantity is essential.  The talk of "halo effect" is all but dead now.  Attitude is surprisingly different from that of just a year ago.  Remember the resistance to bankruptcy?  Now, that's been accepted and the steps needed to become viable are starting to be taken seriously.


Addressing Cost.  There are a few attempting to address the true problem at hand.  A technical solution doesn't work if people can't afford it.  Yet, most everything we hear about focuses on engineering.  This is why pressure is building and messages are mixed.  Attempts to discuss anything beyond physical capabilities is quickly dismissed as spin.  Some even regard numeric data as spin, with the exception of "annual fuel cost" summaries.  Vague consumption comparisons without detail aren't resisted... mostly like, because they cannot be disputed.  An article published today stated $774 as the annual fuel cost for Prius.  That was literally the only number provided.  What in the world do people think when they see that?  Do they have any clue how it was derived or how much their current cost is?


Taxing Progress.  This is the topic that never dies, yet never makes any progress.  Rather than using fuel tax collected to help pay for new development, some feel it should be used as a deterrent to excessive driving.  That worked well in Europe, but it was established decades ago in an emerging market.  Doing it after-the-fact in a well-established market here is too late.  Penalizing those already struggling doesn't make sense.  Credit & Clunker programs is an encouragement, quite the opposite of a deterrent.  The talk of significant increases in gas tax (up to $8 per gallon) is still being hotly debated though.  How will progress be made if people are encouraged to do less?


Avoiding Spin.  Being absolutely clear about goals has been the intent.  The nightmare called "Two-Mode" is the situation we all want to avoid, again.  You get accused of undermining, even though your message hasn't changed at all.  In fact, the hybrid system delivered by Ford met the criteria perfectly.  Basically, when things go bad, those dealing with disappointment lose objectivity.  That's frustrating for all involved.  It makes it nearly impossible to regain focus.  All just falls apart at that point.  I've certainly witnessed that on the big GM forum.  No matter what I say, they spin it.  Thank goodness posts from years ago are still available.  I doubt those fiercely "defending" will notice the pattern though.  Not setting cost as a high priority or realizing how long it takes to advance to the generation design (investment recovery, development funding, consumer understanding, etc.) are the same shortcomings as before.  Trying to avoid another repeat of history is posing to be quite a challenge.  Thankfully, it's not all the same.  Looking at the big picture, one of the big Detroit automakers did manage to narrowly prevent their demise.  The absence of spin was a clue that their efforts were sincere.


Opel Chaos.  Detail would be a luxury.  The best information we have is that the situation is real, not a rumor.  GM was planning to part with Opel, their European division.  That's where a lot of the automaker's key development takes place.  So, the choice to sell was a big deal.  Based in Germany, that meant opportunity for the German government.  They would invest 4.5 Billion Euros in taxpayer money toward the recovery effort of Opel with the hope of retaining several thousand jobs.  Local control was looked upon favorably, though still a risk in this rapidly changing market.  Now, GM has reconsidered... just days away from signing the deal.  They felt the recent sales numbers didn't warrant such a move.  Many in Europe are quite angry.  The abrupt choice reversal is causing chaos.  What happens next?


Growing Anger.  The hostility is growing.  My question of "Where are the GM hybrid numbers?" earlier this week in the monthly sales topic was the last post they got from me.  I could see the emotion about to boil over... so much anger from asking a question.  That intensity was familiar.  Prius supporters have seen this behavior before during other troubled times.  It was quite predictable.  What wasn't was how bad the situation would actually get.  This new topic emerged today: "Too Many <Censored> Toyota <Bleeped> Fans at GMI?"  That big GM forum is shrinking, just like the automaker itself.  The lack of positive news for GM has resulted in more and more negative posts about the competition, with Toyota as the target of their frustration.  This is what was in that first post on that new topic: "It's getting really, really bad when nearly every other post apologizes profusely for Toyota.  What is going on at GMI?"  That feeling of being lost was quickly following by, to put it politely, extreme dislike.  It will be interesting to watch this particular thread expand.  GM supporters are really struggling to find their place in this market... which is emerging very differently than they had hoped.


Generation Fallout.  I wonder if the Volt enthusiasts realize mentioning the need to wait for following generations before making judgment will cause a "first" backlash, a wait until later fallout.  Wanting the Classic Prius to draw a diverse audience to establish a wide market was a big deal.  They seem to be doing the very opposite, appealing to those with a "pioneer" mindset instead.  Of course, waiting isn't really an option.  How is GM going to be profitable enough to payback the taxpayer loan if there's nothing competitive to purchase?  Maybe that focus on the distant future is the only thing that's comfortable to discuss at this point.  After all, we hear that quite often compared to the virtually non-existent mentions of BAS and Two-Mode.  It makes you wonder if GM supporters had any idea how much change would come about as a result of the bankruptcy.  Whatever the origin, this new downplaying of the first generation does give reason to wonder.


Reverse Chime.  It's just a single short beep now.  The repeating beeps when in reverse are gone.  Thankfully, it didn't cost anything.  The dealer simply just did it at my request while in for the tire rotation.  Toyota didn't provide a method for owners to change the behavior themselves with this Prius model.  It wasn't much of an effort to have them do it anyway.  In fact, an aware new owner could simply request that at the time of purchase.  So, I didn't consider having to ask for the chime to be changed a big deal.  It's done.  No more beeping.


Tire Rotation.  Checking tire pressure weekly makes it easy to notice wear.  At 5,000 miles, it was simply way too soon for the first rotation.  So, I left them alone.  At 10,000 miles, timing would be good.  The wear should be just beyond negligible and it would be just before the snow started to fall without melting immediately.  Today is when I had the first tire rotation done.  The odometer was at 10,236.  That turned out to be good change interval.  The service itself went well too.  They did the front-back pattern (no crossing), it didn't take long, and only cost $19.  I suspect I'll be doing the very same thing when the odometer hits 20,000.


Not A Peep.  The topic of GM hybrids on the big GM forum and the daily blog for Volt is dead, no one wants to discuss them.  It's as if Two-Mode and BAS never existed.  With Prius sales so good here and twice as many purchased in Japan, that makes sense.  Saying anything could easily be considered hypocritical.  For the accusers of smug being guilty of it themselves, what could you say?  The needs of middle-market were not met.  So... do we just abandon it all?  What resources will continue to be spent on those technologies that don't satisfy requirements?  The criteria remains unchanged.  There is still very much a need for high-efficiency clean vehicles priced in the 20's.  Remember that "nicely under $30,000" goal?  They certainly don't want to acknowledge it.


Pressure.  It has got to the point where anything about GM not posted in a positive way is attacked, not just the asking about hybrids.  Any positive information with regard to a competitor is considered an attempt to portray GM in a negative way.  Witnessing others get accused of undermining, just for trying to be constructive, is pretty discouraging.  I could handle all the absurd spin they did to me, but watching that happen on a much wider scale reveals just how bad things have become.  Supporters are not dealing with change well, that's for sure.  The latest sales results seem to have opened a dark chapter in our history.  One automaker from Detroit is feeling confident about becoming "solidly profitable" by 2011, complete with expanded efficiency options.  The other Detroit automaker is struggling to survive, without any competitive efficiency options and uncertainty of federal loan payback.  The pressure to deliver has grown so high, they simply cannot deal with anything anymore.  So, what happens next?


October Sales.  These are interesting times.  Prius is in the top-10 best-selling list again, with 13,496 purchased this month.  Beating non-hybrid Detroit sedans, like Malibu & Impala, makes for a bitter taste of reality.  No matter what you say, it's likely to be misinterpreted.  How do you encourage the hybrid growth without sounding condescending?  Of course, that's more a problem here.  When you take a look at the 26,918 purchased in Japan, the story is different.  The new Prius well received, very much part of the mainstream.  Looking back here at Camry & Fusion hybrid numbers, 1,407 & 1,226 respectively, you can grasp the overall challenge being faced.  Here's the rest of the numbers, in descending order: Insight 1,739; RX400h 1,567; HS250h 1,527; Escape 868; Highlander 700; Tahoe 391; Altima 299; Civic 239; Yukon 215; Escalade 186; Silverado 167; Malibu 114; Milan 107; Mariner 81; Vue 56; GS450h 39; Aura 30; LS600hL 21.


Taboo Topic.  Sales data for the month of October was released today.  Prius made the Top-10 seller list again.  Reaction on the big GM forum was hostile; they absolutely did not want to discuss the topic of hybrids.  It was incredible witnessing such an extreme response.  With numbers so bad for Two-Mode that they were withheld, I can't imagine anything constructive coming from discussions anyway.  There's too many former quotes readily available waiting to haunt them.  So, what should be done?  Taxpayer money is being used to fund a product without a market.  It makes sense to divert funds to a design, configuration, or technology with greater potential.  But they don't care anymore.  The willingness to accept change seems to be gone.  That pain of bankruptcy is becoming all too real.  How do we proceed now?  Being taboo is an ugly problem.


$40,000 Expectations.  When you pay that much for a vehicle, what expectations do you have compared to a purchase of only $22,000?  Such an extreme difference does make a person wonder.  Traditional vehicles priced in the 20's come with an occasion service need.  Minor repair isn't a big deal though.  It has been tolerable for the middle-market.  That's just the way things have been.  But when look at the expense of a much more expensive purchase, wouldn't you hold it to a higher standard?  Can we expect those paying more to expect more?  What will that mean for warranty claims and word-of-month endorsements?  This isn't something anyone has wanted to discuss.  Perhaps that's why we don't hear about Two-Mode anymore.  The topic of expectations... especially when it come to real-world efficiency ...isn't something to be taken lightly.


10,000 Miles.  The area of the HSI (Hybrid System Indicator), that new vacuum-florescent display which provides the Eco-Meter, hadn't ever illuminated the pixels where the "1" was.  So, immediately after saying goodbye to seeing only 4 digits on the odometer, they fired up for the first time since leaving the factory.  It started out a deep red, then transitioned to a pink color.  Since the time I see odometer reading is mostly just at system shutdown (an automatic behavior), I suspect it will take a few days before that "1" becomes the same tinted white as the other numbers.  Then... it will be a number of years before the next "1" illuminates.  Can you believe that many miles have rolled by already?


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