Personal Log  #439

November 16, 2009  -  November 26, 2009

Last Updated: Sun. 1/03/2010

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Saab Sale.  Much like Saturn, the sale of this GM subsidiary was also terminated at the last moment.  This was listed as part of the bankruptcy recovery.  Now that it didn't work out, the fate of Saab itself is in jeopardy.  December 1 is when a decision is expected.  It could disappear just like Saturn.  Continuance simply is not an option for GM; they cannot afford it.  Each step forward is faced with greater challenges than anticipated.  The nonsense we witnessed from the obsession with living in the moment and not taking the future seriously is really starting to become apparent.  Of course, those of us who complained back then about those self-destructive practices sure are in a pickle now.  What can you say that's constructive without sounding condescending?


Coexistence.  This week, the argument was that if you are a strong supporter of Prius you must want Volt to fail.  Some simply don't believe there is a balance between business & engineering, allowing for more than one viable option.  The attitude is likely the result of pressure building from having all but confirmed CS mode will not be as efficient as Prius.  Of course, the more efficient choice of direct propulsion over the generation of electricity was GM's own argument for Two-Mode.  One solution does not fit all.  That's why I like Prius.  We'll be getting an option of having a plug.  It's not required.  Battery-Pack size influences price profoundly.  Not getting the choice has always been my gripe.  Now we see the reason for Volt not offering the option of a smaller one as a problem due to CS mode not delivering competitive MPG... something only now the enthusiasts are finally acknowledging.  That's why the idea of the two technologies coexisting stirs so much emotion.  Many barriers must still be overcome before mainstream volume can even be considered realistic.  Perhaps this question that was asked today reflects the situation: "What happens if Volt ends up a popular niche vehicle like Camaro?"


It Changed To Rain.  The snow had already melted.  At that point, I had already driven deep into the country... quite a desolate & beautiful place to be with lots of Fall to see and a digital camera to capture it.  The umbrella was needed more than ever then.  But the rain was causing leaves to fall onto the road.  Those speckles of color really added to the scenery.  The effect looked great, especially when combined with the wet look.  The excitement kept me running around.  I was delighted by the variety I was witnessing.  The location turned out to be a very lucked find.  I was compelled to pursue photo opportunities.  Where it took me was great... photo album 143


Chasing The Snow.  The pile of wet lense-tissue grew rapidly, as I chased the snow south.  That new cover of white was melting fast.  But armed with a digital camera and determined to make the most of such a rare opportunity, I pushed on.  Each stop required climbing out of the Prius attempting to conceal the electronics under the protection of an umbrella.  It was windy though.  And that snow had changed to a fine mist.  That meant setting up for the photo without exposing the lense until the very last moment... then only getting a one chance to press the button before having to wipe drops off of the glass.  It's a tedious process... repeated over and over and over again.  But it was totally worth it.  See... photo album 142


Snow During Fall Colors.  That situation is extremely rare.  I certainly haven't ever had the opportunity to observe it here before that freak opportunity last week.  I almost missed it today too.  At one point, the snow was coming down so heavy it wasn't wise to travel in those conditions especially only being mid-October.  People aren't expecting winter driving so soon.  They were still in the middle of enjoying the Fall Colors.  That week was peak for them too.  So, the opportunity to capture this quantity of snow was a great one.  I scrambled to get to a scenic location.  Then I fought with the umbrella & camera to capture it... photo album 141


Summer of 09.  It was one for the history books, that's for sure.  Hmm.  I wonder if it will become one of those frequently referred to times... much like the Summer of 69 became.  This was most definitely a major turning point for the automotive industry and the collapse of the economy itself certainly will stand out as a major event.  Whatever the case, I am already reminiscing about those times.  And for me, that means sharing nice photos of the time, preserving pleasant memories from then.  After all, who wants to focus on the bad stuff anyway?  Of course, looking at those photos already makes it seem so very long ago.  Placing the kayaks over the glass roof of my new Prius for the first time will certainly be something I'll refer back to many times over the years to come... photo album 140


Prius Taunting.  Not all is improving in the world of hybrids.  When you follow Volt threads on the big GM forum, it's best not to post unless absolutely necessary.  They've grow accustom to routinely dropping bait.  They taunt Prius until a supporter finally bites.  It's their version of trolling.  The twist is they try to make it look like you brought up the topic, intentionally attempting to stir trouble.  In reality, it's their doing.  That purity disruption they claim is very easy to dispute.  There's no need though.  Watching to see if they are interested in anything more than just bragging rights is my purpose.  Sadly, many there are not.  The forum now serves as a boasting venue.  Fortunately, that's not true of the daily blogging sight dedicated to Volt.  The attitude there is very different.  Many genuinely want to prove that technology is competitive.  It has become the education & information source the big GM forum once was.  When will those troublemakers finally realize what they've lost?


Haunted By The Past.  This may be a big contributor to the struggle to be constructive.  Popular forums contain a collection of superiority claims which didn't materialize.  Two-Mode wasn't able to actually compete with Toyota's HSD or Ford's hybrid system.  The need for an affordable design using a 4-cylinder engine was obvious to the Prius owners.  Unfortunately, it took them year's of denial before finally seeing that.  Now, there's a large collection of posts preserving that history.  Someone could easily post a reply to any of them, many years later.  That haunt fear could impair their actions more than anyone cares to admit.  Of course, it could also serve as strong motivation to move on.  We'll find out as 2010 progresses.  Much should change then.


Grateful.  I know I won't get an apology for all the insults.  Those attempts to discredit obviously hurt now that information has revealed I was indeed accurate.  I won't get an opportunity to point that out in the forum either.  I just have to take it like a person of good character an accept their inappropriate & non-constructive behavior as final desperate grasps at a past they know is vanishing.  Finally moving beyond that nonsense gives me reason to be grateful.  Not taking the need to reduce emissions & consumption seriously was very frustrating.  Their boasting about "superior technology" didn't actually accomplish anything.  Addressing the actual issues of consumer acceptance was long overdue.


Reality Shock.  Having to tolerate the hype before real-world data becomes available is one thing.  But to deal with the shock that comes from incorrect assumptions is quite another.  That first report about Volt instantly changed the stance of a certain antagonist from condescending to constructive.  He went from claiming the engine sound was undetectable to "how to tame engine noise".  That could easily be labeled as hypocritical, especially since it was only a week ago that those adamant claims were being made.  Isn't it amazing how attitudes can change so dramatically when the discussion shifts from hope to reality?  That's why I document these encounters... knowing that intense arguments can instantly end like this.


Plug-In Views.  On the big Prius forum, there is much anticipation for the plug-in Prius.  Though, we like to wait for data before drawing conclusions, the opposite extreme of GM enthusiasts.  So naturally, there's a curiosity from Prius owners about what the competition thinks.  After all, few actually venture out into those hostile forums like I do.  This was my post to sharing my observations about that other perspective:  GM is stuck on how to promote Volt.  It's a design that depends heavily upon a significant drop in battery cost, leaving them with nothing competitive to sell in large volume in the meantime (many years).  They also have a post-bankruptcy image to be concerned about.  They'd like to focus on the EV abilities, having you think of the engine as a emergency device rather than something used sparingly from time to time.  That forms a mindset of being more advanced than the competition, even though the efficiency difference between that and a motor powered PSD with the engine stopped has yet to actually be quantified.  CS (Charge-Sustaining) mode has become a PR problem.  Knowing how efficient the engine is while generating electricity to propel the vehicle remains a big mystery, despite so many asking about it.  The fact that its operation still needs refining at the validation-build stage makes it even more of a touchy subject.  With an entire year to go before the select-market Volt rollout begins and Toyota advancing with their plug-in rollout, it is anyone's guess how this plays out.  People want something to actually purchase, not just observational reviews.


Plug-In Rollout.  It is about to begin for Prius next month!  That's why Volt is being marketed so heavily now.  The competition knows the smaller battery-capacity (affordable price) and popularity of the non-plug model will contribute to rapid acceptance.  The reality the Toyota has invested quite a bit in Panasonic-Heavy for the large-scale manufacturing of lithium-based automotive batteries makes the intent clear.  Toyota is positioning for high-volume production.  Putting 500 on the road (200 in Japan, 150 in the United States, 150 in Europe and elsewhere) in the hands of consumers will generate lots of real-world data quickly.  Needless to say, the competition is taking this seriously.  The end of traditional vehicles is approaching.  Automakers must have something to produce instead.  What will it be?


First Report.  The first reporter to ever drive a Volt beyond the depletion threshold published an article today.  The vehicle was labeled as a "prototype" even though it was a validation build and he had driven an actual prototype in the past.  That's an unexpected step backward.  He confirmed that you could indeed hear engine sound and will notice the lack of feedback when accelerating.  The antagonists will hate that.  Some have been insisting it would be dead silent.  Others have claimed the engine rev will match power demand.  Whatever.  Again, more distractions.  What we really want to know is the efficiency in CS-mode.  Sadly, that wasn't reported.  Price was missing too.  All this vague attention borders on propaganda, since volume isn't addressed.  It's frustrating, but not at all a surprise.


Calling It EV.  We're seeing resistance to accepting Volt as a SERIES hybrid again.  We're back to the perspective that driving more than 40 miles daily and winter warm-up is considered an "emergency" rather than anything routine.  That's going to be a hard sell for consumers who see the engine and know that hybrids designs differ.  Arguing semantics is a diversion, a way of distracting from actual purpose.  They like to do that, especially since price is such a touchy subject and CS-mode efficiency is still a big unknown.  An interesting new twist is acknowledging that Prius has an EV button.  But again, that is just another distraction.  It sure will be nice when real-world data is finally available.


Marketing Blitz.  We've been inundated lately with marketing for Volt.  The frequency of it resembles a blitz, which is odd since there won't be anything to buy for at least a year still... and even then, very few will actually get the opportunity.  This has become blatant evidence that Two-Mode is suffering tremendously.  Being available for 2 years already, expectations were for deep market penetration rather than the "too few to earn a profit" level we've been seeing.  A niche product like that is not what an automaker recovering from bankruptcy can afford to sustain.  A decision must be made.  Shifting focus over toward the technology in Volt appears to be that executive choice.  With so much attention being put on it now, I doubt many would argue that observation.  Those on the big GM forum certainly haven't.


Fall MPG.  October was a strange month.  It started with a trip up north, consisting of several days of short trips followed by a very long one carrying the bikes on back.  That combined with the unseasonal cold temperatures and not having experimenting with grille-blocking yet resulted in a "low" month average of 48 MPG.  True, that's certainly nothing to complain about.  But comparing it to this month, which is providing high temperatures above average, the 4 MPG higher result makes you wonder.  That's a very pleasing difference.  Now, I'm really getting anxious to find out what surprises the dead of Winter have in store.


2010 Sightings.  The hope of a random sighting has been replaced by daily occurrences.  Yesterday, I saw 2.  Today, the count was 3.  Seeing more of the new model Prius sure is exciting!  Growth of the market is undeniable.  The numbers easily confirm the ever-expanding reach of hybrids.  Consumers spot Prius on the road often enough to provoke interest.  People are curious and online searches reveal a wealth of information nowadays.  I certainly see that with the website statistics.  The counting game is on again!  With the Iconic model, it became a bit of a chore there being so many.  Now, it's a matter of how long this one will take to reach that same point.  Toyota is planning a serious increase in production volume.  That should make next year very interesting.


Loan Repayment.  It has begun for GM.  The schedule maturity date of the loans from both the United States & Canadian governments is July 2015.  Payments will be quarterly.  The initial one will be $1.2 Billion.  How such high positive cash flow can be maintained for so long will sure make for interesting economic studies.  In the days of selling high-profit vehicles without investment into the future made that easy.  The market is very different now and continues to change.  Vague ambitions for being competitive make many wonder.  What in the world will GM look like in 2015?  Will loyalists accept will it must become to survive... not to mention thrive?


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