Personal Log  #442

December 17, 2009  -  December 28, 2009

Last Updated: Sun. 1/03/2010

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Attack Responses.  Attempts to tarnish reputation are nothing new.  In fact, there are other more broad issues currently at play beside Prius braking.  But it's obviously those "failure" claims that has Prius owner interest peaked.  As a result, there have been some good responses.  Getting back to the basics, we've asked how drivers first became familiar with ABS.  Mine certainly caught me off guard.  I didn't realize the brake-pedal in my 1994 Taurus would actually kick back, literally pushing my foot up to inform me I was braking too hard.  Nowadays, they don't do that anymore.  Instead, you get an indicator-light which illuminates.  With the VSC feature quite new to drivers now, you get a beeping noise too.  Is that all we need as an effective alert as to what the system is doing?  How was the determination made for them?  If those both ABS & VSC behavior differences were conveyed to drivers using simple light & sound mechanisms, why not this too?


Blatant Errors.  Talking about not verifying!  An article titled "Who Drives a Hybrid?" from an unfamiliar so-called green publication really pushed the limits today.  I started reading thinking it was a typical basic hybrid review.  It claimed the typical 0-60 acceleration time of 10 seconds were slow and the initial cost was high.  Then it got into success & failure examples.  Nothing we haven't encountered before.  Volt came next.  Price was listed as "same as Toyota Prius".  Efficiency was listed as 53 MPG.  Plugging in was never mentioned.  What the heck?  Readers sure are in for a surprise when they discover how much they were misled.  Such blatant errors should never be published... or was that intentional?  You kind of have to wonder about intent, especially since the conclusion of the article raised speculation if hybrids were nothing but an expensive niche.


Decade's Best.  The very first of the decade's best lists has caught my attention already.  In this case, it featured "environmental moments".  Prius was listed as a "game changer", of course.  But they didn't bother checking facts.  It really bothers me when easily verifiable information isn't verified.  They stated worldwide sales began in 2001.  In reality, purchases outside of Japan began the Summer of 2000.  A simple search for Prius history shows that, like on the Wiki.  They also mentioned over 1 million Prius had been sold.  It was heavily publicized last Summer that number was 1.4 million for Prius when Toyota exceeded an overall hybrid total of 2 million then.  Now, the count is easily beyond 1.5 million.  They were off by quite a bit.  Sloppy reporting like this is frustrating.  Makes you wonder what else they don't verify, eh?


Superiority Claims.  How many of them can you tolerate without any supporting data whatsoever?  They become such an unproductive burden after awhile, mindless clutter in otherwise useful discussion.  Some enthusiasts feel their claim simply doesn't require any support, it's the obvious future.  Needless to say, this is the same old Volt is better than Prius we've dealt with since the beginning of 2007.  They feel threatened now that the first phase of plug-in Prius rollout is about to begin.  Welcoming it as a fellow plug-in, an ally to automotive electrification, is not considered an option.  Here's how I responded today, with no expectation of anything constructive in reply:  3 years later, supporters still don't have a compelling argument beyond pointing out vague technical references.  The current FULL hybrid system can deliver 100 km/h of electric-only drive.  Altering the PSD components to favor faster EV would do what?  Tell me the *outcome* differences.  The optimization we see for them now is subject to change, just like Volt's engine later.  There is no clear winner.  But lack of diversity will impair business.  There will be loss where a market is not fulfilled.  What will GM offer as efficiency vehicles other than Volt itself?  Larger?  Smaller?  Cheaper?  Something that doesn't require a plug?


Prius Attack.  Immediately before the holiday began, a Detroit publication published an article attacking the behavior of Prius braking.  With the Iconic model, if you hit a pothole while braking hard, the split-second transition from regenerate to friction could be felt.  It gave a disconcerting feel the first few times you experienced it.  But those circumstances were rare and it never actually caused any braking issue, no danger.  It was just an unexpected response, never causing any trouble after all those years.  In the 2010 model, I have yet to even notice it after 7 months of driving.  This is clearly a non-issue.  Heck, if you slam on the brakes the regenerate feature is skipped entirely.  Yet, the title of the article says "Braking Loss" and the subtitle calls the brakes "defective" and asks "Pedestrian lives at risk?"  This is another a sad attempt to distract attention away from Prius, carefully timed to coincide with the upcoming big auto shows in New York & Detroit.  I'm tired of this undermining nonsense.


New Dedicated Hybrid.  In just a little over 2 weeks, Toyota will be revealing a new brand hybrid.  Like Prius, it will not have a traditional counterpart.  The body will be dedicated to being a hybrid only.  It will be smaller, supposedly a subcompact.  That will lead to quite a bit of speculation as to the efficiency expectation.  I can't imagine how this will shake up the market.  Expanding FULL hybrid offerings is exactly what's needed now.  It's the next logical step before embracing the plug-in option.  Mainstream availability of hybrids like this is required, so battery production can be sustained at predictable & profit levels.  Many the choice realistic for middle-market is the key.  A small FULL hybrid is a great opportunity for that kind of growth.  Stay tuned for details.


Snow Storm!  When the weather forecast is for over a foot of snow, you know that opportunity to test your new Prius in an extreme is not far away.  It turned out to be the really heavy, slippery stuff too.  And I had no choice but drive in it.  Fortunately, that was really late last night and there was little traffic.  We normally don't allow several inches of snow to build up on the roads.  Being so close to the holiday though, things were different.  In other words, it was the perfect opportunity for the 2010 to show its stuff.  I was impressed too.  Even with lower traction tires than I've been use to, the improved traction-control really came through.  Owners of the previous generation will definitely be pleased with the design change.  This morning brought the opportunity to commute in even more of a mess.  Fortunately again, the traffic was light.  It was quite the experience testing out those improvements first-hand like that.  Now, I'm more curious than ever what the sub-zero conditions in January will bring.


Misplaced Priorities, reaction.  I didn't have much to say.  This is far from new.  Two-Mode had similar misplaced priorities.  Focus on price & efficiency were far too low on the list.  It was doomed even before rollout began.  Now we have Volt falling into a similar situation.  Delivering a high-volume affordable alternative to the family car which uses far less gas is claimed not enough, even though consumers aren't asking for faster acceleration.  I reacted to all the hype by posting this...  Haven't you noticed how the top-selling vehicles don't highlight acceleration times anymore, since all of them have exceeded the required ceiling?  The middle-market consumer simply isn't interested.  Those 4-cylinder vehicles they purchase work just fine.  They are plenty fast for their needs.  The more we hear about Volt, the more it sounds like a Camaro rather than a Malibu.


Misplaced Priorities, efficiency.  Think about that original 3-cylinder 1-liter engine.  That smaller size was chosen with efficiency in mind.  GM already had experience with that particular engine, it was what had been used with the Geo Metro all those years ago.  But it didn't provide much power.  The 0-60 acceleration wanted wasn't possible unless a bigger one was used.  Hopes of 50 MPG from a generator engine vanished.  Now, they have a SERIES hybrid which delivers acceleration in excess of the standard at the penalty of efficiency.  Why was performance given such a high priority?


Misplaced Priorities, acceleration.  That obsession lives on.  Remember the size & power which clouded judgment in the past?  Now rather than taking the form of a SUV, it is emerging as a plug-in hybrid.  The characteristic getting lots of attention today has nothing to do with efficiency.  It's all about acceleration.  Volt enthusiasts are chanting the desire to prove superiority, rather than focusing on characteristics already well accepted as standard.  Basing need on characteristics common to the popular middle-market vehicles of today is not enough for them.  They insist the design must exceed that.  Priorities such as price & efficiency are being placed lower as a result.


Price Fallout.  Remember how Two-Mode fell from grace?  The technology worked just fine, only it was way too expensive.  That's the very same reality enthusiasts of Volt are facing now.  They see how limited sales will be due to having a price that isn't even remotely affordable.  There's no way to compete with technologies which cost so much less.  Consumers insist on a balance of priorities, with efficiency just part of the mix.  They are not looking for extremes.  Why is that so hard for some to understand?  The engineering obsession blinds them from the realities of high-volume business.  Those "bread & butter" vehicles, the ones which represent a majority of production, are not ones that will get you a supermodel passenger... which is what enthusiasts crave.  They declare Volt as an everyday commuter, but the price certainly doesn't support that and neither does the performance.  Volt is already becoming a niche, falling away from the mainstream even before rollout begins.  What will this change of perception bring?  Price should have been a higher priority.


Lost in the Crowd.  Once a stand-alone vehicle, Volt is now surrounded by choices.  Ford is the latest to announce a plug-in option.  They are planning to offer a FULL hybrid with EV abilities, much like the upcoming Prius.  Combine that with the wide variety of electric-only vehicles on the way, it's not hard to understand why those GM enthusiasts no longer have the attention they once enjoyed.  I wondered how long they'd be able to retain the spotlight.  All the way up to rollout an entire year from now was their hope.  That bubble burst.  It was when attention to CS-mode became the dominant discussion topic that the situation changed. The transition from ideal to reality wasn't kind.  But then again, I find it vindicating with all the superiority nonsense we had to endure.


Ford Plug-In.  It looks like Ford will also be offering a plug-in hybrid in 2012.  The expectation has always been that they would choose to compete directly with GM and Toyota early on.  Our first hint of that came today.  Details were beyond sparse.  But the priority was clear.  Ford will be placing far more emphasis on price, like Toyota and quite unlike GM.  That makes sense.  The FULL hybrid platform allows for lots of flexibility.  Adjusting configuration to a nice balance of price & performance is good business.  That's why I sometimes come down hard on GM with Volt.  Their one-size-fits-all battery approach is quite limiting.  How they'll reach a wide consumer-base that way remains a mystery... and risk, one Ford see's no reason to take.  Until that actually happens, it's going to be a publicity battle.  I can't imagine how they'll deal with MPG estimates.  Setting expectations is a challenge for all offering a vehicle with a plug.


Saab Back?  The upset yesterday really stirred a lot of attention.  It even went as far as a renegotiation talk, the possibly of purchase terms being changed enough for the sale to occur.  That sounds rather desperate though.  With so much at stake prior to the closing announcement yesterday, it's hard to take day-after speculation seriously.  How much could change, especially knowing how the other GM sales failed to materialize?  What GM will look like a year after filing bankruptcy and how the industry will respond to the fallout will fascinate economists for decades to come.  These are signs of a major turning point.


Saab Closing.  It was a small automaker based in Sweden which GM owned... but couldn't sell.  Saab was known for innovation.  They had a reputation for safety too.  Operation was independent.  The image of highly regarded.  GM didn't invest in them though.  In fact, they took technology from Saab for use elsewhere.  Now they are letting that automaker die.  Closing was announced today, as a result of not being able to close a sale deal.  Thousands of jobs will be lost there, all related directly to the manufacturing.  The loss of jobs here from sales are unknown.  It doesn't look pretty.  The size of GM continues to shrink.  More than just volume is being lost.  What's next?


53 MPG.  Out of the blue, we got an announcement from GM today stating their planned dedicated FULL hybrid to compete directly with Prius was cancelled.  Huh?  I never heard of such a vehicle.  In fact, several of us were at the edge of harassing GM supporters for exactly that.  None of them knew about it either.  Supposedly, it was included as part of the recovery plans from the bankruptcy.  To think that those GM supporters could have retaliated against Prius owners for the last 6 months with such information.  Instead, this is the very first any of us had heard about it.  My guess is it was nothing but a comment some executive made and not a single thing was ever actually done about it.  That's an empty promise to the extreme.  Of course, now they are in an even worse position now by having officially declared they will not be competing in that category.


Atkinson.  Toyota uses it.  Ford does too.  This engine pumping cycle (longer & delayed) is more efficient than Otto.  It's less powerful though.  But with the availability of a large electric motor, that's a non-issue.  So, it makes a lot of sense using that for FULL hybrids... especially when you consider emissions are also improved.  This is what everyone was expecting Volt to use too.  The SERIES hybrid doesn't need a lot of power from an engine.  It's intended for efficiency optimized operation, making Atkinson a seemingly perfect match.  However, that's not what GM will be using.  We found that out today.  It was quite a surprise.


It Has Begun.  That much feared response has begun: Censorship.  Messages are vanishing.  The moderator on the daily blog for Volt simply does not know how to deal with the fallout we are now seeing as a result of that now infamous test-drive.  Remember how speculation about CS-mode was so easily brushed aside in the past?  That's because there was no data to support such negative connotations.  Now, there is.  But those who attempt to ask those same questions again are now faced with the prospect of their post not being seen.  I was among those people today.  No comment from the moderator, public or private, the message was simply deleted.  It vanished, as if it never existed.  That's a terrible sign.  The opportunity for constructive discussion is gone.


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