Personal Log  #449

February 9, 2010  -  February 21, 2010

Last Updated: Sat. 3/06/2010

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Abandoning 230, hope.  All was lost as the new year started.  Toyota began both necessary & voluntary recall efforts.  It was an opportunity for the competition to attack.  Slander attempts were abundant.  Misleading was absolutely awful.  Hysteria was fed by claims of fear.  The worst in those hoping to take attention away from Toyota, especially with the success of Prius, had emerged.  Some were blatantly cruel.  It was sickening.  Sadly, plenty of examples of that could be found on the website dedicated to Volt.  Daily blogging there was overwhelmed by discussions about Toyota's demise... even though they were the one who knew best that a software update for Prius wasn't a big deal and Volt could require an update of its own later too.  Hope of a constructive outlook was lost.


Abandoning 230, another!  To our surprise, we actually got another real-world observation during that same period (end of year).  It involved real-world Winter driving while depending upon the electric heater for warmth.  That also lowered expectations.  We now had confirmation that battery-pack capacity available for propulsion would drop by roughly 25 percent due to Heater and driving-condition changes during the cold season.  That matched observations drivers of other pre-production electrically propelled vehicles had pointed out.  It was a good sign that honest attempts to prevent misleading & misunderstandings were underway.  Was there hope?


Abandoning 230, questions.  The most simple of questions made people wonder.  If that "230 MPG" represented an estimate for city driving, what was the highway estimate?  What about when the Heater or A/C is used?  How efficient will the engine be when the battery is depleted?  That last one was the big one, it's called CS (Charge-Sustaining) mode.  Originally, it had been hyped to be 50 MPG.  But that too was abandoned.  (Notice a pattern?)  Well, believe it or not, we actually got an answer (though indirect) to that question.  A dedicated supporter was offered the opportunity to experience CS-mode.  Unfortunately, that lowered expectations.  But it was a genuine observation, rather than just an estimate.  40 MPG was a more realistic value.  One efficiency question (after years of asking, with increased exposure due to the 230 campaign) was finally answered.  Phew!


Abandoning 230, hype.  In August year, there was a mammoth attempt to draw attention away from the GM bankruptcy by focusing on the future.  That was a good idea.  Why dwell on the past?  Unfortunately, what they chose was hype rather than realistic.  It was a large advertising campaign for Volt featuring an estimated city efficiency of "230 MPG".  That was followed by a media blitz.  People were very excited... until they started asking questions.  Too many went unanswered.  As the hype began to subside, even the enthusiasts began abandoned the idea.  By the time the big auto shows opened at the end of the year, there was barely even a mention of it.  Sound familiar?  Remember the "Live Green, Go Yellow" campaign?  Excitement is stirred.  But as so as it sours, they abandon the idea as if it had never existed.


Not E85 Capable.  That was the big news about Volt today.  It sure does make Prius look boring in caparison... you know, predictable.  It's yet another planned ability that won't be fulfilled.  This is why the vaporware arguments are pointless.  What they now call Volt has very little in common with what consumers will actually get.  Anywho, here's what I posted in response to this latest revelation:  Remember the promises Detroit made to the previous administration about making a large percentage of their non-hybrid vehicles E85 capable, a technology that's been available since the mid-80's?  Well, that hasn't happened.  So, thinking we'll see it was a hybrid already stretched beyond the hype is really pushing it.  Over-Promise, Under Deliver.


Pothole Size.  Remember how Toyota had no idea how far people would drive after the refill warning would sound?  It now seems pretty clear they didn't realize how bad potholes could get either.  I certainly didn't.  No wonder I hadn't ever experienced that braking sensation.  I had no idea what a "pothole" actually was.  Based on my driving, it was this little hole about a foot wide and several inches long.  Now we know, those aren't what people were actually encountering.  They were slamming into holes the size of craters, large enough to swallow small cars.  That's amazing!  Here in Minnesota, the opportunity for road construction is limited to a rather short warm season.  That means we can't ever allow a pothole to get big.  It would be a disaster trying to repair a road during the dead of Winter.  The frozen ground would make that nearly impossible.  It's also much more expensive allowing the problem to grow.  Preventative maintenance saves money.  Anywho, it makes sense that Toyota didn't realize owners were encountering conditions like that.  There's no "cover up" when you're not aware of an issue in the first place.  Too bad the industry doesn't have a better way of reporting such things... yet.  Obviously, they will end up with one as a result of this.  So, it's not all bad.  It does make you wonder about how big potholes will still be allowed to grow though.  A struggling economy means roads will be neglected.  Budget cutbacks are a sad reality.


Winter Heat.  When you own a Prius, all the facts not mentioned about Volt become a source of frustration.  You get irritated by how easily people can be mislead.  A great example of that is heat in the Winter.  When driving a Prius, you become acutely aware of when the engine is needed to keep you and the emission system warm.  With any plug-in vehicle relying on Li-Ion batteries for power, there's the extra need for heat from the battery itself.  It's impaired when the temperature is below freezing.  Today's quote about Volt in that situation was: "The engine-generator system will provide energy to heat the battery if it was not plugged in or to supplement battery temperature."  We already knew that.  Waiting 3 years to hear something so vague is patronizing.  They have no intention of sharing any actual detail.  That's how they were able to get away with the 230 MPG claim.  There was no way to either prove or disprove it.  We know the engine will run, but for how long?  How often will the engine be needed for heat?  What is the minimum operating temperature?


Owner Measurements.  There's nothing like an empowered owner, especially one with an accelerometer skilled at collecting data for graphs.  We got that today.  One with a reputation for being very thorough, took measurements before and after getting the braking update.  He observed the switch-over pause change from 700 to 200 milliseconds.  That's quite an improvement.  Of course, that original fraction of a second wasn't that long in the first place.  Now, it's even less.  In fact, that should easily fall within the "too fast for a human to react" category.  Whatever the case, it sure is nice having someone collect & share actual real-world data like that.  Heck, he even posted a photo of the pothole he had found to recreate the scenario with.


BMW X6 ActiveHybrid.  Want a distraction from the current hysteria?  Look no further than this $92,325 beast.  The hybrid city improves MPG by 2, bringing it all the way up to 19, and the highway by 5 to 17.  Isn't that amazing?  Not sure what the point of this particular hybrid is?  How about a 0 to 60 acceleration time of just 5.5 seconds.  At least with the Lexus it was a demonstration that a powerful rear-wheel drive FULL hybrid offering SULEV emissions was possible.  But it was by no means a centerpiece vehicle.  This is.  It's what BMW chose to do with Two-Mode.  So if you need 480 horsepower and need to tow 6,000 pounds or go 130 MPH, look no further.  It's pretty sad when the "efficiency" choices being offered don't even deliver 20 MPG.


Not The Same.  It's no longer just a problem with the technology differences.  Now the greenwashing includes attempts to mislead about history & purpose too.  Today it was claim that GM will be following the same path Toyota did.  This was to make us believe their slow pace is perfectly acceptable, even though GM already has extensive experience with motors & batteries and that dependency on oil isn't a concern.  Back in 1997 when Prius debuted, that wasn't the case.  Now, it is.  Now, that excuse isn't available.  Yet, some try to use it anyway.  I responded with this:  Toyota built a hybrid targeted at middle-market (mid-20's price) and kept that effort quiet for the first 5 years of rollout.  Remember 2003?  It wasn't until then that the concept of "halo" emerged, looooooong after the 1998 model-year rollout.  GM promoting Volt to death well before it makes it to market and the pricing, even when subsidized, is still well out of reach of middle-market.


Leadership Perception.  Some of the nonsense we've been reading lately is amazing.  It sure is nice having documented what actually happened rather than having to rely on the perceptions emerging now, looking back long afterward.  People used to say "only Toyota knows how to do environmentally friendly cars" according to Lutz.  Really?  What the heck was EV1 then?  Quite a bit of interest was stirred by fuel-cells a few of years ago too... led by who?  It's a mind game.  Reality is that Volt production plans just got lowered and this is a way of lowering expectations.  Now through the end of 2011, the plan is to produce 8,000 to 10,000.  All along, it had been 10,000 through the end of October of that year.  Now as component production begins, they scale back.  Seeing so many Prius on the road already makes you wonder who the perceived leader really will be then.  What will happen in 2012?


High-Profit Vehicles.  Their appeal is rapidly shrinking.  Volume of the past is totally unrealistic now.  Yet, some still think those previous sources of high-profit can sustain the business.  Why can't they see that those guzzlers are dinosaurs, old technology unable to deliver the clean & efficient needs of the future?  Whatever.  Thinking that some reader of the thread may actually care, I posted this:  The market for traditional vehicles is changing before our eyes, yet all that is seen is activity of hybrids.  How very interesting.  The denial runs deep.  Reality is that those high-profit vehicles from years ago are rapidly disappearing.  People are driving them less and purchasing even fewer.  The market is clearly changing.  Again, the computer industry was forced to accept that shift.  Why would the automotive industry be any different, especially when so much more pressure is on them to change?


Prius Hatred.  To read such an unloving reference article from a popular Detroit publication on Valentine's Day, you have to wonder.  It claimed there's been a lot of celebrating lately.  It called the voluntary recall (braking update) a "manufacturing fault" and stated that has led to an "outbreak of global gloating".  Then it went on to explain: "Where does this Prius hatred come from?  A lot has to do with what some people see as a holier-than-thou attitude by Prius owners."  Who are these supposed owners?  The ones I know of mostly just drive it, some hypermile, none gloat.  They aren't doing anything that fits the smug satire we all got a good laugh over years ago.  Yet, they are now being gloated at.  Such hypocritical behavior.  Of course, what I like was the closing quote: "And, by appearing so obviously fallible, the Prius' role as symbolic savior of the planet has clearly been undermined."  Interesting, eh?  It actually confesses how they attempt to undermine Prius.  None of the owners actually claim Prius is perfect, they just say it is a better choice.  But the greenwashing attempt to distort that message, making it seem as though we are exclaiming Prius the end-all and be-all.  This nonsense is irritating.  It provides a good reason to return the hate sentiment.  We don't though.  We wait for the next update or upgrade.  That's all.


New Complaints.  Reading this frustrated me: "...should we complain to them now while all these media is hot?"  It was an owner looking for an opportunity to capitalize on.  He got this from me:  Why such a negative approach?  Rather than labeling it as a problem and complain, why not just ask?  Take advantage of this new tool we have, the internet.  People need to get over the old-school mindset that the only way you'll get an automaker to provide something is by forcing them with a recall.  Computers routinely get their software updated.  How come that isn't a common practice for vehicles?  When the Classic Prius was first offered, it lacked cruise-control.  Many found that a big shortcoming.  But rather than complain or do anything threatening, WE JUST ASKED!  Within a few months, Toyota offered a upgrade kit.  The hysteria that resulted from the brake update clearly shows that it would be wise to try different approach.  After all, you can attract more with honey.


Something Constructive?  It's nice actually encountering a comment like this: "The big takeaway from the Toyota debacle for GM is that the Volt has to be absolutely damn perfect out of the gate."  I chimed in to that forward looking perspective:  Did you notice how vague the issue actually was?  Anything even remotely related to safety causes the media to swarm, resulting in a hysteria filled with fear & lawsuits.  The brake recalls proved how easy it is to have a situation get blown way out of proportion.  Expectations are set extremely high now.  New vehicles like Volt are entering a very visible market, one where consumers are demanding change but are quite intolerant of variance.  That contradiction is going to be quite a challenge to overcome.  This is the very problem people predicted about 2010 an entire decade ago, back when hybrids first entered the worldwide market.  Standards are a moving target.  Traditional vehicles continue to be refined, causing new technology to race to get ahead of them.  Pressure from ever-growing gas prices combined with increasing congested roads make the situation even worse.  This year certainly is going to be interesting.


Fueling the Fire.  To stir fear & concern, articles questioning the reputation of Toyota are now interjecting vague comments about Prius.  This one really got me riled up: "The vehicle has also had trouble with headlights going out."  What kind of impression does that make?  It leads you to believe both fail, the owner is left in the dark (pun intended), and it is a common occurrence.  In reality, it is almost always just one or the other.  An easy remedy is to just switch them off and back on again.  And this only happens to the HID models (when they get old), an option most models didn't even have.  To make matters worse, it allows you to make the assumption this is a problem for the 2010 too.  It's not.  The better lighting option is now LED, rather than HID.  That's a totally different illumination technology, which should prove more reliable since it's already used in many other unrelated products.  But none of that is ever mentioned.


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