Prius Personal Log  #455

April 4, 2010  -  April 17, 2010

Last Updated: Sun. 4/25/2010

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14 Minutes of EV.  I almost managed to get the entire 15-minute display to show all 100 MPG segments.  Weekend construction slowed the 70 MPH highway down to a crawl.  With 2 bikes on back, I wasn't too thrilled about the efficiency impact anyway.  So, I welcomed that change.  At 64 F degrees outside, the Prius was happy to oblige.  It hadn't even occurred to me to check the display until later.  I had just pushed the EV button and enjoyed the quite stop & slow traffic jam.  Congestion like that is a pain to deal with.  I was actually surprised that the engine had only fired up once momentarily that entire duration.  I even had a camera to capture the moment.  Unfortunately, the midday sun was quite intense and road conditions were rather demanding.  Experiences like that sure put road repair into perspective... for FULL hybrid owners.  Makes you wonder how much gas everyone else consumed during that same drive, eh?


2 Sunsets.  I went on a trip with the Prius, hauling 3 bikes up north with me.  That drops the MPG average.  But it's totally worth it.  Besides the obvious fun of biking in lake country during early Spring, the scenic vista of pines & birch combined with water background makes for great photo taking.  The opportunity was not wasted either.  One particular location was especially exciting... and not just beside I've taken photos there with the 2 other Prius.  My newest digital camera captures unbelievable exposures... even when aimed directly at the sun.  I took advantage of that.  The solar roof on this Prius made a contour silhouette shot very exciting too.  But to my surprise when finished, that valley I was in revealed the reality that the sun had only set there due to its edges being much higher than the horizon.  That left just enough time for me to race out to the far side of a bay on a nearby lake with a flat surrounding... allowing me to take sunset photos a second time the same day!


Greenwashing Still.  Years ago, claims like this in published articles were common: "Were it not for the energy recuperated during regenerative braking and coasting, hybrids would have little or no fuel economy advantage over a car powered by a similarly sized gasoline engine."  Now, only the truly desperate attempt such blatant misleading.  We all know that isn't true.  If it were, the competition would have simply offered a similar shaped vehicle without any of the advanced technology.  Heck, we even have Insight now for comparison.  The second-generation model closely resembles Prius in aerodynamics, yet doesn't even come close to the efficiency... and it's smaller!  The unwillingness to finally accept change is truly amazing.  Greenwashing people to prevent progress is just plain wrong.  How long do they think production of vehicles without any type of electric propulsion will continue?


PHV Assurance.  Certain individuals who stubbornly endorse Volt want purity, declaring the engine as only an emergency device that will rarely ever be needed.  In reality, you'd have to live in a region where temperatures never drop below freezing for the engine to remain unused for regular driving... since battery warm-up via the engine is needed during Winter.  Of course, even in Summer it would still have to run from time to time for routine upkeep.  So, no gas ever isn't realistic.  Anywho, that purist perspective is what they argued most against the plug-in Prius... implying the engine would still be needed for acceleration.  Turns out, that's not the case.  The extra oomph from the Li-Ion and the 60 kW motor handle it just fine.  And if you have a commute like me, where a 55 MPH route is available, you can totally take advantage of that design.  Squeezing out up to 20 km (about 13 miles) from the available capacity is quite realistic.  Of course, if GM did end up finally offering a choice of battery-pack size, the purist argument would fall apart anyway. 


Plug-In Battery.  We got some new information today.  No need for 220-volt charging was emphasized.  That requires special equipment and professional home installation, currently priced at about $2,000.  Since the battery-pack is smaller, it only takes 3 hours to recharge using just a regular household 110-volt connection.  220 is also available.  Coincidently, 220 is also how much weight (pounds) the increased battery-capacity plus control & cooling components adds to the vehicle.  Interestingly, the pack itself is divided into 3 sections.  The first very much resembles what Prius currently has and operates the same way, except it uses Li-Ion rather than NiMH.  The other 2 sections are the same, both dedicated to EV driving.  The system automatically switches to the other as one becomes depleted.  When both are, that third takes over.  For longevity, this could be an worthwhile strategy... hence lots of real-world testing prior to mass rollout.


PHV Prius Test-Drives.  Unlike with Volt, this plug-in hybrid vehicle test-drive experience actually offered the full range of speeds.  No small coned-off course on a mall parking lot or driving around the perimeter of a parking ramp.  This was the real thing.  There was a 10-mile course where you could test acceleration and get up to highway speeds.  Reports were glowing!  Being able to get up to 100 km/h (62.1 MPH) using only electricity was truly a delight for all who experienced it.  Regret from that brief drive ending and the reality of a wait for another almost 2 years for a purchase opportunity was obvious.  Some described it as agony.  In the meantime, Toyota will be collecting real-world usage data from a small fleet of drivers around the world.  For us in the United States, that limits the number to just 150.  Fortunately, the result of the research is to rollout a configuration for the masses in large volume immediately following the testing.  That should work well considering the newest generation Prius along with the upcoming second generation Camry-Hybrid will be well established by then.  Uncertainly about hybrid technology will be long gone.  The plug will simply be a new high-end Prius package at a reasonable price.  Sweet!


Hinting At The Future.  That EV button gives people a taste of what's to come.  It's something they can easily anticipate improvement from.  Many owners complain about how soon it disengages without noticing how the engine remains off anyway or realizing what's needed to continue like that.  Looking at the gauges available, you get more hints.  The MPG stays at 100 and the Eco-Meter stays in the green.  Switching to Li-Ion for the battery will contribute to the future, giving part of the improvement needed.  Whether we'll actually see any of it with the upcoming non-plug hybrids remains to be seen.  Weight & Size reduction is obvious.  But increased density & capacity can really only be taken advantage of with a plug and active thermal control.  That extra electricity allows the 60 kW motor to express itself.  Getting a taste in advance of what's to come is part of that Prius Genius we first heard about 10 years ago.  Each step forward is carefully planned long ahead of time, before particular components can be utilized to the fullest... driving the future.


50 MPG Sales.  Same old question.  If Volt did actually deliver 50 MPG when running in CS-mode (electricity from the gas engine rather), wouldn't it make sense to also offer a version with a much smaller battery-pack?  The cost, complexity, and weight reductions, along with increased production volume, could make it competitive.  That could reach a much wider market too.  Yet, no such configuration is ever addressed.  It's as if the option simply doesn't exist.  Why?  With all those recent test-drive opportunities, how come not a single one of them ever used the engine?  All were on small courses where speed was limited to about 25 MPH and distance was far too short to ever use up the 40-mile charge capacity.  Things just don't add up.  What's missing?  We are clearly being mislead by the omission of vital facts... and many of us are documenting that for reference later, after rollout begins.


50 MPG Target.  This was recently mentioned by a GM executive and suddenly became an achievement celebration.  Many enthusiasts simply assumed success... without any actual confirmation.  In fact, we still don't have details on the "230" nonsense from last Summer.  It's just more of the keep-people-guessing promotion.  Target indicates a goal.  But even with that being met, which generation design would offer it?  After all, we already know there's a second-generation battery-pack planned for testing late this year.  A third has already been designed too.  So, when is a relevant question.  Whatever the case, how that could be achieved without the conversion loss we've already observed so far is a big unknown.  It's enough to make a person crazy, especially when you take cost into consideration.  The promised "unprecedented transparency" is really quite opaque.  Target for what?


Making Profit.  With so much attention being put on Toyota lately, it's about time GM finally provides a financial update.  After all, their recovery effort is far from complete.  Records show that $4.3 Billion was lost in the second half of 2009.  Much of it was due to settlement, liability obligations, and one-time charges.  So, none of that will reoccur in 2010.  However, money is still being lost.  Profitability is expected this year though.  The method doesn't inspire much confidence.  Among the concerns is reinstating 660 dealerships which were deemed unprofitable.  Those closures were part of the bankruptcy solution.  Pension funds are still an on-going expense.  $5.9 Billion in profit is needed to meet that commitment in 2013 and $6.4 Billion in 2014.  How will that be possible, without even taking the money-losing production of Volt into account?  It doesn't make any sense.  Who's approving these risks?


Shifter Hype.  Most people aren't even aware of this.  But back when the Classic model Prius was the latest & greatest hybrid, the media went nuts over it.  They couldn't find anything wrong with the technology, so they just invented something to draw attention.  In those days, Prius still had a traditional shifter.  However, instead of it moving in a clockwise manner, you pulled it toward you.  How such a trivial difference, which had nothing to do with the actual act of interacting with traffic, would get so blown out of proportion left supporters amazed.  It was our first encounter with hype.  We had no idea that "anything Prius" was newsworthy.  So years later when the acceleration & braking hysteria began, it was another "not again" moment.  The media was at it again.  With so many now struggling for readers & revenue, it's no surprise that they'd exploit opportunity like that.  But it can be rather maddening to have to deal with mislead consumers afterward.


Anything Different.  Remember in ages past when new owners would ask about the operation of the hybrid system?  That's gone.  Anything different from that of a traditional vehicle is now thought of as a problem.  Just yesterday some posted their official complaint on the big Prius forum.  There was no reference to the speed of the vehicle actually changing, it was just an unexpected sound & feel while driving at 20 MPH without a foot on either pedal.  What if it was just the engine starting back up for cabin heat or to cleanse emissions?  That startup isn't absolutely seamless, especially if heat is needed to purge captured exhaust.  Unfortunately, new owners are now just assuming there's a problem... filing a complaint before asking any the experienced for information.  That's a bad outcome; however, it's clear proof that people who have no idea how the system operates are buying hybrids.  That's the mainstream.  Most don't know how traditional vehicles operate either.


Huh?  Out of nowhere, there was a new article titled "Prius just keeps worries accelerating" published today.  It said nothing new though.  In fact, it didn't even say anything specific.  All it contained was a collection of random quotes all attempting to provoke reason to be concerned.  It was a fantastic example of spreading FUD.  (That's short for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.)  In other words, it was a very slow news day and the particular provider was hoping to milk the attention-drawing topic of unintended-acceleration one last time.  Most consumers have already moved on.  Heightened awareness has already influenced automaker & policymaker decisions.  Of course, the ultimate motive was obvious.  The final paragraph revealed the intent to undermine Prius by suggesting the purchase of a traditional vehicle and just carpooling instead to save gas.


Oil Prices.  Rather than going down after the holiday weekend passed, they went up a little bit.  The slow creep to $86 per barrel is the trend.  Meanwhile, gas is still at $2.79 and diesel has climbed to $3.15 per gallon.  This isn't what an automaker planning to rollout a plug-in which will remain extremely expense for several years still wants to hear.  However, that could mean a boost to traditional efficiency vehicles sales.  That all depends on the non-plug hybrid market though.  Prius has been the top-selling vehicle in Japan for 11 months now.  Potential for that happening here leverages heavily upon oil prices.  $2.50 gas is the tipping point.  How much more does it take for top-seller to become realistic?


35,546 Purchased.  That was the total number of Prius sold in Japan for March.  Whoa!  The odds of maintaining a strong position to achieve the title of "top seller" for the past 12 months is looking pretty good.  It's actually becoming a reality.  Hybrids are demonstrating the potential to replace traditional vehicles.  No more talk of niche or fad.  The next step in automotive history is taking place at this very moment.  As with other technologies of the past, desire for the new is being decided by actual purchases.  Of course, with hybrids it has been more of a challenge.  Even though their benefit was clear like other technologies, such as fuel-injection, there was fierce resistance.  Change was not welcome.  It was a battle to get even acknowledgement of the need.  Taking responsibility for emissions & consumption simply wasn't a priority.  Thankfully, that's changing... though at a slower pace here than in Japan.  We are witnessing a paradigm shift.  Phew!  It's about time... long overdue.


Increasing Inquisitiveness.  It's amazing how much attention my Prius now gets from casual acquaintances.  Heck, even some relatives are developing new curiosity.  When hype from the media develops into opportunities to share information about Prius, that's a good thing.  Some aspect of opportunity out of so many attempts to undermine is nice.  It's unfortunate that it got so blown out of proportion.  But we saw it coming.  Detroit was absolutely desperate to get the attention off of them and those in the struggling news industry were yearning for something exciting to report about.  It was definitely dramatic.  It was a learning experience too.  For Prius to not have any trouble for 9.5 then suddenly turn into a death machine overnight simply doesn't make any sense.  Yet, people were screaming in terror anyway.  Now, they've begun to calm and see reason over panic.  Asking questions is a great next step.


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