Personal Log #456
April 17, 2010 - April 25, 2010
Last Updated: Sun. 10/24/2010
page #455 page #457 BOOK INDEX
Ford verses GM. The drive home from the coffee shop placed me directly behind an Escape-Hybrid. That was a not-so-subtle reminder of how different the approach Ford took with hybrids compared to GM. Ford targeted the mainstream, using a midsize vehicle with batteries inadequate for the long-term. The original pack used industrial D-cells, which were large, heavy, and required liquid cooling. That didn't matter. There was room in the SUV for that and provided Ford with lots of real-world experience while waiting for better batteries. When the better ones came along, Ford rolled out Fusion-Hybrid. That worked out great... for the mainstream. GM has done nothing but focus on extremes. Two-Mode was developed for only monster-size vehicles. BAS barely provides any efficiency improvement and nothing for smog-related emissions. Voltec is apparently only for smaller vehicles and will be extremely expensive. How come it wasn't configured with something affordable for the mainstream first, offering improvement later like Ford did?
More Adventures. Today's productive escape to the coffee shop was to begin assembly of the 2010 Users Guide. I've been researching the content for over a year now. Letting go of prior experiences to focus entirely on the newest generation is difficult. It takes time for that perspective to develop. So, again with the patience. Anywho, on the way there, just as I was leaving my residential area, the corner of my eye caught a silver streak race by. I instinctively knew it was a 2010 Prius. Sure enough, when I got to the hill it was climbing, the tail end disappearing under the horizon confirmed that. At the intersection near the bottom, I caught up. The driver wasn't paying attention. But rather than tap the horn, I shot off like a bat out of hell when the light turned green. His turn to catch up to me! Sure enough, at the next intersection, there was a older gentleman (retirement age) waving franticly trying to get my attention, then gesturing to open my window when he did. To see that kind of ownership excitement was so fulfilling. And of course, I saw 2 other Prius along the way and another in the drive-thru at the coffee shop itself. Gotta love it!!
Downsizing. I still remember the advice all those years ago (nearly a decade) from one of my mentors. He said the obsession with larger and larger vehicles will eventually crumble. The reality of purchase-price and operating-expenses will someday be their downfall. Sure enough, patience prevailed. That's exactly what we are seeing now. In other words, common sense is finally sinking in. To look out into parking lots and now longer see a majority of them no longer oversized with power & ability that will never been utilized is wonderful. Vehicles like that are for work, not running to the local market. Downsizing to something more practical is long overdue.
Killer Commute. I'm not actually sure what the magic formula was. But for some reason, maybe something to do with it being Friday, efficiency was on my side. The MPG displayed was higher than usual... in very pleasing territory throughout the morning drive. And to my delight, the conclusion of that morning commute ended with a 60.5 showing. Whoa! Seeing MPG in the upper 50's is great. Wandering into the 60 territory is fantastic. I can't wait to find out what this particular tank ends up averaging. The week started with above average temperatures and we are obviously using summer-formula gas now. It all adds up. The influences of Winter are just a memory now.
Purpose & Approach. The pressure is growing. Discussions on the big GM forum about recent activity are becoming more and more dismissive. Discussions on the big Prius forum about those same particulars are resulting in heated responses. Defenders of GM there claim profits will soon be posted and the newest products are becoming highly acclaimed. Even that happened, how long would it last? Focus on the short-term had always been a problem for GM. Volt does the opposite, moving focus to the extreme long-term instead. What happens in the meantime? What about the education of consumers? Awareness has been raised. They are much better informed. Anywho, my comments were: What part of the task-force assessment of "too little, too slowly" needs explanation? The analogy of a sinking ship comes to mind. GM's bucket is too small and they can only maintain the effort for so long. When the water starts rushing in at a faster rate, then what? In other words, as long as gas prices stay under $3 and the demand for competitive fuel & emission technology remains flat, they'll be fine. But later when that changes, what will they compete with? Volt is unprofitable in its most competitive configuration. It also depends upon tax-credit money.
6,635 Reserved. The opportunity to get in line for the purchase of a Nissan Leaf began 65 hours ago. That number is the quantity of people who went through the registration process, which included a $99 refundable deposit. It's much less than the 115,000 who expressed interest, but pretty much on target from my observations... about 5 percent actually take the next step. Want and what's actually realistic typically differ to that degree. It's a harsh reality some have learned the hard way. I have a hunch Nissan already knows this. Too much of a delivery backlog isn't good anyway. We'll see how it plays out. There's still much that happen in the meantime. That reservation count is a worthwhile amount anyway. After all, that's almost as much as GM sells of Two-Mode hybrids in an entire year.
Electrification. I stumbled across a lengthy article about where the automotive industry is heading, focusing on the variety of plug-in configurations that will be available. Lumping all current hybrids into a single category was the first reason for concern. The second came when it gave praise for diesel vehicles without any mention whatsoever of emissions. From there, the article fell apart. The plug-in Prius performance was dismissed based solely upon observation of the aftermarket offerings for the second generation model. The reference to Volt based the definition of the design on the range available, as if that was the only technology difference. Apparently, there was an assumption that Prius could never offer greater battery capacity and Volt could never offer less. It was a very disappointing article to read, seriously lacking detail, never stating what the need actually is. It just randomly mentioned facts and ended with this: "Plain hybrids simply don't offer enough fuel savings to warrant their technological and monetary investment and EVs are too compromised for widespread adoption."
MPV5. Today, GM revealed this SERIES hybrid in Beijing, China. It's a small plug-in SUV (19 inch wheels, seating for 5 and 30.5 cubic feet of cargo space) which will use the same engine/motor/battery configuration as Volt. The fact that it's bigger in length, height, and seating explains why the EV range is reduced to 32 miles. That reduction explains why its not intended for the market here... since GM has absolutely insisted anything less than 40 miles isn't enough for us... even if it sacrifices interior space. Should I call that a crock? Interestingly, this news comes 2 day after GM having stated: "With battery technology as it currently stands, extended-range vehicles that are larger than the Volt - luxury saloons, trucks and SUVs - aren't really possible." If it wasn't possible just 2 days ago, why is it now? This is a prime example of the same mixed messages we were provided prior to the bankruptcy. You could never figure out what to believe.
Loans & Bailouts. There was a big announcement today from GM about them having paid back the government loans. That made it sound as though their financial obligations were now fulfilled. In reality, it was only the money used from TARP which was affected... and even that claim was misleading, since it was really just an escrow account which was used for repayment. That came to about $6.7 Billion. What about the rest? Remember that GM was actually provided $52 Billion from the U.S. They also got $9.5 Billion from Canada. None of it was ever called a "bailout" though. Remember how stubborn they were, absolutely insisting that would all be paid back? Well, it hasn't yet. In fact, about 60 percent of the automaker is still owned by the government. What about that $30.9 Billion lost in 2008 or the $10.3 Billion in 2009? Think about it. If GM still isn't making a profit, where the heck did the money come from?
No Numbers. 3 weeks into the month and we still don't
have numbers from GM. Sales of their hybrids have been so bad, they are
now being withheld. It's past the point of embarrassment. Poor
results have escalated to the degree that stockholders would be furious, if
there were any. Unfortunately, the stock is no longer public and taxpayers
are enduring the financial burden without getting a voice about the business
decisions being made. GM continues to push the idea that the next
generation designs of both Two-Mode and BAS will offer substantial improvement.
How a monster-size truck or a mild assist system could so dramatically improved
sales borders on the act of miracles. The problem is not acknowledging
what the mainstream actually wants... an affordable family sedan or hatchback
which offers significant emission & efficiency improvement. Failing to
offer that is lack of diversification, a business mistake GM executives should
have already learned their lesson from. Bankruptcy was supposed to bring
about change. So far, that's not happening. Withholding sales numbers is
an obvious warning sign. The same old mistakes are being repeated.
Yet Another. Well, believe it or not, after all this quiet we finally got another report of an "unintended accelerated". I say finally due to the harsh reality that this so-called problem didn't exist for the first 9.5 years on the roads here and suddenly it was an epidemic. That's awfully suspicious... especially when the reports abruptly end without any repair. Sure enough, this one was a hoax too. She didn't jump the curb and smash into a wall for attention though. That was a genuine accident. The trouble is she blamed the vehicle for her own mistake. Driver errors happen, that's why you have insurance for liability. But to claim there was a malfunction then get caught lying is an entirely different matter. She didn't know the entire incident was captured by a security camera. The evidence didn't match what her report claimed.
Hybrid Minivan. Speaking of choice, it was revealed today via a Japanese publication that Toyota will finally be making a hybrid minivan for our market. They've had one for years (called "Estima") but it was smaller than Sienna and in a market that still embraced minivans. Here, the other automakers were abandoning them. Ford and GM stopped their production. Sales fell for the others. Things are changing though. The SUV as a family & commute vehicle is dying. There's opportunity for a minivan again. Toyota sees it as the first platform for the non-plug hybrid switching over to Li-Ion. This new one will be it, sometime next year.
No Choice. That's been the argument from the
very beginning. Not getting a choice, being told what we need, is the concern.
On a discussion thread about Volt in the big Prius forum, the questions was
asked why GM's current approach is stirring so much upset. I reiterated
purpose with this:
Only offering a single configuration is the problem. Even if there are only a
few thousand of them available initially, that's still better than none. No
variety is bad business.
In other words, with only one engine size and one battery size, they are telling
us what we want rather than allowing us to make a decision.
You scale up what sells well. The one-size-fits-all approach is quite a risk.
Demand for Gas. It's going up here in the United States. The highest ever was 9.6 million barrels per day. That was back in July 2007, when we were drowning in a sea of monster-size guzzlers. Almost 3 years later, that market has shrunk dramatically and many of those already on the road have vanished. The importance of fuel efficiency has climbed quite a bit in priority; however, overall consumer hasn't actually dropped much. Roads continue to become more congested as the population grows. Economic factors have likely played a role in the outcome too. So, what did that mean for March 2010? It was the consumption of 9.3 million barrels per day. That's not good. Automakers not preparing to shift enough production over to vehicles & technologies which offer much better MPG are in for a rude awakening.
Coffee Shop Adventures. My opportunity to catch up on log entries, while sipping a morning coffee. First major intersection, there's a 2010 Prius. What a great start! Next intersection, the two cars in front were... you guessed it ...both 2010 Prius! They saw me approaching too. One driver was frantically waving to get my attention. With only 6 vehicles at that particular light, including mine, having half of them 2010 Prius was truly a moment to remember. I'm thrilled by how quick the newest generation is spreading. It sure adds to the delight of the rapidly shrinking of the monster-size SUV market. Of course, looking up right now and seeing yet another 2010 Prius is truly remarkable. I've only been out for a short time and have already spotted 4. Hooray!
Two-Mode Future. Supposedly, it has one. Sales have been well below expectations, so small it's clearly just a niche. GM still hopes to change that. The sighting I had of one today makes me wonder why. What's the point of such a massive hybrid? How many do they actually expect to sell? Plans are to deliver a second generation 2 to 3 years from now. It's not intended for use in smaller vehicles or with a 4-cylinder engine. Instead, their mild hybrid technology called BAS will be improved. How remains a mystery. There's only so much a single 15 kW electric motor can do. In other words, we are left wondering what has changed. It sounds as though nothing is different from what was planned before the bankruptcy. Heck, even the "too little, too slowly" remains a concern.