Personal Log #457
April 26, 2010 - May 1, 2010
Last Updated: Sun. 5/23/2010
page #456 page #458 BOOK INDEX
Retirement. Will it really happen today? The GM executive who intensely fought against hybrids, well known for his "stop gap" criticism, is now supposedly retiring with a vehicle about to rollout which fits that description. Nissan sees Leaf as the true future, with Volt an unnecessary step that doesn't even fill the gap. Lutz sees Volt as a vehicle in the same class as Camaro & Corvette. So, purpose is a pointless debate anyway. His other achievement for the mainstream will be Cruze, which will supposedly only deliver 27 MPG city. What kind of premiere non-hybrid efficiency vehicle is that? Of course, unlike Volt, it will actually be affordable. Whatever the case, this is his third attempt to retire. The first was when the recovery-plan was delivered, prior to the GM bankruptcy. That ended up being postponed to the end of 2009, which obviously didn't happen either. Today, it is suppose to again. Think it will?
Today's Coffee. That was close! I only saw two 2010 Prius on the way to the coffee shop. My expectations are high. More is better. Thankfully, there was one in the parking lot. Phew! The owner was just getting out of it, so he was captivating by the approach of mine. Same color too. I can't imagine what it will be like a few years from now. The growth rate of this generation is strong and there's no end in sight. Mainstream acceptance is clearly well underway.
Sales Numbers. It's the end of April. That makes it official. GM never provided their hybrid sales numbers for March. We knew they were beyond horrible. In fact, sales have been so low that inventory is likely very old at this point. 2009 models could still be stuck on dealer lots. Anywho, we already knew that Two-Mode was far too expensive and BAS didn't deliver. Taking a look elsewhere, that's where the story gets weird. Ford offers a very nice hybrid, Fusion. It competes directly with the hybrid version of Camry, even though it currently offers better efficiency. The strangeness starts with the 1,670 Fusion purchases and 1,549 Camry. You wouldn't expect them to be so close, especially in the light of all the negative Toyota publicity. Then it really gets strange when you look at Lexus HS250h, since there were 1,494 of them purchased last month. Makes you think, eh?
Almost 70 MPG. There's a hill along my commute where I finally recover from the cold start and quick acceleration up to 70 MPH. At that point, the MPG typically climbs to 42. That's the beginning of the recovery. At the slow down about a mile before my exit, it will usually hit 50. At that hill, I noticed it was already at 56. Whoa! I certainly wasn't expecting that!! It was a warm spring day. A heavy morning shower had just cleared, leaving the road edges damp with vehicle travel paths becoming dry. Put another way, the road surface offered very little resistance and the air being drawn into the engine was quite moist. That's fantastic for efficiency. On really good days, I can hit 60 just prior to parking at work. Today was extraordinary though. Conditions were perfect. I was curious as heck what the result of this particular commute would be. The display revealed a remarkable 69.6 MPG. I was absolutely delighted.
100 MPG Minimum. Is that a realistic expectation? Reading this post today does make you wonder: "I was hoping for a minimum of 100 mpg." For the past decade, consumers have been placing a very high priority on price for high-efficiency solutions. What would make the plug-in model of Prius different? A level such as 100 seems quite arbitrary. How much MPG increase is worth how much money? Prius has always been about finding an engineering solution which balances the purchase & ownership experience, not striving for an extreme. Anywho, here's my response to that: With an aftermarket upgrade or very short drives, you still could. But that's not the point. Toyota wants heavy market penetration, not a trophy like GM with Volt. That means a configuration which will yield a substantial improvement, yet still be affordable for the masses. Their testing effort is to collect data about real-world performance for that configuration. Having confirmation that 75 MPG is typical will go a long way for effective & speedy rollout afterward.
The Point. To sell a large quantity of high-efficiency vehicles at a mainstream price. Why is that so difficult for some to understand? They genuinely don't care about the realities of business, that's why. Bragging rights plays far too heavy of a role in their perception of success. A token number of outstanding performance vehicles offsets a majority of under-performing inventory. Rather than raised the efficiency of the middle, they feel focus on the extremes offers greater benefit. For all those who cannot afford one though, I couldn't disagree more. In other words, a $40,000 plug-in compact and a $50,000 Two-Mode full-size are not vehicles that actually help the mainstream buyer. They get stuck with traditional vehicles. That's the point. Certain automakers are neglecting that market entirely. Too bad supporters refuse to acknowledge that. Makes you wonder who will get that business, eh? Who will be selling lots of affordable high-efficiency vehicles? Can you image a consumer wanting 50 MPG for $25,000?
They Saw It Too. Certain writers for certain publications have an agenda. One who's name I've become quite familiar with did it again today. The article was a praise piece on the 2010 Golf TDI. He practically worshiped the vehicle, proclaiming how impression the 30 MPG city 42 MPG highway efficiency was. What the heck? That's no impressive from a compact, especially considering how dirty the emission-rating is... the opposite end of the clean spectrum from a hybrid like Prius. Yet, he mocked Prius anyway... not even trying to be constructive, stating the price of Prius was $30,550. You know it's total greenwashing when the TDI price mentioned is the base-model and the comparison vehicle is the high-end model. Fortunately, quite a few readers noticed the extreme bias. They saw it too. I hadn't ever seen that many negative comments directly posted on a article before. It's almost as if that publication knows about the controversy he caused and enjoys the attention it brings. That's sad.
Missed Photo. I didn't have a digital camera handy.
Darn! I was cruising straight, with a nice tailwind, for 15 minutes on a
55 MPH country road. That resulted in a solid 60 MPG reading on the
display. Seeing that uniform quantity, spanning all 15 segments, was
pretty sweet. Think of how rare that situation is. Being able to so
consistently travel like that just doesn't happen. No traffic to slow you
down or push from behind. Heck, for that matter having a road you can
drive along non-stop and at a constant speed like that really adds to the
unlikelihood of such an event. So, not capturing it as a keepsake to share
was a bit of a bummer. The last time I encountered a situation like that
was with the Classic model. How many years ago was that?
Amazing FUD. It's hard to believe a Volt enthusiast would be so desperate to undermine the plug-in Prius that he'd actually post this: "Only 60 kW of motor power could possibly be damn dangerous in some situations at freeway speeds." He then followed by quoting several recall numbers, attempting to portray Toyota vehicles as something to fear. That's just plain wrong. Prius doesn't rely exclusively on one power source or another. It's a hybrid! That means there's 134 horsepower available (motor & engine combined), not just the 80 claimed (motor only). Of course, his approach was somewhat flawed anyway. Think about Volt climbing a mountain. Once the battery-pack is drained, what's the power source? It's an engine. The output is 55 kW. That in itself makes you wonder. But then when you realize the one in Prius is 73 kW, it's pretty easy to question claims being made. They certainly look like amazing examples of FUD.
Bias Survey. Don't you just
love when a survey is published, but then notice that none of the answers provided actually fit the
question asked? I was so disgusted with the "what consumers want"
discussed today, that I don't even what to mention the absurd bias it reflected.
The topic focused on the tradeoff of range & price for a plug-in, but none of
the options listed were actually realistic. The entire sampling was
designed to skew results. In other words, it was greenwashing propaganda.
Seeing that was quite frustrating. Have you guessed what I didn't
like yet? It was price. The source avoided the "nicely under
$30,000" like it was the plague. Yup, they just expect people to pay
considerably more... they as in GM, which is quite frustrated with Nissan
pricing at the moment. Here's the survey suggestion I posted that wouldn't
You're planning to spend $29,999 on your next vehicle. Which would you choose:
1) An electric-only vehicle with a range of XXXX.
2) A vehicle with an electric-only range of XX plus an engine so you can
continue driving after the batteries are depleted.
Historical Equivalent. Quotes like this always get me
worked up, "Just like all early technology, it will become mainstream once the early
adopters drive the price radically down...", since there's a catch not
mentioned. It assumes replacement of a single option to another single
option. The most obvious example is the advancement from VHS to DVD.
There was only one reason choice prior to and afterward. Though there were
several which competed initially, only one format emerged as a standard.
That will not be the case in the automotive industry. There will be lots
of choices based on a variety of unrelated technologies. That diversity
will slow the dramatic price drops we've become quite familiar with from other
industries due to high-volume production and the abandonment of the outdated.
I posted this in reply:
Quite true; however, that requires a standard product. Since the
automotive industry options will remain diverse, it's not going to happen at that
magnitude. Traditional vehicle production will continue, rather than being
phased out entirely. Some hybrids will offer a plug, others will not. That will
influence both demand & investment.
But unlike with those other technologies, the luxury of time isn't available. Forces beyond our control (like oil & emissions) cause pressure mainstream
adoption doesn't have a historical equivalent for.
Niche Confirmation. For years I've been asking how Volt will appeal to the mainstream. Lutz just confirmed Volt's initial niche stance, sharing a similar position to other high-profile low-volume vehicles. What will change to allow Volt to expand beyond that? Needless to say, the enthusiasts were quite angry when I posted that. How could they argue? Their own leader confirmed what I had been saying all along. More and more, evidence of a vehicle being designed to appeal to the elite is emerging. This isn't a vehicle for the typical consumer. After all, if it was, it wouldn't stand out. Popular sellers like Camry & Corolla certainly don't. They are business sustaining vehicles. They provide a modest profit without creating much risk. Consumers who simply want reliable transportation for an affordable price buy them. That's why so many Prius are purchased. Appealing to the mainstream meant owners not treating the vehicle as if it was a niche... in other words, just driving it. Volt enthusiasts crave the label of "special". They really don't what it to become an ordinary vehicle. That's a conflict which will be very interesting to observe as it plays out.
Strasbourg Plug-Ins. This historic location in France gets 100 of the plug-in Prius for testing. Wow! That sure would be nice. I guess there's a little bit of jealously on my part. Oh well. Reading through the 68-page promotional document I downloaded about it, the information states that their testing effort will last for 3 years. So, I bet the outcome of consumer rollout there later will hinge about what happens here in the United States first. What's most intriguing is how the 100 km/h top EV speed and the 20 km electric capacity seem so natural for them and so greenwashed for us. It's really unfortunate that emissions & consumption aren't taken anyway near as serious here. For us, it's a struggle for any type of improvement. For them, it's more a matter of overcoming a past deeply engrained with diesel. The fact that the plug-in model of Prius offers a solution for both is great. Just think what things could be like after this studies conclude. No need for timid rollout afterward. Toyota will be well informed, allowing them to deliver a large quantity right away.
Six National Sites. That's what Toyota is setting up for early testing of the plug-in model of Prius. It feels like it's 1999 again! Back then, the Original model of Prius was provided to around 20 families each for 6 weeks in exchange for valuable real-world data to help with the Classic model rollout. Combined with information they were able to collect from various reviewers, that proved quite valuable. In this particular example today, Portland State and Portland General Electric (both in Oregon) will be participating in the studies over Spring & Summer. They'll be getting 10 plug-ins for the collection of business & personal driving feedback. That's fantastic! In total around the world, efforts like this will include a total of 600 plug-in Prius. Why isn't GM doing the same thing? Why such a different approach?
Plug-In Effect. Ever wonder how long it will be before the diesel supporters begin to panic about the influence plug-in hybrids have on the industry? They've been able to shrug off electric-only vehicles due to the range-anxiety. But the hybrids don't have that. Volt isn't really competition, the extreme price makes it easy to dismiss. A plug-in Prius on the other hand, is a very real problem for non-hybrid diesel. It's affordably-size battery-pack will provide a significant MPG boost... pushing efficiency well out of the reach of diesel using only an engine. Emissions will be reduced even more from the plug too. How will then respond to that? The effect it will have on the minds of consumers could easily equate to a paradigm shift. For the mainstream to suddenly be exceeding 70 MPG would most certainly impact marketing. It sure puts a 22 MPG hybrid into perspective. But what about the 40 MPG dirty diesel?
Solar Behavior. Forgot to mention this. Back when I was on that bike trip, I ended up having to wait in the Prius for about a half hour. Surprisingly, the temperature was quite a bit warmer than it's been lately. That provided the opportunity to actually observe the solar panel in action, rather than just catching it as it was shutting down. I wondered how long, if ever, some owners will take to notice what I did. The system remains idle for about a minute, collecting up a charge in the meantime. I had always assumed the solar panel operated the fan continuously. That's clearly not the case. When it does start up, something rather noisy happens prior to the fan blowing. I have no idea what. Maybe there's a miniature compressor building up pressure. All I know is that the fan blows softly for about 12 seconds, then it kicks into high for whatever duration it can maintain based on the supply of electricity available. Since solar activity varies based on clouds passing overhead, so does the amount of blowing. That second stage varied between about 8 to 12 seconds. It was surprising to discover there was an operational cycle, rather than just a simple fan circulating fresh air.