Personal Log  #460

May 16, 2010  -  May 26, 2010

Last Updated: Sat. 7/24/2010

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Biggest Disaster.  Hearing about the oil spill grow beyond levels we've ever dealt with before sure is humbling.  All the effort over the years to help make the technology in Prius become a standard has become vindicated.  None of the oil pushers ever imagined a mess on this scale.  It's becoming the biggest disaster caused by humans ever.  This isn't a slow damaging effect, like the influence of carbon emissions changing our climate.  This is a very specific event, something that happened on one particular dark day in our history.  Ironically, it was Earth Day that the drilling rig sank, which caused the oil leak.  This is something which will make the argument for raising efficiency standards much easier.  Think about the effect $4 gas had on consumers.  The damage from this will have a much greater reach.  It's not temporary like price spikes.  That region of our coast is destroyed.  You can't clean up marshes like you can with sand & rock.  Habitats simply cannot support the life it had anymore.  They won't be able to protect from hurricanes either.


13,000 Refundable Deposits.  The interest in Leaf is growing at a surprising rate.  Makes you wonder what will happen with Volt.  GM's first year production is just a small fraction of what Nissan will deliver.  The publicity draw from actual owners is much stronger that anything advertising can stir.  Of course, promotion can easily be swayed by the media.  What do you think they'll be interested in?  What makes Volt stand out is it having an engine.  But having an engine makes it a hybrid as far as most of the non-technical world is concerned.  The question about engines always is MPG.  The supposed problem with hybrids is price.  Where do that put Volt in the eyes of consumers?  Now compare that to Leaf, which is both more efficient and less expensive.  How does range affect interest?  What do all these deposits tell us about long-term interest?  Can't wait until the plug-in Prius ordering begins, eh?


First Year.  It's hard to believe an entire year has went by already.  With the down economy and struggling automakers (for a variety of different reasons) the time has really flown by.  Of course, with a new Prius, that's bound to happen anyway.  The discovery process is an exciting to experience.  You are never quite certain how the new system will react under new climate & driving conditions.  For me here in Minnesota, that was especially the case.  The design of the 2010 obviously kept dealing with extreme cold temperatures in mind.  The same is true for driving on slippery surfaces too.  It's improvements like that which really make the differences in generations clear.  Much thought went into the upgrade.  I sure was lucky to have the opportunity to experience it right away.  Lots more real-world data to collect!  But to sum up the first year as a whole, all that I need to say is: 50 MPG


$2.49 Per Gallon.  That's been the average price for awhile now.  It fluctuates much like the price of oil, which has been in the mid-70's for awhile too.  Remember all those experts who never believed this could ever happen?  Heck, remember the craziness when a barrel of oil exceeded the $60 price level?  It was madness.  There was panic!  Then it started to climb and eventually exceeded $100.  Did anyone seriously expect it to finally fall back to the 40's as it had been at the beginning?  I still remember $36 per barrel, since that kept the price of gas per gallon under $1.  Hard to imagine that anymore, eh?  Well, it's what contributed heavily the market growth of very profitable guzzling SUVs.  Prius was mocked then.  Dependence on oil and concern about the environment was only for "treehuggers" back then.


Very Hard Rain.  Having a new digital camera with me and very good timing, I just happened to be in a scenic location... new roads out among the trees, covered with the after effects of a very hard rain.  It's boggles the mind that it was last Summer already.  So much time has went by, keeping me so busy I wasn't able to get back to publishing those photos until now.  You could imagine how many I took.  That requires painful decisions about which make the cut.  It's totally worth it though.  I enjoy reminiscing like that, especially with a Prius less than 2 months old at the time.  Here's the 12 photos I chose to share from that storm which had just passing, leaving a wet photo opportunity for me to capture... photo album 146


EPA Combined.  Just a quick reminder that the combined estimate value from the EPA is weighted.  60 percent is represented by the City estimate.  40 percent is represented by the Highway estimate.  This is obviously why much of the advertising & bragging focuses entirely on Highway efficiency.  Proper representation of actual driving habits is the reason for this choice by the EPA.  It's too bad casual readers of blogs & posts aren't of aware of this reality.  They just accept numbers at face value.  That's why getting detail is so important.  It's very easy to be mislead without.


Choice.  Arguing the realities of vehicle production & sales to a group of enthusiasts simply interesting in aspects of performance has been futile.  I kept at it anyway, hoping the vehicle being developed with niche intentions would somehow be pushed into also offering a configuration the mainstream would actually be interested in.  No choice means fewer sales.  It's a simple formula.  A vehicle supposedly designed for families, yet priced well beyond their budget, doesn't make any sense.  After all, diversity is a key element to success.   The one-size-fits-all approach is very risky.  Anywho, I was surprised to actually get some positive response to this... perhaps those wanting Volt to be popular are *finally* starting to see why Prius has captured the hearts of so many:  Obsession with the engineering has led to a dangerous imbalance, to the point where some simply dismiss business logic.  Take the topic at hand. Rather than adapting the platform to serve a wider demographic, some staunchly argue that the 40-mile capacity with engine is the only configuration necessary.  One that reduces capacity to reduce price and serve those who don't have a long commute anyway isn't taken seriously.  Eliminate the engine entirely and offer greater capacity instead, that's blasphemy!  How will GM thrive without offering choice?


Horrible Mess.  The magnitude of the size of the oil disaster in the Gulf Of Mexico has grown dramatically.  Some always felt it was an extreme.  It wasn't until BP become more forthcoming about the information they collected that worst-case scenarios started to become a grim reality.  They don't have a clue how to stop the oil from squirting out of the ocean floor.  Nothing they've tried has contained the leaks.  In the meantime, shore damage has begun.  The impact to water & wildlife is no longer speculation.  The amount of destruction caused by carelessness & greed will likely take many years to truly understand.  It's on a scale so grand, we simply do not have a basis of comparison.  Contamination isn't always easy to detect.  Cleanup is a massive undertaking.  Remember the arguments about the amount of oil still available... how supporters dismissed the reality that the oil itself would be more difficult to extract and of lower quality... both adding quite a bit to cost.  Risk wasn't ever really discussed.  The cost of an accident is monumental in comparison.  Liability will cause investors to be much more hesitant.  Some may leave the business entirely.  Change is coming.  The oil will stain the reputation of the industry in a way they never imagined.  It's a horrible mess they have gotten themselves into.


Third Oil-Change.  It could have been my second, but the official "10,000 mile change-interval" hadn't been announced prior to my second.  So now, there will be an unnecessary expense of $33.84 on my maintenance log.  Oh well.  It does irritate a little bit... seeing how remarkably fresh (relatively transparent still and surprisingly thin) the oil was after 10,000 miles.  Having an engine which doesn't have to work hard, mostly due to the large electric motor, obviously makes a difference.  Of course, starting with the best synthetic 0W-20 oil does too.  I like the fact that there is no metal filter casing to discard afterward either.  That paper cartridge insert is all there is for waste with this Prius.  Accessing it has become easier as well.  Not being afraid to tap on my socket metal filter-wrench makes unscrewing the casing very easy.  I was too timid last time, so it slipped off.  The whole work area is still remarkably clean too.  Having a layer of plastic & insulation for heat retention keeps all the dirt & salt out.  That sure is nice.  Anywho, I won't need to see that part of the Prius again until the odometer hits 30,000 miles.


Regen Misconception.  This is one of the few which never die.  Many people still think regen (Regenerative Braking) contributes heavily to the efficiency of hybrids.  In reality, it's just capturing a small amount of energy that would have otherwise been lost.  After all, how often do you actually brake while cruising at highway speeds?  Almost never.  Yet, it's still quite normal to hit 50 MPG on the highway.  For anyone observant, you can easily quantify the electricity.  It's displayed.  For the Classic & Iconic models, the multi-display illustrated 30-minute segments indicating 50 Wh of energy for each regen icon.  The most I ever saw at any one time was 13.  Normally, it was around just 5 for the Iconic, which could capture more regen than the Classic.  For the 2010 model, the most I've ever seen (so far) is 13 also.  However, that display only illustrates 15-minute segments and each icon represents 30 Wh.  Doing the math, you get 0.39 kWh.  Even that maximum isn't much.  It obviously helps, but the contribution to efficiency won't be a "few more miles" like the latest speculation about the plug-in model makes.


40 MPG Fiesta.  Ford is thrilled.  GM is crushed.  It's hard to believe GM actually thought they'd have the entire market to themselves.  They officially don't.  The EPA estimates are in for this newest traditional economy offering from Ford.  Of course, that 40 MPG is just the highway rating.  For city, it's only 29 MPG.  Achieving that required a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission too.  Complexity like that isn't what you'd normally find on a vehicle of that class.  This is a sign of change.  But then again, it is a 2011 model and that is for when the efficiency standards begin to rise.  Fleet averages must increase.  Vehicles like this are hoped to be a major contributor toward that.  We'll see.  Domestic automakers have expressed little interest in vehicles like this up until very recently.  How much change have they really embraced?


Too Bad, huh?  This is a recent quote that got me really worked up: "I drive 19,500 miles a year. I expect that if I got a Volt, and the range extender/generator gets 50 MPG at it's steady-state RPM efficiency, then I would save about $15,000 on gas..."  The hope was that the poster, a very stubborn enthusiast, was just clumsy & hasty with the calculator.  Turns out, he wasn't.  He was dead serious.  Totally dismissing the price of the vehicle itself is one thing, but to make wild gas-saving claims like that is quite another.  Even if Volt really did deliver 50 MPG in CS-mode, which is highly unlikely even under ideal conditions, how is a figure like that realistic?  At $3 per gallon, $15,000 of gas comes to 5,000 gallons.  At 50 MPG, without ever plugging in, that much gas would take you 250,000 miles.  To think that he actually hopes someone researching a new vehicle purchase would actually believe that without question boggles the mind.  Talking about greenwashing to the extreme!


Too Bad, greenwashing.  It's truly amazing how leaving off certain bits of information can be so misleading.  Winter temperatures, driving more than average, highway speeds, less expensive gas.  They all reduce the difference.  Price of the vehicle itself is missing too...  That was the beginning of my rant today.  Turns out, there was nothing more to post.  Reading the same old greenwashing garbage for well over a year now goes way beyond frustrating.  It's clearly quite intentional.  You push, they sometimes respond with a half-hearted token gesture.  Then, it's back to the routine.  Just keep repeating the same selective facts hoping people won't ever question any of it.  Too bad, I do.  Believing you can sell a product by pushing particular circumstances doesn't say much for who they expect you to be.  Simply accepting things at face-value is never a good idea.  As the say, the devil is in the details.  And when it comes to a plug-in vehicle like Volt, that is very much the case.


Too Bad, expectations.  What are they?  What does the typical consumer actually expect?  Remember the promise of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles?  Talk of that was so intense at one point (thanks to the "stop gap" campaign) that hybrids were simply dismissed as a unnecessary step in automotive advancement.  Thankfully, the history which followed debunked that.  Heck, by now hydrogen availability was suppose to as common enough that the future of fuel-cells would be seen as inevitable.  That obviously didn't happen.  Among the many reasons why, cost was a very big factor.  It is with plug-in vehicles too.  That's why Volt has a "daily" sized battery.  But is that the way consumers will see it?  Aren't they more concerned about the price of a vehicle rather than whether it provides 40 or 30 or even 20 mile capacity?  How much are they really willing to pay when there's an engine to supplement anyway?  After all, they've been greenwashed to consider 30 MPG as acceptable.


Too Bad, solving problems.  How will the problems of oil-dependency and air-quality finally be solved?  Not taking the situation seriously is very frustrating.  Remember that even if Volt miraculously becomes affordable quickly, there are still lots of consumers who don't have a plug available.  Apartment and condo dwellers will be out of luck for a very long time.  The expense & liability of offering outlets in parking lots & ramps is a big challenge to overcome.  Also, think about all the people who have homes with nothing but a carport or who routinely park along the street.  Figuring out how to supply a secure 110-volt connection is difficult enough, not to mention the added complexity of a 220-volt.  In other words, there still must be an option provided which doesn't require a plug.  Oil price & drilling is an unpleasant topic.  It's only going to get worse too, as demand grows... contributing to increased road congestion and pollution.  Giving these problems to our children for them to solve is terrible.


Too Bad, for everyone.  The point of Prius was always to develop & expand a platform for the masses.  13 years later and over 2 million later, that platform is still expanding.  My gripe with GM is that Two-Mode was developed exclusively for trucks and Volt exclusively for compact cars, with both being well out of the range of being affordable for everyone.  Meanwhile, we have Toyota spanning HSD implementation from Yaris to Highlander... including midsize vehicles, which GM still does not have a solution for.  Their only option offered is BAS, which offers little for efficiency improvement and nothing for smog-related emissions reduction.  Spending so much development money on technology to reach so few is wrong under normal circumstances.  Doing it with taxpayer money (GM is still privately owned by the US government) is even worse.  Let's not forget about the 2008 bailout money either.  What will people buy & drive for years to come?


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