Personal Log  #468

July 17, 2010  -  July 23, 2010

Last Updated: Fri. 7/30/2010

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Cruze & Fiesta.  There has been much written about the highly anticipated small 40 MPG traditional vehicles coming from GM & Ford.  Today, I actually had my first sighting of one on the road.  It was a brand new Fiesta... being tailgated by a large Ford SUV.  How about that for an image?  I'm sure the driver of that Fiesta (so new, it didn't even have plates yet) wasn't thrilled about the situation.  It sure gave perspective on the size difference.  How much are people will to change for the sake of economy?  I could easily see young drivers gladly driving them (in fact, I did at that age).  But for those who enjoyed driving large & powerful guzzlers for many years, I just can't picture it.  That raises the question, what will appeal to them?  What will $3 gas cause them to drive?


Leaf.  We got a long write-up about Nissan's upcoming EV today.  There were lots of display images included.  One feature was a navigation map that illustrated driving range, based on the current charge-level of the vehicle.  Another showed how much of an impact using climate-control would have.  In that particular example, the 98-mile range available would be reduced by 22 miles.  You could even see the kW draw A/C & Heater and other systems were having.  Talking about being clear about informing drivers of the effect non-propulsion components have on the distance you can travel.  That's nice.  No surprises.  Remember the Classic Prius?  The display it provided played a major role in simplifying the understanding of the hybrid system.  Looks like the same will be true for plug-in vehicles too.


40-Mile Capacity.  Technically, GM didn't achieve the title of first to deliver a 40-mile capacity plug-in vehicle, an aftermarket provider did.  PICC in California upgraded a 2010 Prius with a 12.5 kWh lithium battery-pack.  On the 24-mile course at the hybrid event in Wisconsin last weekend, that car delivered 245 MPG.  Doesn't that level the playing field?  If Volt is supposedly so superior, what is the advantage enthusiasts continue to claim?  If an aftermarket effort can deliver that, just imagine what Toyota itself could do.  We could end up with multiple models of plug-in Prius, along with the non-plug.  Just think of how many consumers that technology could reach we offered in a variety of body sizes & styles.  Do I need to continue mentioning the problem with Volt's one-size-fits-all approach or the "too little, too slowly" problem?


To Sum It Up.  After a week of driving the plug-in Prius, that first of those lucky friends had much to say.  He went into detail about the engineering.  It's so seamless and there's so much to appreciate, it gives you a sense of "child-like giddiness" driving it.  There's much to enjoy about the experience.  The EV difference itself left him "absolutely underwhelmed", which it terms of appealing to the mainstream is quite a compliment.  Concealing the technology has been a key to Prius success so far, why not with a plug-in model too?  You don't need to worry or be concerned about anything, you just drive it then plug when you get home.  The final paragraph of his write-up really got me to smile.  The appeal to my mother is the ultimate test of acceptance.  If she'd like it, everyone would.  Turns out, that's his measure of worth too:  "This is truly an advanced technology vehicle that outshines even the Prius that came before it.  But it is also a vehicle the mass market can grasp with no leap of faith or learning spin-up.  In short, this is a car I would buy my mother.  And she would love it."


More Futile?  If that term makes any sense, you're really going to enjoy this.  Prior to the hybrid event in Wisconsin last weekend, a friend attending it received delivery of a plug-in Prius he could bring to it and driven around with for a week.  Getting reports of his experiences was fascinating.  The system will display the EV to Hybrid ratio based on each drive.  The shorter the drive, the more EV will be taken advantage of.  What I got the biggest kick out of was his drive home from the event.  It was 102.6 miles, without any opportunity to plug prior to leaving, so the drive was 100% hybrid (no A/C).  Despite the non-EV highway trip, the efficiency data displayed was a mind-boggling 71.5 MPG.  Whoa!  Talking about an impressive improvement from a lithium battery-pack upgrade with a higher-speed tolerance.  That almost puts my 50 MPG to shame.  In fact, that's so impressive I'm left scratching my head wondering what other experience reports will stir.  I won't have to wait long either.  Another friend will be getting an opportunity for a week-long test-drive opportunity.  Isn't this exciting!


PZEV & Profit.  It's nice knowing that the Volt enthusiasts now understand the factors involved with the PZEV rating.  The topic of emissions had been almost totally ignored.  Of course, dealing with that simply got postponed when it was realized that GM wouldn't be addressing the issue until the second generation design.  At least they cannot argue about Toyota anymore, being aware that PZEV is given a much higher priority.  It's actually a primary reason why aftermarket augmentation hasn't gained as much attention.  Those players involved were already aware that overriding the system would compromise exhaust cleansing.  To maintain necessary control over engine use and heat, that could only come from the factory itself.  Anywho, this emphasizes the difference in automaker approach.  The other obvious priority difference is profit.  Toyota doesn't want to begin plug-in rollout until production costs can be brought down to a profitable level, since it already has a rapidly expanding hybrid inventory anyway.  GM is willing to keep production low and just wait... which means funding for continued development must come from some other source in the meantime.  That's a big difference.  The one approach is far less risky.  Hopefully, it will all work out for both.  We'll see...


Improvement Benchmarks.  The quote I found most interesting from that DOE document was this: "The cost of a 40-mile range battery is falling from more than $13,000 in 2009, to roughly $6,700 in 2013, to $4,000 in 2015."  For that same duration, they expect weight to drop by 33 percent and battery-life to increase 3.5 times.  Those are numbers we really need for plugging in to become practical & affordable for the mainstream.  Not surprisingly, that puts Prius at the forefront.  It's the design which can reach a very wide range of consumers... since battery improvements are a benefit to all models, even those without a plug.  Market penetration is a very big deal.  If production doesn't take advantage of a battery-pack in some way, where will profit come from?  A few token sales aren't the goal.  The goal is to replace tradition vehicle production.  This DOE effort places clear benchmarks on the technology.  Achieving it requires high-volume demand, within just 5 few years.


Recover Act Investments.  So far, $2.5 Billion has been awarded by the Department of Energy toward manufacturing and continued development of automotive batteries and electric vehicles.  Ultimately, the investment will grow to $12 Billion.  Imagine if that effort had emerged sooner, rather than the those in power years ago choosing to fight this by just drilling for more oil instead.  Can you believe all the nonsense we had to deal with?  Oil was considered cheap, plentiful, and harmless.  Wow, were they ever wrong!  Anywho, reading through the DOE document, it's fascinating to see all that's happening this year domestically.  Cost & Range is expected to drop dramatically as a result over the next 5 years.  Remember the insincere effort to make fuel-cell vehicles realistic 10 years in the future?  This is half the time with a much, much deeper market penetration.  It's too bad things were allowed to get so bad before action was finally taken.  Isn't it amazing how change can occur?


Rushing Perspective.  Here's more spin: "I am guessing Honda & Toyota are rushing to get into the market."  I enjoy reading comments like that.  It serves as vindication, giving a great feeling of support for a platform we've been supporting for a decade... from Toyota, anyway.  That's been the argument against ASSIST hybrids in favor of FULL all along.  The one offers a simple upgrade to a plug, the other a cost & logistics challenge.  Nonetheless, the joyous nature of this point-of-view emerging now is that this is where the industry is headed.  Thoughts of diesel engines or hydrogen fuel-cells have been abandoned for the preference of plug-provided electricity instead.  This was my response:  That's an interesting perspective, but easy to see it as a "waiting for the opportunity" situation instead... since the only thing needed to make the current Prius into a plug-in is a better battery-pack.  The PHV model uses the same traction motor, generator motor, combustion engine, and PSD.  Using those same components already being produced & sold in high-volume supports the "battery need" quite well.


Playing Catch-Up.  That's quickly become the spin now, by Volt enthusiasts of course.  This quote got me excited: "It took Toyota a while to realize that GM was onto something big with an EREV.  Now everyone is headed in the same direction."  It provided the opportunity I would normally get to point out history.  So, I did:  Offering a plug has always been in the plans.  The redesign of the PSD back in 2003 bumped the EV only (engine motionless) speed up to 100 km/h... but sadly couldn't be taken advantage of for quite some time due to battery technology constraints.  Now with the 2010, they have an even more efficient direct-drive system that offers the same 100 km/h with even more power.  What is the realization?  By the way, the initial builds of the first model of Prius (back in 1998) actually included a plug. But back then using just D-cell format batteries, it proved to offer little benefit.


Honda Upset.  The Volt enthusiasts are upset that yet another plug-in design will be entering the market.  The diesel enthusiasts are upset that Honda's choice to embrace diesel rather than hybrids has now experienced a full reversal.  The fuel-cell enthusiasts are upset that prototype efforts now seem to be lost.  The Prius supporters are thrilled.  It's about dang time their system finally got a complete overhaul.  To offer advantage from their current ASSIST platform, a much larger electric motor is needed and a clutch to disconnect it from the engine.  Having a PSD allows the opportunity to avoid that need.  But when the vehicle utilizes a traditional transmission (Manual, Automatic, or Cone & Belt CVT), it's required.  You need some method of stopping engine motion without affecting the operation of the motor.  Anywho, Honda's rather vague announcement today mentioned 2012 introduction to the US market for midsize & larger vehicles.


Hypocritical.  For 3.5 years I've had to deal with the Volt enthusiasts lumping all non-plug hybrids into a single category.  Regardless of configuration, it was always given a "parallel" label.  No matter what was posted to point out differences, they didn't change.  It was always the same thing, clearly with the intent to mislead & undermine.  Volt would make everything else obsolete, so it didn't matter anyway... never taking into account the wide range of efficiency, emissions, and power each offered.  With such variety, it's hard to believe they'd continue to do that.  Now, they're angry.  SAE officially categorized all vehicles offering both a plug and an engine as PHEV.  It's looking very likely EPA will do the same.  Both place extremely high priority on identifying outcome, so the label really doesn't much.  The enthusiasts continue to argue that Volt is superior, yet cannot explain why.  They offer nothing in terms of performance criteria to support that.  It's just a passionate outburst with no regard to what they did in the past.  Isn't that hypocritical?


Sonata-Hybrid Detail.  Today, there was news of hybrid progress.  2011 will bring a hybrid from Hyundai.  The system is claimed to be the FULL type, even though there isn't a power-split device.  Instead, partial independent motor operation will be achieved through the use of a clutch.  It's still just an ASSIST in the sense that engine & motor RPM will coincidence due to the direct integration with a traditional 6-speed automatic transmission.  But there is a second motor which acts as a generator and doubles as a starter.  In other words, it is "full" in the sense that it is a traditional vehicle with hybrid components added.  Makes you wonder how much it will cost.  Hmm?  The traction motor will offer 30 kW of power.  That's half the size of Prius, but supposedly enough power to match the 100 km/h ability.  The hybrid model will offer a big boost to city efficiency, from 22 to 37 compared to the traditional model.  For highway driving, efficiency gain is smaller, from 35 to 39.  The battery-pack will be a 1.4 kWh LiPo (Lithium Polymer).  The engine will be a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder.  It will weigh 3,457 pounds.


200,000 in Europe.  That's the official total for Prius now.  It sure is nice seeing that particular market buying them.  Gas is much more expensive than diesel there.  Vehicles are typically much smaller.  And manual transmissions were favored due to lower cost and greater efficiency.  The situation is changing though.  Prius and all the talk of plug-in choices is stimulating change.  Concern for both types of emissions (carbon & smog) is growing too.  Every last vehicle helps to make a difference.  I wonder how popular the 2010 model will become there.  It wasn't rolled out until later there, so they don't even have year-long owners yet.  An automaker from Japan has different challenge from those local automakers there than we have here.  So, seeing that the platform can become popular in that market too is pleasing.


Did He Know?  It gets even more interesting.  I hadn't expected this discussion turn.  Someone asked if Lutz knew the emission-rating was going to become a problem.  That's actually constructive!  It indicates thinking through the situation and not being afraid to ask about what it would imply.  I'm impressed!  Make you wonder how my response to that will be looked upon...  Two-Mode history clearly indicated this was going to become an issue.  GM allowed the development of a hybrid dirtier than a non-hybrid.  Not hearing a peep about this with Volt meant not being any worse than a traditional vehicle was the best we could hope for.  It's an unfortunate reality pointing out that history was suppose to prevent.  Instead, any mention was looked upon as an effort to undermine.  What now?  The response of saying "wait for the second generation" totally validates the assessment and on-going concern of "too little, too slowly".


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