Personal Log #471
August 6, 2010 - August 15, 2010
Last Updated: Tues. 9/21/2010
page #470 page #472 BOOK INDEX
PHV - First Plug. It's a surreal moment when 2 guys driving 2 Prius stop in your driveway to leave you 1, especially when there already is 1 in your driveway. All 3 there were quite a sight! They handed me the FOB, showed me the cord for plugging in, then wished me a good time. Wow! I couldn't believe that had just happened. And of all day's, it was my late father's birthday! He was the one who taught me all about cars. That was the dream he and I shared... which had just become a reality. Hooray!! Needless to say, I was ready to plug-in for the first time. I pulled that Prius into the garage, shut off the power, then grabbed the cord. After securing the end to the wall (and testing the connection via a button on the controller), I opened the recharging door, and connected the socket. A little light on the dashboard illuminated. That indicated recharging had begun. (I suspected it would shut off later when complete.) There was a sound. Hmm? I knew exactly where to look, since I had already read the manual. Sure enough, under the passenger seat there was a fan on the charging unit spinning away to keep it cool. Interesting. It's another way of knowing for certain recharging is taking place. I hadn't considered of that. Cool!
Honda Trouble. Timing is never good. But in this case, it is especially intriguing... just prior to sales of plug-in vehicles. There's a long thread rapidly growing on a big automotive forum and there was an article just published by a very popular newspaper. It's specifically about battery-pack deterioration and in a few causes actual failure. IMA is quite different from HSD. It is the type of hybrid with only a single small electric motor. There's no independent operation. It's integrated directly to the engine. Consequently abilities are limited in comparison. Unfortunately, that lack of flexibility seems to be causing more of an impact than anticipated. In other words, the operation is hard on the battery-pack. In response to this, Honda has issued a fix. That changes the system to rely less on electricity... which reduces both power & efficiency. That makes its design even less competitive. However, some of us are beginning to wonder if consumers will understand that. What if they instead see that as a problem with hybrids in general? Also, what does this mean for warranty coverage and emission rating. Neither ever anticipated a "fix" of this nature.
Haunt Later. The denial is growing. Volt enthusiasts are clearly not dealing with pressure well, since the best they can do is misrepresent the plug-in Prius. Ironically, tomorrow night is when my collection of daily-driving data will be complete... first whole year anyway. It also could be when Toyota drops off a plug-in Prius for me to play with. Hopefully. If not, the next morning. Then I'll be able to chime in with observations of my own. That's even better than quoting what my friends have reported! What a great opportunity!! It's detail coming from experiences like that which really levels the playing field. This is what I posted in the meantime, frustrated by such greenwashing attempts: Interesting claim. I've known people who got behind the wheel, observed that distance, hard acceleration, and faster speeds, yet those reports are simply dismissed. Raise doubt to the contrary, eh? Whatever. Those words can come back to haunt later. For me, it's the same old measure of merit. Progress is indicated by actual sales. 5,000 per month is mainstream volume. 15,000 per month makes the top-20 list. 30,000 per month is a best-seller. How much for a game-changer?
NHTSA Investigation. 58 event-recorders from supposed "unintended acceleration" vehicles have been studied. 35 revealed that no brake was applied. That's evidence of driver error. Hysteria often contributes to situations like this. People panic. Wrong pedal. Of the remaining, 14 suggested partial braking, 5 didn't record anything, 1 a jammed accelerator pedal, 1 both brake & accelerator, 1 an unrelated incident, and 1 had inconclusive data. Prius owners knew there wasn't a massive automaker conspiracy all along. With such heightened awareness of Toyota vehicles, how come we never heard of such incidents until the abrupt start a few months ago? What about the 10 previous years? How could the problem suddenly disappear as quickly too? No electrical malfunction or design defective was found. Of course, the media doesn't report that. In fact, they've been mysteriously silent about the findings... a dramatic difference from the extreme state of fear they conveyed just a few months ago.
Leaf & Volt. I listened to a surprisingly long feature on NPR today. It had one representative from GM and one from Nissan. The Volt references were all vague, nothing new there. We got the typical promotion of how hard they worked to offer stuff we didn't actually need, like the ability to start & monitor recharging from your mobile phone. The Leaf references did all that was possible to avoid addressing duration of recharge. The guy made it sound as though 240-volt connections were no big deal, as easy as just running a cord into your laundry room to plug in the car. He also pointed out the speed of 480-volt recharging repeatedly and brushed off the moderator's mention that such a connection was only for commercial environments, not households. The roundabout way of discussing range & capacity was fascinating. Both dodged detail, skillfully only using canned responses to just about everything. Heck, even business purpose left much to be desired. This is why Toyota has quietly doing real-world testing. It's simply not worth getting involved in hype.
Plug or Non-Plug? It continues. In fact, pretending the plug-in model of Prius doesn't exist is becoming more prevalent. Some Volt enthusiasts even are implying "Prius" won't ever be possible of certain things. That type of greenwashing reveals growing desperation. With so much business pressure lately and such a lack of data, they are left in a very uncomfortable position. (Of course, that's still no reason for personal insults coming from a few long-time bloggers.) Leaf makes the situation difficult enough. Knowing that a Prius offering a plug will led to a variety of opinions about "degree of electrification", making their efforts to convince consumers that Volt is an EV even though it has an engine a big challenge. It's not as simple as plug or non-plug... or at least for them, especially since there won't be a non-plug model of Volt offered.
CEO, IPO, EPA. Wow! It's turning into an
even bigger mess. The current CEO of GM suddenly announced he'd be stepping down at
the end of the month. That's a shock to everyone, especially those
hoping to purchase stock from the upcoming IPO. That will make 4 chief
executives within the last 18 months. Talking about mixed messages!
Now it really looks like we won't get EPA rating information for Cruze or
Volt. Withholding that until after IPO had been a disclosure concern.
Instead, now it's looking to just be part of the chaos.
Uncertainty is part of the game with the automaker. Do you think this
CEO will give clear direction for Volt? The enthusiasts just laugh
when I point out how setting goals was the norm for Prius, yet claim GM is
doing the same as Toyota did. Whatever. Focus on the immediate
situation was always a shortcoming anyway.
Wonder. This posted supposedly by a GM technician today pretty much says it all about the Volt rollout: "I have some real reservations about this vehicle, it is the first hybrid of it's kind to use a series system, and although it has been through some serious testing I know from first hand experience that once a real world customer gets their hands on the vehicle all of the testing in the world cannot anticipate what and how the vehicle will perform in the hands of the public." And my reply: Some here wonder why Toyota is taking an extra year to do real-world consumer testing prior to rollout of their plug-in. This is "drive it whatever way you normally would" data they are collecting that no in-house effort could ever achieve. In fact, I'll get an opportunity next week to play with one. Getting 600 of them out on the road and in the hands of random drivers is priceless... none of that coned-lot, low-speed, no-CS-mode nonsense. This is the real thing. They hand over a FOB and cord, wishing me a good time with the vehicle. Just think of the exposure to actual road conditions it gets. Even if they don't find a single problem, it provides the opportunity to refine algorithms in the meantime to squeeze out even greater efficiency. They'll probably be able to whittle down cost a little bit too. GM's focus on November 2010 set a stage for the great unknown, with the whole world watching and paying consumers wondering what to actually expect.
Smug. How would you respond to a comment like this
from a die-hard Volt enthusiast: "Prius is
yesterday's technology. Time to get over it and move on. Embrace the future. Maybe Toyota will even come up with something competitive."
That's a fantastic example of smug. I felt both frustrated & amused.
There's a disbelief that someone would actually go that far, especially
knowing how aware of market need is for affordable high-efficiency solutions
for the mainstream. Anywho, I responded with this:
Notice how that competition word keeps popping up, yet no one ever answered
the market question?
Buyers of vehicles like CAMRY and COROLLA are the market, those consumers
who will hopefully purchase a Prius next. They want well-proven technology
for an affordable price.
More and more, it sounds like that is not the market for Volt. Since that's
where a bulk of the business-sustaining profit comes from for automakers,
what future are you talking about?
Who? None of the enthusiasts want to address this question: Who is the market for Volt? They'll joke about it. But those wanting the success of Volt will dance around without ever providing an answer. For that matter, they don't want to explain what "success" actually means either. Supposedly, Volt was designed to leap-frog Prius. That implies sales of Prius will drop dramatically upon rollout. With a $41,000 price, nothing about Volt's configuration confirms those intentions. I point out all the direct comparisons to Leaf and references to Camaro-like performance. That always falls on deaf ears... even when I go out of my way to make it clear that Prius buyers are those who traditionally would purchase vehicles like Camry & Corolla. In other words, they are so blinded by the engineering that the basics of business will end up being a big setback. My guess is that middle-market will feel totally overlooked and it won't be until years later that a more affordable & practical configuration will finally be offered.
Finale Published. There are certain writers in the business that are looked upon as hybrid experts simply because they have published countless articles over several decades covering the automotive market. One particular writer never had anything nice to say about Prius. He simply did not like it. Just yesterday he called Prius boring. He also asked: "What would real men do for excitement?" In other words, he's from that same era we got executives like Lutz from... who crave speed & horsepower and only mention Prius to mock it. At 79 years of age, the hope was he'd retire soon. Instead, he died. Ugh! You really don't want to wish that upon anyone. But he did leave us happy. His final publication highlighted 10 vehicles, with the greenest (for lack of a better word) only delivering 485 horsepower.
Judging Success. It's starting already. Remember what happened with Two-Mode? Rollout was chaotic. Progress was uncertain. Who was going to get what and when was a mystery. The same thing is happening with Volt. Too bad GM didn't follow the approach Nissan is doing with Leaf. That's a present-day example of keeping demand in-check... as well as providing an undebatable method to judge success. The quantity is clear. The timeline is clear. The intention is clear. Just think of what expectations will be from a vehicle someone paid $41,000 for. What a mess. No wonder they make fun of Prius. There's no drama with it in comparison.
Thailand Production. The reach of Prius continues to
spread. It's a platform that makes sense for business & consumers on
several levels. The practical size & nature of the vehicle itself combined
with the ability to offer a plug spans a wide market. The potential is
great. So, it makes sense that Toyota continues to push it as the
premiere new-technology vehicle, allowing it to grow & diversify.
Makes you wonder what the one-size-fits all automaker will do, eh?
Lacking the ability to scale to other vehicles or to offer a configuration
without a plug leaves them in a much less comfortable position. How
will they compete? Anywho, the announcement today was that production
in Thailand is being planned now.
Daily-Driving Relook. The advertisements for Volt from GM continue to refer back to that same old survey. So, I thought I dig into the few details actually available. The report itself was published in October 2003. First thing that comes to mind about that is how good the job market was back then. With a thriving economy, the choice of where you work was plentiful. Nowadays, that's far from the case. How much further are people willing to commute now? I bet it's quite a bit further now than back in 2003. Second thing I immediately seek from that data is how much was actually collected. It states: "Results are based on completed bi-monthly samples of 1000+ households that are randomly selected..." Reading that really makes me wonder what subsequent reports reveal. Why is only that specific report the only one ever referred to, especially if on-going samples are available? Whatever the case, that statistic we repeatedly have to endure is based upon commute distance only. Interesting, eh? How was the non-commute data obtained? How does GM really know that "40 miles" is a realistic reflection of overall driving? How far do you live from retail & grocery shopping? How often do you drive somewhere other than work?
Purchase Decision. It will be based upon price, emission rating, and the expected consumption of gas & electricity. Pointing that out does not make any enthusiast happy, especially those for Volt who are pushing the "sport" image really now. The idea of marketing to the mainstream buyer doesn't have much appeal. That's where steady profit comes from. There isn't a whole lot to get excited about a Camry or Malibu though. Those are the affordable & reliable family movers, so common they don't stand out. You seem them everywhere. Prius is starting to adopt the same reputation. Basics, like how much a person will have to pay monthly toward their vehicle loan and gas, isn't all at sexy. That's why it gets so little attention from enthusiasts. Why can't they see how different their point-of-view is then the mainstream consumer trying to make a purchase decision?
Like Toyota did with Prius. Posted this today, to the
dislike of the Volt enthusiasts:
Do you have any idea how much I've had to endure that claim... knowing GM
wouldn't actually follow that same approach? Sure, it was a good excuse for
the 10,000 production limitation. But it did absolutely nothing to address
distribution or price.
What Toyota did for the first 1.5 years was force the dealers to serve as a
delivery provider rather than a regular sales broker. Toyota provided an
online order system which you used to request your Prius. It guaranteed a
specific vehicle would be delivered specifically for you with a price of
MSRP. Markups were not allowed, period.
It turned out to be an excellent way of handling demand that grossly
exceeded supply. Consumers were left confident that delivery of their
vehicle would occur as promised at the price agreed upon, making the 6-month
wait much easier.
The chaos unfolding with Volt already makes you wonder how this is all going
to play out.