Personal Log  #485

October 22, 2010  -  October 29, 2010

Last Updated: Sun. 11/14/2010

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Unknowns.  They're getting tired of me asking questions.  I'm more than happy to point out that declaring victory is far too premature... since we still don't know what the victory would be.  What is the point of Volt?  We're well aware that Prius is intended to replace traditional mainstream vehicles, since that's exactly what it's been doing.  It's taking longer than desired, but sales are steady.  New purchases continue.  Anywho, I asked the same old questions again:  The ever-changing messages from GM is what keeps me coming back.  What Volt is for and who Volt is for differs depending upon who you ask.  The topics of price, efficiency, and emissions get you a wide variety of responses.  The fact that so much attention is now being paid to the next-generation model contributes to the confusion.  As for the competition, there's nothing stopping Toyota from adding more sub-packs to their plug-in; increasing motor size again is realistic too.  But what does the market actually want?  What about the convenience (and saved expense) of sticking with a 110-volt connection?  What about those who don't have any plug available?  What should the priority be for production volume?  What about profit once the tax credit expires?  There are many unknowns still.


Certain Kinks.  Some of us are still wondering what the heck that comment made the other day really implied.  It was in reference to why the battery-pack warranty for the 2011 model Volt was only 8-years 100,000 miles.  When a GM executive says "certain kinks" still need to be looked into before they'd offer a 10-year 150,000 miles warranty, you'd think more people would take notice.  Imagine what the current shorter duration will do to resale value if it does get longer in 2012.  And with so few being produced initially, why wouldn't they accept the initial liability anyway?  Won't the cost be much lower years from now?  Of course, if you've been paying close attention, you'd be well aware of the grim reality that the entire production of BAS hybrid battery-packs is being replaced.  All of them.  That unexpected expense is painful for any automaker, not just one struggling to pay back loans.  But then again, they did brag about delivering something superior to Prius.


Wind & Snow.  That sure was a short Fall season.  Last night included a storm with winds gusting up to 55 MPH.  So besides all the leaves being long gone now, I had the surprise of opening my garage door this morning to the sight of a broken span of vinyl siding laying in the driveway.  To make matters worse, we were getting a bit of snow flurry action.  Great!  That couldn't have been much quicker of a transition to Winter.  But then again, the reality of nearly 3 feet of snowing falling this time 19 years ago is always a good reality check.  Heck, last year this time it had already snowed with accumulation.  I guess that means I can't complain.  This Prius is especially enjoyable to drive when the temperatures drop too.  It's designed to deal with the cold and the mess that creates on the roads quite well.  Toyota really paid attention to the feedback they got from owners of previous generations of Prius.  So... that means the 2010 is ready for the snow... even if I'm not yet.


Gallons Per Year.  It's is the growing effort to greenwash... already not working out as I had hoped.  The misleading from this is especially troubling too, since it reveals how disingenuous a few wanting to support Volt can be.  Fortunately, this type of thing is quite rare.  But nonetheless, one particular individual is drawing attention.  He's claiming 15 gallons of gas is all Volt will use over the course of a year.  No disclaimers of any sort.  No mention of miles driven annually.  No mention of season conditions.  Not even a YMMV.  It's just a number portrayed as if it was an expected average.  Remember how the EPA had to deal with all the trouble resulting from the previous estimate system leading people to believe their values... which didn't take into account the speed or aggressiveness people drive nor the negative effects of using the A/C or heater?  Needless to say, he tried to dismiss concern as just politics & spin.  I rebutted with this:  Posting nothing but a best-case scenario without any type of YMMV disclaimer will come back to haunt.  History offers great examples of unintended consequences.  Passing along that "15 gallon" claim then waiting for the backlash is a pretty simple way to bring the misleading to an abrupt end and give sincere competition a boost.  Real-World data will speak for itself.  No spin necessary.


Mixed Messages.  Trying to work with those disenfranchised Volt enthusiasts who have converted from fanatic to impartial has been somewhat effective, but the mixed messages from GM has been undermining the effort.  The new television commercial which will debut during the World Series this evening focused on how the engine will allow owners to travel beyond the charge-range without any worry.  Didn't they just finish telling us how 75% of the population won't need that feature?  You hear how the MPG isn't a big deal, since the engine will rarely ever run.  Next you here that it's no big deal to be using it when the demands of life keep you away from a plug for too long.  How often will it actually be used?  I can imagine consumers wondering that and getting quite a variety of different answers.  This latest advertisement prompted my to reply with this:  It's interesting to hear the commercial mention "last-minute detours" and "spontaneous acts of freedom" since that's how I've been describing the situation all along.  Of course, I've been using that to point out how frequently you will enter CS-mode… something most of the estimates don't take into account.  This is why it was inappropriate to just dismiss the MPG when using the engine… since it will happen more so than people have been led to believe.  Looks like gallons per year needs to get a lot more attention.


IMA Improvement.  Today brought news from Honda about an improvement to IMA itself.  The impression is that today's pre-announcement of an announcement coming in 3 weeks at the LA autoshow will be the long-awaited introduction of a clutch.  In other words, the ability to separate the motor from the engine in order to enable electric-only drive... just like what Hyundai will soon be rolling out.  The ASSIST hybrid design is a PASSIVE system.  It simply cannot efficiency produce the amount of electricity required for "stealth" mode like Prius has always delivered, a major contributor to higher efficiency.  The reason for this is the FULL hybrid design is a PERSISTENT system, allowing it to have an ample supply of electricity always readily available.  The introduction of a clutch changes the equation.  Dependence on the engine can be eliminated entirely in favor of plugging in instead.  The system will still be limited by the size of the motor itself, but that would exploit an opportunity currently not available.


Insight Improvement.  Yesterday brought news from Honda about an improvement to Insight.  The auto-stop had been configured for worst-case scenarios, where having the air-conditioning stopped for too long would make comfort levels unacceptable.  Honda decided 30 seconds would be the maximum.  Seeing how much gas could be saved by extending the duration, they did.  The time will now be 90 seconds instead.  That's obviously going to be a huge improvement.  But do you think people will actually choose that "eco" mode?  It's not like Prius where the A/C simply runs on electricity instead or the Heater draws from the coolant until 114°F rather than being limited to a timer.  Having a choice is great, but IMA still leaves much to be desired.


Tesla.  I was walking with a friend to get a coffee.  There was a Tesla Roadster parked right by where we were about to walk.  Whoa!  I was beside myself.  It was that very same block I had seen my first EV all those years ago... 17 to be precise.  It was a prototype though.  This was the real thing.  A production model produced for and purchased by a consumer.  Sweet!  I pointed it out to my friend.  It looked at me weird... knowing what a Tesla car was but confused by the sight of a fuel door.  "Isn't that where gas goes?", he asked.  I happily pointed out how the outlet is concealed there, making it seem as though that was a traditional sports car.  Too bad it was raining at the time.  I would have loved to look underneath... look ma, no tailpipe!  Exciting as that was, I'd still rather have a PHV model Prius.  Of course for that price, I could have 3.  Tesla isn't exactly what you'd call affordable.  But it is a genuine EV during in traffic with the rest of us.


Better.  Talking about to the point: "Volt is better than Prius.  End of story."  Unfortunately, that's it.  No opportunity for discussion anymore.  Many enthusiasts have simply shutdown at this point.  They've lost so much of the we-don't-know-yet arguments that it's not worth risking anymore.  My guess is they're thinking... might as well just wait for real-world data now.  The hope is sales will crush doubt.  They know the performance (physical response characteristics) will appeal to the emotional consideration enough to overcome the price penalty.  In other words, they really don't know their audience  Purchases like that are extremely difficult to justify by a middle-market consumer.  Mainstream buyers have not expressed those aspects as a priority.  They need a balance, not an extreme.  Their definition of "better" is very, very different from that of an enthusiast.


Ignoring The Problem.  I couldn't believe this was actually suggested: "Maybe they'll move on if they're ignored."  Though, it has been preceded by an insult to Prius owners.  So, there was more emotion at play than constructive thought.  It did make me wonder if he ever noticed the true source of the problem or if he was simply dismissing the patrons of that daily Volt blog.  After all, the big GM forum had the very same problem to deal with.  The moderators there had unknowingly turned a blind eye to those who were responsible and focused on the outcome instead.  Needless to say, resulted in trouble.  Not addressing the source of the problem will do that.  Of course, with the blog, you can actually encourage bad behavior by voting for the troublemaker... the real troll... the one dropping the bait... not those who reply to it.  Anywho, I'm sure this won't be welcome, but will try regardless:  Ignore the actual problem?  It's the bait, not the responses!  Voting negative to the responses won't accomplish anything.  The source is the proclamations of "better" along with false & misleading information about Prius.  How about just sticking to real-world data instead?  How about focusing on what needs to be done next?  How about not voting positive for those encouraging the discourse?


Diverted Attention.  Posted this thought, wondering if it would make any difference:  I've noticed that due to the "Cash For Clunkers" and the "Toyotas of Death" events.  Much attention to detail about the newest generation of Prius has been overlooked.  Many are not aware of design improvements... especially the outspoken who weren't well versed about the previous generation.  There are a number of assumptions, some of which are just plain wrong.  Recent deeper looks into how Volt operates has revealed misunderstandings about Prius... especially when it comes to how people actually drive verses marketing with respect to the PHV.  It's an interesting wake-up call for those who took the detail for granted.  I look forward to the real-world data.


No News.  It appears as though enthusiasts didn't realize just how big the backlash upon Volt would be.  Even those once outspoken troublemakers have settled down.  The issue of "not a true EV" is the biggest let down.  You could tell by the brief explosion of attention that design mention (accidental slip?) caused a few months ago.  Other unknowns of the past, like CS-mode efficiency, never made a sense anyway.  How could 50 MPG be achieved but no interest in a non-plug model be realistic?  From a business point-of-view, that would be a deliberate opportunity missed.  Other issues like the emission-rating simply take away from the green claim.  Price was never really an unknown.  Aftermarket suppliers for Prius provided us with data clearly showing the battery cost was going to be a major expense.  But now that all of this is in the open, there's nothing really to discuss anymore.  What fed the hype of the past was the speculation.  Now, all that's left is the uncertainty of deliver wait.  Of course, some of us already have predicted not until the end of Winter.  Remember how long Two-Mode took?


Fascinating, Still.  Looking back to the start of this year, I see that GM was struggling with the "230 MPG" fallout and doing their best to lower Volt expectations.  Even capitalizing on the negative Toyota attention, they still weren't able to avoid this outcome.  It was inevitable.  Cars like Camry & Corolla aren't known as exciting.  They're simply a major source of business-sustaining profit.  Those cars couldn't stand out even if Toyota wanted them to; the sales quantity makes them too common.  GM never wanted that for Volt.  It was destined to be a niche, following the excitement normally associated with Camaro & Corvette... both highly desirable vehicles with low-volume production.  Avoiding goals was a dead giveaway that problems were brewing.  Not wanting to set any was denial of the situation at hand... easily avoided by changing the topic of discussion... which enthusiasts became extraordinarily good at.  But they could only delay for so long.  Now, it's time to face judgment.  What do consumers really need?  How much are they willing to pay?  Do expectations of the technology really match reality?


Careful What You Wish For.  Early on, the emphasis on driving experience eclipsed engine-efficiency, emission-rating, and price... the very things people are now expressing disappointment about.  Rather than strive for a balance, too much emphasis was set on priorities outside of the mainstream.  There's no doubt the niche crowd will gobble up the limited inventory.  It's what happens when more are produced that's in question.  The typical consumer vote from their wallet is far harder to get than praise from a test-drive.  The clock is ticking too.  How will cost be brought down to a competitive level and those shortcomings be dealt with before the tax credit expires?  What about those who want a high-efficiency vehicle but don't have a plug available?  What about the competition?  GM got exactly what they wanted.  Now they have to deal with it.


It Didn't Take Long.  Recently, there had been a lot of defensiveness.  The enthusiasts did whatever they could to make those specifically not supporting the Volt consumers will begin to purchase about a month from now feel unwelcome.  There were many insults and far to much belittling (smug).  Some would attempt to twist what you say to make the same shortcoming apply to Prius, even though the issue itself was misleading by omission.  Distracting from the concerns is becoming a big problem.  Some are so upset by the price fallout they've become hostile.  It's getting, really ugly.  The identical thing happened with Two-Mode.  We saw the very same idealism play out.  To see that nothing had been learned and the very same tragic history is repeating itself boggles the mind.  Reading through my blogs, I'm amazed to see the same concerns and same excuses again!  How much more proof is needed that the expectation of a rose outcome is terribly unrealistic?  Without balance, it was doomed from the start.  Anywho, it didn't take long.  In fact, I'm shocked how quickly all this has happen... even before sales begin, there's already a backlash.


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