Personal Log #486
October 22, 2010 - October 31, 2010
Last Updated: Sun. 11/14/2010
page #485 page #487 BOOK INDEX
Genuine Question Here. I was intrigued to actually
see that, especially on the big GM forum where they downplay MPG routinely.
Anywho, this was what he asked: "Do hybrids get better fuel economy than cars of the
same size with conventional internal combustion engines?" To
think how little some things have changed over the past 10 years.
Others have changed quite a bit... like the answer:
That's rather vague, since there are many types of hybrids. But I can sight
the real-world data of Prius as a rock-solid: Yes.
27 MPG combined (22city/35hwy) is estimate for the 1.8 liter Cruze.
50 MPG combined (51city/48hwy) is estimate for the 1.8 liter Prius.
Add to that the cleaner smog-related emissions, there's not much left to
debate anymore. Replacing a traditional 6-speed automatic transmission with
a power-split device, motors, and battery clearly improves efficiency quite
Questions, data. One of the biggest frustrations when dealing with Volt is how much the loudest voices will spin real-world data. Certain particular individuals have been clinging intensely to the uncertainty not having official estimates from the EPA yet. They're milking that delay opportunity for all it's worth, and then some. Nothing counts until those numbers are provided. But you know darn well they'll be dismissed immediately after they become available. After all, they simply dismiss anything else they don't like. It would be hypocritical not to anyway, since that's the very excuse they use to downplay Prius efficiency. The claim is the EPA values are exaggerated, that MPG is really much lower. So... won't we be able say the same about Volt too? No, of course not. They'll sight real-world data to disprove that... even though we do the same for Prius and that isn't acceptable. See, the latest is to reject all that claiming it is "anecdotal" evidence... that only careful scientific measurement is acceptable... which comes from the EPA. Feel like you're in a spin cycle? No matter what you present, they spin it to appear inappropriate.
Questions, efficiency. Asking what's to expect is valid. How will this generation of Volt compare to the upcoming competition in terms of actual results, not generalized estimates? A recent 101-mile trip with a Volt by a popular online green publication revealed interesting real-world numbers. They did their best to drive it normally, not doing anything special at all during that experience. Driving it hard to report about the performance extremes would come later. For this, it was a variety of driving conditions with several stops and no recharging in between. The end results was a displayed average of 81.5 MPG. That's very similar to the 84 MPG after 316 miles of driving I observed with my time behind the wheel of a PHV model Prius. I too drove it normally, exposing it to a variety of conditions just like they did... though mine included a few 0-60 acceleration timings and two 0-85. The catch is, I plugged in several times. But then again, the MPG after depletion was 50 still. They documented 33.9 MPG from Volt. Engine efficiency differs quite a bit. Questions about what owners could see will be abundant. I can foresee the next year filled with efficiency reports... all of which you'll have to look for detail. Vague makes it easy to be misled. Ask many questions.
Questions, bashing. What's really been intriguing are comments from a new Prius owner who drove Volt twice before his purchase. He clearly understands where the bashing comes from, as he openly stated on the big Prius forum. There we can actually have constructive discussions... but cannot resist the opportunity to bash from time to time. After all, the friendly jabs are much better than those superiority claims we still have to deal with elsewhere. The market will offer a variety of choices. Volt will be among them, not the overwhelming champion. This was my contribution to that: Since Volt was portrayed as a "game changer" all along, it's hard for many to accept that this generation is really only a niche. GM continues to push mainstream appeal, but we know the EV drive... as appealing as it is... cannot be justified for that steep of a price. It's really too bad they didn't scale back the motor & battery size to better match consumer price expectations. That's why some of us like the sub-pack approach Toyota is taking with the PHV. Since each works independently, adding or subtracting them is no big deal. It's how Toyota could eventually sell the PHV side-by-side with the no-plug model. They'd take advantage of high-volume cost-savings by just offering the plug as a package choice.
Questions, delay. It's fascinating to see how Volt enthusiasts simply say to wait for the next-generation model but dismiss the reality that Prius could ever be improved. That's worse than a double-standard. It's bad enough that they won't admit this delay was never part of the plan in the first place. Doing that isn't constructive. Of course, I didn't ask a direct question about timing either. It was always in the form of concern, leaving it open-ended for maximum feedback. I kept pointing out the "too little, too slowly" concern from the auto task-force over and over again. The need to deliver a profitable high-volume vehicle prior to the tax-credit running out all while trying to pay back the bankruptcy loans should have been obvious. That's why I kept pushing for responses to the promises of 60,000 being produced the second year. A slow down after rollout, exactly like what happened with Two-Mode, would be unacceptable. Yet, delay of that nature is exactly what we seem to be facing now.
Questions, niche. Details uncovered recently reveal that Volt doesn't match mainstream purchase priorities. So, focus has been shifted to emotional appeal instead. Questions about performance were abundant prior to that. Most of them asked why. Why is so much emphasis being placed on the driving experience? That raised warning flags. Not being concerned about engine efficiency either meant it was absolutely outstanding or it was so bad they needed something else to focus on instead. I kept asking why a no-plug model wasn't being considered. It made no business sense whatsoever not offering one if the MPG without ever plugging in was 50 anyway. That would be a fantastic way to quickly reduce production cost. By increasing volume of the shared components, everyone wins. So, why not? Needless to say, the MPG turned out to be much lower... so low it couldn't even compete with traditional vehicles. Sales as a niche vehicle prevail over all that, since rationalizing the shortcomings isn't necessary for those buyers.
Questions, competing. The second part of the credibility attack was why I didn't "...question Toyota why it can't compete with the next generation of electrics, the Volt?" It's the same old engineering-only problem again. They just plain won't acknowledge the business aspect. Apparently, all consumers care about is superior performance to traditional vehicles and that will justify the huge extra expense. I questioned: Describe what "compete" actually means. For someone like me, it means being affordable. Without a price premium small enough to easily justify, deep market penetration fast simply isn't possible. That's why my focus has been on the $3k to $5k designs. Switching to a larger motor and adding capacity as cost drops is totally realistic and has proven a very effective business approach for the computer industry. Also, keep in mind how cost will drop faster by producing a no-plug model too. Hybrids like Prius can take advantage of the high MPG they offer without a plug to help increase volume. That goes a long way toward shifting production away from traditional components and shifts the mindset of the market knowing that the plug is just a package upgrade.
Questions, fanboy. Remember in the past with Two-Mode when no matter what I said all they heard was Toyota & Prius? The same thing is happening again with Volt... only their attempts to dismiss are much harder now that it's so much easier to refer back to your original quotes. They can't deny you said that anymore; nonetheless, they still try. Knowing they would, I asked many questions in addition to pointing out design detail. In this case, it was "Who is the market for Volt?" which came up as relevant yet again. This time, it was in a discussion on the big GM forum about consumers changing their driving habits with Volt. I wondered who. Their response was that I'm just a Toyota fanboy and my questions "...would be more relevant if you weren't so pro-Toyota". It must still burn that I support Ford's efforts with FULL hybrids too. Oh well. I just posted this after asking that same question yet again: I asked that countless times. There's no excuse for avoiding it. And now we see how relevant of a question it really was. After finding out details that proved those most concerned about middle-market were correct, you cannot just dismiss them as "Toyota" supporters... especially knowing that's who GM is seeking with the second generation design.
Change Of Habit. Justifying the initial expense is becoming quite a challenge. The high sticker-price for Volt makes Prius look even more desirable now... the opposite extreme of what enthusiasts had wanted as an outcome. So, they are spinning this situation as a paradigm-shift, claiming consumers will see it as a change of habit. Like with the new requirement to plug in, paying more up front will supposedly become the norm. It's as if they learned nothing from the high prices of the monster-size SUVs. Whatever. Here's the comment that caught my attention today: "The Volt is a more premium piece with much smoother and swifter performance and far better handling." Needless to say, I'm more than happy to point out what mainstream consumers have actually needed and sought. Knowing they couldn't care less, I posted this anyway: Volt drives well. But distracting from actual market need only goes so far. The "change of habit" would be middle-market consumers paying far more than they usually do for a vehicle. Their priorities in the past didn't include better performance & handling. Their purchases were a balance of a variety of factors. Also, let's not forget the type of MPG owners who experience CS-mode on a regular basis will see, especially those who live in the north.
In Dealer's Lots. Here's an interesting tidbit for you to ponder, something that no one has ever brought up yet. It popped in my head from someone else asking a related question, based upon this statement from chapter 9 of the Volt owner's manual, specifically page 44. It says: "Do not allow the vehicle to remain in temperature extremes for long periods without being driven or plugged in. It is recommended that the vehicle be plugged in when temperatures are below 0 degrees C (32 degrees F) and above 32 degrees C (90 degrees F) to maximize high voltage battery life." He asked how long that actually meant. It's a great thing to ask. We routinely see temperatures much colder than that, here in Minnesota. In fact, we sometimes go an entire month below that threshold. During Winter's peak, we can go a full week with the daily high under 0°F (-18°C). So, the thought of just leaving your car parked in an exposed employer's lot for 9 hours is a concern. But what about those sitting unsold in a dealer's lot? What does it mean for them? It's easy to imagine them sitting there for a few weeks. Wouldn't that affect battery life?
Misconceptions Still. This was a fun one. An
antagonist was mocking hybrid owners, telling us how he laughs each time he
sees one "gun it off the line at traffic lights" then either brag
about being green or complain about the poor fuel economy. It happens
often. He was quite amused by it all. Getting to inform him of
his error was a true delight. Makes you wonder how many others are
under the false impression you must drive a Prius slowly & carefully to
achieve the high MPG. It's the essence of being naive. They
write off the technology upon first encounter and never give it a second
thought, assuming all who embrace it are making extreme sacrifices from that
choice. The consequences of being poorly informed make like
interesting. I wonder if I'll even get a response to this wake-up
Didn't realize that doesn't hurt efficiency in some hybrids, eh?
Brisk acceleration for me when the light turns green and the path is clear.
The 60kW electric motor takes full advantage of the opportunity and the gas
engine revs only briefly up to 3,500 RPM. It's quite remarkable to see how
the system is actually designed to handle rapid power demand requests like
Finally. The price-justification arguments for Volt are
really getting to be a problem. They treat luxury purchases as
everyday occurrences. In a way, that makes sense, since consumers rarely pay attention
to the ordinary... common... familiar... typical... abundant. But in
reality, those vehicles are low-volume. In fact, sales are so low
they'd be considered a niche if it wasn't for the fact that automakers
desire the exclusivity, keeping production that way intentionally.
Anywho, I finally got one of the biggest troublemakers to admit that Volt
isn't intended for those who purchase a car like Hyundai. It's too bad
GM supporters haven't been paying closer attention to Sonata, a
middle-market vehicle which has become quite popular. I happily
responded with: Who is the market for Volt?
Some of us knew all along the first offering would be a niche, not a vehicle
for the mainstream despite all the hype to the contrary. Replacing
traditional vehicle purchases like Malibu is still quite a few years away.
After asking that question over and over and over again, it sure is nice to
finally get an answer.
Why? When the spin is abundant, it's hard for some to remember who stated what. That's why I document so much here. Having a written record, even informal like this, keeps track of when something was said and whether or not I was the one saying it. In this case, someone genuinely inquisitive asked: "So why do you think that there MUST be 60,000 sales in the first year for the Volt?" That was an intriguing question to respond to. And I did, with this: I don't. It's the others who absolutely insisted Volt would immediately render all other technologies obsolete and their sales would immediately grind to a halt. Now that reality is setting in that Volt will follow the usual evolutionary improvement process, they're spinning it to make the situation look as though that was never the case. What's amusing is that I wasn't the one who started with the 60,000 claims. It was the supporters of Volt, absolutely insisting year #2 would fulfill that production & sales quantity. Long story short, Volt is a player in the plug-in market, not the game-changer as hyped… and an ally is what I wanted from the very beginning. Check the history. Now, we can finally address the problems at hand. Speculation about what the first generation would bring really set the effort back.