Personal Log #488
November 6, 2010 - November 11, 2010
Last Updated: Sun. 11/14/2010
page #487 page #489 BOOK INDEX
GE Announcement. This certainly was interesting
news to read about. GE intends to purchase 25,000 electric vehicles by
2015 for their fleet services. Almost half will be Volt from GM.
Interesting, one of the two "customer experience and learning centers"
they'll be creating will be located just 20 miles from where I live.
Talking about close! The expectation is this will deliver about $500
million in revenue over the next 3 years for GE. It's quite thought
provoking, an industry move toward electrification sooner than expected.
Of course, with GM's production volume low and the price of oil high, the
current situation isn't exactly well time. This support validates the
"too little, too slowly" concern quite well. Do you think there will
be a change in plans as a result? Greater commitment is what was
needed prior to this. What happens at this point? All the
attention will hopefully be a good thing. I sure bet the attention of
the other automakers is peaked now. GE will likely be placing orders
will them too. Competition is good.
Opel Ampera Price. With a starting price of Volt at $41,000 here in the United States, you'd hope the model for Europe would be similar or maybe even less. No such luck. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The price announced today sure made for a great example of sticker shock. It's 42,900 Euros. That $58,618 at the current exchange rate. Holy crap! How can GM expect to sell many of this plug-in with a price so extraordinarily high? It simply doesn't make any sense. That most definitely doesn't qualify as a vehicle intended for middle-market. Talking about not even trying to design something for the mainstream. This is so disappointing. The turns of events over the past few months certainly lower sales expectations. It's the very thing some of us had feared all along... created a highly desired, but not often purchased, showcase vehicle. In other words, it has become a newsworthy niche rather than something will actually see in joe consumer's driveway.
Debate? Twisting of the situation entirely around is
no surprise. The absence of so-called troll activity on that daily
blog for Volt has led some enthusiasts to conclude that it means the car
fulfills all those goals GM had set out to achieve. In reality, that's
just plain not true. Since that has all been confirmed at this point,
there's no reason for debate anymore. Speculation is over.
Discussion complete. Of course, it was stated this way:
"I think that ends the debate on whether the Volt can deliver."
Don't you love how incredibly ambiguous that is? Deliver what?
It's the whole vaporware argument all over again. They refused to
identify criteria originally, knowing it would come back to haunt them
later. Sure enough. When confronted with the "50 MPG"
and the "nicely under $30,000" claims, they pretend neither was
ever promised. Instead, it's mission accomplished.
Volt Delivery. It has begun... but the process is a remarkably slow one. 15 supporters got 3-month loaners today. The first true production vehicle comes off the assembly-line 2.5 weeks from now. Dealer test-drive units aren't expected until late next month. Rollout to the first few initial markets will last the next 6 months. Availability to the entire nation isn't expected to be complete for nearly 1.5 years. It's really hard knowing what to expect anymore. All the speculation has screeched to a halt. Everyone is waiting for real-world data. Finally. The hype was terrible... so much passion contending with so many assumptions. It sure is nice that this undeniable milestone has officially been reached. Of course, that does mean that some of the originally stated goals are officially not met. Not a game-changer. No leap-frogging. Just a choice in a growing market. Sounds fair enough.
Technology Comparisons. Even the best of intentions easily go astray. Hopefully, this was seen as constructive: Which Prius? There's the no-plug model, the planned 2 EV sub-pack model, and there's the potential for higher EV capacity as well. Volt is one-size-fits-all. It's neither affordable, offered without a plug, nor expected to be available at the same volume as Prius for a very long time. Some of us are quite concerned about how much improvement can be delivered prior to the tax-credit expiring. It's the big picture, realistic production replacement. We'd like GM to offer a competitive, profitable vehicle that achieves the emission & efficiency goals which middle-market will be able to purchase rather than traditional vehicles. Also, don't forget about adaptability of the technology... minivan, truck, coupe, sedan, wagon. If it's not viable for a size or type, what will be produced instead?
CS-Mode MPG. It already happened. Someone saw a
value listed on a document and didn't dig any deeper. Accepting numbers
without examination is a recipe for trouble. This was a great example.
It makes you wonder if the number was stated that way intentionally.
Being a little ambiguous is what certain sources thrive on. They reap
the benefits of attention uncertainty brings. Or they could have just
wanted to present Volt in a better light. After all, clarification &
corrections after publication often aren't acknowledged. But then
again, it could have simply been an honest mistake. After all, new
technology brings understanding challenges. Regardless of intent,
damage is done. Thank goodness online research is so much easier now.
Some will seek out multiple sources to confirm claims. This was my
response to that particular situation today:
Better look again. Close inspection of the detail shows the 51 MPG came from
the 150-mile loop test they performed, which included 44.5 miles of EV
driving. 150 miles / 51 MPG overall = 2.94 gallons;
(150 miles - 44.5 miles EV) / 2.94 gallons = 35.9 MPG for CS-mode.
Interesting Points. Reading reports from high-performance publications always makes for good discussion. Here's my reply to the various points brought up about Volt's latest review: 101 MPH is totally pointless for real-world driving, well above the legal limit. But that's what to expect from a "performance" magazine. 127 MPG makes you wonder what those that remember the 230 MPG will now think. It's also a nice match for those who have an aftermarket plug in their Prius. 70 MPH is a misconception that I bet will live on for quite some time. The actual direct-drive speed can be all the way down to 30 MPH. But most publications continue to focus on the first speed ever mentioned rather than the detail which followed later. And what about price? That obviously isn't in the criteria for "superior". The hefty premium with no chance of an affordable option due to the CS-mode efficiency being so low makes it "uncompetitive". Needless to say, GM has designed a nice vehicle that simply isn't a viable choice for middle-market consumers.
Hybrid Debate? Looks like Hyundai is attempting to stir up a debate with Toyota. The claim is: "At high speed, the Prius's (fuel efficiency) is worse than a regular car." How can anything so easy to disprove be openly stated like that? Said by the president of Hyundai Kia Motors research & development division, you'd think he'd worry about people providing evidence to the contrary and harming his credibility. The very concept doesn't even make any sense. The engine optimization and use of electricity should make it simple to understand there's an efficiency benefit on the highway. If not, what about the EPA estimate clearly pointing out a substantial MPG advantage over traditional vehicles? Of course, it's hard to take those comments seriously when they also included a claim that the Hyundai hybrid system doesn't have 2 electric motors like Toyota or Ford, instead it only has 1 along with a "small starter generator". What kind of twisting of definitions of that? A generator is an electric motor!
Waiting. The wait for the next Prius can be agonizing. We certainly had our share of dealing with eager awaiting future owners in the past. Now though, it's worse. There's a sense of competition. The upcoming PHV model won't be alone. There will be other plug-in choices. One expressed the concern this way: "Toyota can't wait too long to put it out because other choices are out sooner rather than later (Volt, Leaf, etc.). Besides, I'm getting impatient already." I couldn't help but to interject this: Rushing to market doesn't seem to be working out for GM. Look at how much focus there is already on goals that weren't met yet. They're being thought of as shortcomings already. Toyota's 600 PHV currently collecting real-world data around the world will provide a clear expectation for consumers. Determining all the unknowns prior to rollout while GM struggles dealing with their fallout sounds like a good plan to me.... especially since the PHV is the 4th Prius delivery wait I've had to endure over the past decade. Like the others, I know that's well worth it... since I've already driven one. Patience.
Volt Fade. Suddenly, it has vanished from the
headlines. To think how crazy things had been up until very recently.
I could barely keep up with all the hype. It was unbelievable how, in
the face of bitter disappointment, some would defend a technology that
didn't achieve the goals set out for it. At first, the theme was that
there would just be a delay, that those goals would simply be delivered the
next time around. Now, it seems so much less certain. With the
pressure of competition rapidly building, there's a feeling of time having
run out... hence this fade. It's a quiet without knowing what to
anticipate next. What will next year bring? What are consumer
expectations? What if they do suddenly demand technology that's clean,
efficient, and affordable? Remember, all along there's been a concern
about too little, too slowly.
Next Year? It's easy to imagine hype being sustained all the way until Earth Day. Beyond that is far from clear though. Toyota's upcoming new hybrids along with the plug-ins will definitely entice the other automakers to sound off about their plans. What will that mean for GM and Volt? That's when expansion beyond the initial selected markets will be expected. We'll have enough real-world data collected to solidify consumer expectations. The spin won't have as much of an effect then. We've seen it before with other new technology rollouts. Combine that with the progress of the IPO and you've got some interesting outcome on the way. Change of some sort is inevitable. There simply won't be any reasoning for status quo. All the delay excuses we've heard in the past from a variety of sources can't compete with actual wheels on the road. Whatever happen next depends upon what we witness firsthand. 2011 will be the year for that.
Last Stand, again. Don't be surprised to read
complaints about the media again and again. This time, it was a long
article praising Volt and summarizing Toyota's design with:
"...the Prius is a very mechanically complicated car and is still
gasoline-dominant in its design." That's just so wrong.
Arrgh! The system in HSD is clearly less complex than a traditional
6-speed automatic transmission. It makes you wonder if they actually
know or just want to make Prius appear less desirable. As for the "gasoline-dominant",
the reporter obviously hasn't driven a PHV model. Despite having the
same drivetrain components within, the engine is off most of the time...
only providing assistance while accelerating hard and while cruising faster
than 62 MPH. The electric motor does most of the work. Power
from gas is a supplement. But from the last stand point of view, they
wouldn't want you to know that. In that case, they only want you to
focus on detail of the model without the plug. Pay no attention to the
Last Stand, sales. What irritates certain individuals the most is the discussion of sales. Seeing the daily topic today of "affordability" made me wonder. Controversy draws a lot of traffic. That's a benefit, especially to one who's lately lost a chunk of it. It's also a benefit from acknowledging the problem. So, it looks like it's a good thing. Unfortunately, the statistic itself leaves much to be desire. The answer to the "Who's the market for Volt?" question turns out to be only 7 percent, taking the tax-credit into account. That most definitely isn't the mainstream. With the first & second years of Volt production low, what will stimulate those which follow? Will we have to wait until something realistic is offered instead or will the climb of gas prices be enough? Both Toyota & Ford are position to offer plug-in hybrids that are affordable. Sales for them will be considerably easier will far less of a price premium. Both Hyundai & Honda hope to capitalize on that opportunity too. What does that mean for the slow pace of GM? Won't the new stockholders be expecting some type of return for their investment? And what about those efficiency requirements. Without substantial sales, you certainly can emphasize the word last.
Last Stand, reports. These are what really stick. People take the reports from professional media at face value. I have always looked at them with at bit of skepticism. Why would a magazine which focuses heavily on power & speed ever be interested in Prius? Searching through their history, you'll only find brief mentions of Corolla & Camry. Cars that middle-market drives haven't their interest. Performance is their past. Now, they are attempting to expand that definition beyond the traditional to include fuel-efficiency. That's a new topic with uncertainty. Who will be buying & reading their reports? Needless to say, this last stand embraces Volt's driving experience. So of course, they pointed out the PHV model Prius engine "can be triggered if you drive away from your house enthusiastically" in contrast to Volt. What did they mean by that? When I drove the PHV, that steep 40 MPH hill just 2 blocks from my house certainly didn't trigger the engine, despite starting at the bottom from a dead stop. I shot up it 4 separate times to test the tolerance was amazed how much harder you could push the pedal than the 2010. Yet, they imply that's not the case. If the power to climb the hill wasn't enough, how "enthusiastically" must you drive?
Last Stand, detail. The devil being in the detail is often good advice, something to always be aware of. You should question vague conclusions. Turns out, that 127 MPG should really have been stated in terms of all fuel consumed, both gas & electricity. That's easy to agree with. But equating the 33.7 kWh energy equivalent for 1 gallon of gas is confusing, at best... not even taking the presence of ethanol in account. Stating consumption in those terms is more accurate, but most people aren't aware of electricity usage rates anyway. But if you did look at that number, they stated a 105 MPG equivalent. Toyota's effort to confirm a generalized 75 MPG for the PHV model is definitely proving to be a good one... knowing that consumers will just look at the gas quantity and will likely just plug in each day for overnight recharging. That's what they expect. I simply cannot envision much at working recharging anytime soon, especially in the north. Heck, we didn't even have plugs available for simply engine-block heaters. Long story short, it's important to pay close attention to detail. Efficiency estimates will exploit assumption making.