Personal Log #494
December 17, 2010 - December 22, 2010
Last Updated: Sun. 1/02/2011
page #493 page #495 BOOK INDEX
Diverting Attention. Sure enough. Negative comments about Volt are deemed an attack on GM's credibility, resulting in an accusation of promoting Prius... even if all you ever mention is facts about Volt. Talking about a close match to what happened with Two-Mode! It's like reliving the past. Needless to say, the reaction of enthusiasts to the hype fallout is to divert attention. People like me make a good target for that. But since I'm aware of the situation, I simply ignore the attempts to make it personal. After several, I picked this particular comment to respond to: "Would it hurt to simply congratulate GM on a job well done?" The lesson learned from Two-Mode is that GM will attempt to produce what they want to sell you rather than what you actually need. There's still a huge void in the product-line, nothing for middle-market. The hype of a plug-in for "nicely under $30,000" with 50 MPG after depletion addressed the need. Congratulations await that, not what's currently being delivered. In other words, it would like giving a student an "A" for a paper well written on a topic that wasn't assigned.
Finally. It is somewhat surreal finally having all the hype about Volt fade away. Even the stanch GM supporters are acknowledging it... though not going as far as admitting this is yet another example of "over promise, under deliver". Oh well. At least we attempt to focus on facts... though I expect that to be short lived. Remembering the past is not their strong point. Anywho, I posted this today... expecting the usual anti-GM accusation in return: GM has delivered a game-player rather than a game-changer. Seeing the real-world range reduced to low-30's in the winter, real-world MPG in the mid-30's for an average, an ULEV emission-rating, and a price well above middle-market has ended the gen-1 debates. The hype is finally being put to rest. Consumers will decide among the variety of upcoming choices with their wallet. Sales will be the measure of progress.
$90 Oil. The price of a barrel continues to climb. $3 Gas has become an everyday part of life, no longer an exception. Online experience sharing of high-efficiency technologies is the expectation now... at least for Prius & Leaf. They both have big forums. Volt is still struggling to draw attention to its forum, relying heavily upon an often-off-topic daily blog instead. Enthusiasts still seem oblivious to importance of those organized real-world exchanges. Lurkers stumble upon threads and easily get drawn in, searching for more. Owners are happy to contribute, answering questions and providing more detail as it becomes available. With interest rising... as well as fuel prices... there should be a greater effort to keep communication following. It's the same mistake those in support of Two-Mode made. This is not a time to continue with mindless promoting. Constructive dialog is needed. Silence from owners is a killer. Watch history repeat...
Reverse Perspective. The engine RPM during warm-up is something Prius makes an effort to keep low. That behavior has led some to believe there's a problem. They don't expect that or it revving up hastily when called upon. Curiosity got me to silently study posts for a few days before finally responding with: It's intriguing to read how newer owners have become so accustom to the smoooooth feel of a CVT that any type of "shifting" sensation is perceived as a problem. In the past, people use to complain about the opposite. Times have obviously changed. Prius using the electric-motor more to increase the longevity of the gas-engine during warm-up is nothing new. I've noted it with all 3 generations over the past decade. In fact, here in Minnesota that seasonal change is what I've become accustom to. In short, nothing's broken. That's how it was designed to operate. Also, have you noticed the transition when dropping to 2-bars while climbing a hill? The engine will kick into heavier use then too.
No Pattern. After 2 years of a particular
die-hard Volt enthusiast pushing the idea of a "typical driving pattern"
without any data whatsoever, I had it. To think such a weak attempt to
promote would be allowed to continue. Many recite the same statistic
over and over again too. Haven't they noticed how testing results
vary? A single, small sample is bad enough, but nothing but a crude
estimate goes too far. But rather than quibble over detail this time, I pointed
out the fact that there isn't actually any consistency. Real life
varies far too much. That's why Prius owners share lifetime averages.
Anywho, I waited until the dust settled then posted:
Reality is that there isn't a pattern. The demands of the real-world include
that late-night run to the drive-thru, getting the new movie you want to
rent or buy, a run to the store for some household item, visiting friends or
family... church, entertainment, recreation, coffee, groceries, kids.
Add to that the variable range caused by the influence of outside
temperature, weather, and traffic, there's no way to accurately portray an
expectation with only a few data points. That's why the EPA estimates
include a YMMV disclaimer.
Of course, now that Volt is available, there shouldn't be dependence on
estimates anymore anyway. You should be switching over to providing
real-world data instead.
Slow & Cold Commutes. I documented 4 of them recently, taking a MPG display photo after completely the commute to work then later upon conclusion of the drive home. The first was following a nasty storm that dropped 17 inches of snow. The temperature plummeted. It was -6°F for the morning commute. With snow still messing up the roads, the only thing to look forward to is "black ice" on the cleared spots, where vehicle exhaust instantly freezes and builds up as people drive. Fun, eh? It warmed up to 1°F on the way home. The second commute was somewhat better, 0°F there and 10°F for the drive back. What we call "normal" for winter returned on the next; it warmed up to 18°F for both directions. A few days later, rising from normal, we got dumped up with about 8 more inches of snow as a result. Of course, 23°F is still quite cold for some. For us here in Minnesota, that means little chance of freezing rain. Snow is easier to deal with. The Prius certainly likes those conditions, see... photo album 162
Short Trips. This time of year, we certainly hear
from a lot of new owners. They all wonder the same thing, why has the
MPG suddenly dropped? It's pretty much the same response every time.
We find out they only drive a few miles each way, which isn't enough to
warm-up the engine. That part of being green (the need to have a hot
catalytic-converter for exhaust cleansing) is often overlooked. Many
focus on MPG, consequently never realizing carbon & smog emissions are not
directly related. Needless to say, the same question getting asked
over and over and over again becomes tiresome. So, the veterans take
turns answering. Today, I chimed in with: For short trips (3
miles), that is normal. The emissions-system requires heat for
cleansing. Running the engine is how it gets that heat. Driving
further, you'll notice MPG goes up. My commute with the Iconic model
(gen-2) throughout the winter here in Minnesota average low to mid 40's.
Being 33 miles round-trip contributed to that. Think about the other
hybrids that don't bother to deliver a PZEV emission-rating. They
favor MPG rather than being cleaner, yet Prius trumps them on efficiency
Another Proclamation. The drawing of conclusions so quickly boggles the mind. The loss of the understanding between the difference of want & need isn't though. So, this most recent comment by a Volt enthusiast was very much expected: "GM really is listening to customers and building the cars we want to buy." I have no doubt the performance aspects of Volt will continue to rate quite favorably. But I can't imagine that being compelling enough to overcome the shortcomings of price or engine-efficiency. For the true green, the emission-rating won't be enough either. Mainstream consumers have been expressing these as a priority all throughout the availability of Prius and expect the option to plug-in the next step forward. Instead, we see compromises for the sake of EV driving... with Volt, but not with Prius. I guess that begs the question of who those GM customers actually were.
Intense Demand. An editorial today made me shake my head in dismay. Volt was declared "smoking red-hot winner" today by sighting the "250,000 potential buyers" as proof. Back when the second-generation Prius rolled out, here in the United States dealers already had pre-sold 16,000 of them even before delivery began. The third saw even higher numbers. What's with the "potential" spin? Expressing interest certainly does not result in a sale. Remember all the fallout when price was announced? This comment totally disregarded that recent history entirely: "It's obvious now that the high price-tag isn't a deterrent to sales, and that would-be buyers don't think $42,000 is out of range." The only thing obvious is that an editorial like that would come from a Detroit publication. Ugh. To have a profitable vehicle, 10 times as many need to be produced & sold each year. To have a true winner... something that really would be considered a game-changer... the volume needs to be at least 20 times more. It's simple logic. Not being among the top-sellers means change isn't occurring at that speed & scale. Gradual acceptance is not what enthusiasts want... hence the proclamations in the editorial.
New Owners. They come and go, often just making a brief appearance to say "hello" followed by fading online participation. The very first delivery in the United States raised an immense fuss about the dealer messing up her opportunity or some such nonsense, got it on time anyway, then vanished. Her promises to share experiences never materialized. Hopefully nothing that extreme will happen with Volt, but they are getting tacit readers to make an appearance after taking delivery. Just the opposite is the webmaster of that daily blog for Volt, who ceased sharing his early rollout real-world data and does not appear interested in sharing any from the Volt he just purchased. That raises warning flags. The loudest voices grew silent as soon at Two-Mode rollout began too. Nothing ever materialized afterward either. It became a deafening silence surprisingly quick. Needless to say, watching what unfolds over the next few weeks should be very interesting.
Profit Then & Now. It makes me crazy how some bring up events of the past claiming the same thing will happen now, despite all the changes since then. That was today's comment on the big GM forum about the Prius many years ago and the overall effect it had for the automaker: "It's worked very well for Toyota." They love to generalize like that. It's an unfortunate hazard of forum threads. They don't support the level of depth needed to properly represent, especially when it comes to years of history. Members wanting to undermine often take advantage of that, misleading by providing a vague summary. I at least tried to inject a dose of reality anyway: That's because much of the profit from those guzzlers was immediately invested into hybrid development. Little profit is available for that anymore. In fact, the entire industry has changed a lot since then. The market is quite different now. GM has other financial obligations too. Lastly, don't forget that mainstream acceptance was achieved prior to tax-credits being available. Maintaining sales volume above 60,000 happened with only a deduction and an appreciation for the PZEV emission-rating.
Will & Won't. I really liked the summary about Volt
that US News & World Report published today. They stated: "What the Volt
will do for GM:
Restore some luster.
Draw people to showrooms.
Provide a technology edge." Notice how that supports what many of
us have been saying all along. The focus on image and potential pushes
aside the reality that the actual product isn't something that will sustain
business. A compelling interest isn't what pays the bills. They
also stated: "What the Volt won't do for GM: Boost sales.
Push it far ahead of competitors." We're getting back to
discussions about the basics now that hype is subsiding. There's a big
difference between need & want. Enthusiasts didn't want to address
that. Some possibility don't understand or even realize there is a
difference. We'll never know. What we do know is that automakers
must sell vehicles to survive. As the price of gas and consumer demand
for greater efficiency both continue to rise, what will GM produce to make
Generalizations & History. This is when it hits the fan. Being vague about the market and not studying what happened the past has consequences. And no matter how much you provide information to help them prepare for this stage of rollout, it mostly just gets ignored. Oh well. It's not like I didn't try: The importance of middle-market hit Two-Mode hard, contributing much to the investment in Volt. Drawing upon current Prius owners for initial sales of both Volt and Leaf is a hint of the challenge which still awaits. The technology uncertainties and high price place a burden of growth on owners, since that's who consumers will query for purchase information. Automaker advertising simply doesn’t cut it at this stage, since all it accomplishes is raising awareness… not provide detail. Real -World data will play a major role in the spread of interest. The lack of it is like handing over sales to the competition. In other words, silence from owners has consequences. This group must now switch from reacting to events to taking a proactive stance… something which hasn’t been a strong point in the past. Lastly, let's not forget about the market in Japan, where Prius has been the #1 seller for the last year and a half. That’s clearly going to influence decisions made by Toyota, Nissan, and Honda.
Honda Plug-In Hybrid. Detail is beginning to emerge. We've been wondering how their ASSIST hybrid would be configured to deliver electric-only drive of at least 100 km/h (62.1 MPH). Will they abandon much of the current design and simply squeeze in another motor with a clutch? Sure enough, that appears to be the case. Li-Ion with a capacity of 6 kWh will power a 120 kW motor. That's double the motor size of Prius, yet the top speed will be the same. Interesting, eh? Of course, with an EV range of roughly 15 miles, you still have to wonder what the efficiency will be after the battery-pack is depleted. The fact that the PHV model Prius still delivers 50 MPG once the need to plug-in again arrives will be a big selling point. The other which will become a major production/profit advantage) is the fact that an extra motor or clutch isn't needed. Of course, now the question is will that second motor be used at times other than for EV, enough to qualify it as a FULL hybrid? Remember how Prius has the ability to create & consume electricity at the same time, bypassing the battery-pack entirely or topping it off while still providing assist?