Personal Log  #502

February 13, 2011  -  February 21, 2011

Last Updated: Sat. 2/26/2011

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Arbitrary Purity.  The struggle for Volt enthusiasts has been to find a way of differentiating their plug-in hybrid from others.  This originates from a conflict many years ago, back when GM shunned hybrids.  Remember that "stop gap" nonsense?  To avoid appearing hypocritical now, enthusiasts coined a new term.  The argument for that was simple too.  They just pointed out how Volt would never, ever have its wheels powered directly by the engine.  Well, you know that turned out.  The same is also the case for the "40 mile" range.  With both of those purity criteria no longer available, they turned to acceleration & speed instead.  Problem is, the devil in the detail.  How much?  We've played this game before.  They state criteria that's arbitrary (not based on actual need), then increase it when that's delivered... intentionally preventing the goal from ever being reached.  It gets to the point where there's no benefit anymore.  So rather than focus on consumption & price, they end up just arguing semantics instead.


Plural of Prius.  There was a big promotion online, getting people to vote for their favorite way of describing many Prius.  For the past decade, the term had been just "Prius".  That was the choice of Toyota, which many of the owners supported.  We liked the nature of having singular & plural being the same.  It was time for change though.  After all, other hybrids will soon share the Prius name.  Today, the results were announced.  Over the past 6 weeks, there were 1.8 million votes cast.  25% was what it took to declare "Prii" the winner.  That was followed closely by "Prius" with 24%.  Next was "Priuses" getting 20%.  Then came "Prien", which got 19%.  The final choice was "Prium" at 13%.  The tally was exciting, some many demonstrated interest.  It's always good letting people express themselves with something like that.  We like to participate.  That's a good way to start out this new chapter in Prius history.


Prius Killer?  How could I resist bumping an old discussion asking such a question on the big GM forum?  I posted:  This thread began 1.5 years ago, a week after the infamous "230 MPG" campaign.  People were expecting an affordable plug-in vehicle which could provide 40 miles of EV range and 50 MPG after depletion.  Calling Volt a "Prius Killer" never made sense though, even back then.  Many seemed to agree too.  Trouble came from the hype that followed.  There was a great stir from the rumor of Volt having a transmission with "direct" drive spoiling the purity hope.  There was a huge controversy from the withholding of gas-consumption data from the "Freedom Drive" propaganda event.  There was a major upset upon hearing the announcement of price.  There was an outcry from not hearing any type of efficiency estimate until the very last moment before sales began.  Each came with fierce defending prior to confirmation, then a whole lot of backpedaling afterward.  The acceptance of a scaled-down version of Volt to reach a much lower price-point is slowly becoming a reality.  The most effective approach may be by bumping these old threads back to active so people can reread comments from the past.  Many seem to forget that history.  The reminder of how & why things change can help.  Downsizing is a big part of the market now.  Approaches like Two-Mode were promoted to support this, but ended up not being effective smaller.  Between higher gas prices and the need to meet upcoming efficiency requirements is forcing automakers rethink strategy and consumers rethink priorities.


Winter Returns!  It's really getting ugly too.  Our unusually long dry spell (3 weeks) went from sub-zero temperatures all the way to above freezing.  It was a nice break from the inevitable heavy snowfalls we always get before Winter finally ends.  Going out with a boom is the norm.  Fortunately, it's still the weekend.  But the forecast is for much as a foot and two inches have already fallen.  The snow is quite heavy.  Tomorrow's commute will likely be a mess.  I never bothered to wash the Prius in the meantime.  Looks like this clean snow will actually do that for me.  Everything is white again.  It could take awhile to get back to the clear roads we had become use to.  Oh well.  Eventually, I'll be able to open that roof again.


Trouble?  In the past, if you said anything negative about Volt you were either labeled as a "troll" or taunted for being envious.  That's not the case anymore.  The transition from hype to real-world observations has transformed attempts at constructive discussion to response with disgust.  You now get labeled as a "GM hater" then disregarded.  The only option available now is to wait.  Giving GM a chance has become the theme.  Even though concerns of price & efficiency have been confirmed, they see no need to put any pressure on GM to remedy the situation quickly.  We are simply suppose to wait a few years for the next generation and hope for the best.  In the meantime, there are supposedly enough consumers still willing to purchase with such volume that Volt can be competitive anyway.  Claims like that sound like trouble, a new kind of hype emerging.  What is realistic under these circumstances?


Familiar.  Remember what happened as Two-Mode rollout progressed?  We heard very little as hype faded.  The same is happening with Volt now.  The 647 supposedly sold over the past 2 months seemed to have a little ambiguity in the reports.  You got the feeling some were only deliveries to dealers.  But how many?  Doing a search on AutoTrader last night, I came up with 164 Volts for sale.  Huh?  Wasn't the entire inventory already spoken for this year?  If so, what's with them and accelerated rollout to other states?  We're obviously not be told the whole story.  What we are being told is quite familiar, just like that of Two-Mode.  The highest priority for the next-generation model will focus on cost-reduction.  The most promoted feature is "gas saved", which is very different from the amount actually consumed.  It's not like we couldn't see any of this coming either.  The same concerns & arguments from back then are surfacing again.


Uncertainty.  That daily blog came to a screeching halt, nothing new for 3 days.  The attitude is grim.  Heck, even the members on the big GM forum aren't interested in discussing Volt anymore.  I tried provoking them too, responding to a claim 2 years ago which turned out to be blatantly incorrect... all hype.  Speculation is growing that the GM did indeed deliver a vehicle they wanted to sell rather than what was actually needed.  Remember how some have told me to be patient and I responded by pointing out the grading system?  What GM built is nice, but doesn't actually fulfill requirements... like not adhering to the assignment a teacher gives you, hence a low grade.  The website sale really stirs that message.  Why would you work so hard for this moment, then leave when it finally arrived?  We've seen this before.  It's called disenchantment.  That's when expectation aren't actually met.  It's an uncomfortable position and the best thing you can do is just remain quiet.  Based upon the lack of thread activity, that certainly looks like what has been happening.


Civic-Hybrid.  Some detail was released today, following the reveal of the new body style.  It's still an ASSIST hybrid, but efficiency will increase to a combined 45 MPG thanks in part to the switch to a Li-Ion battery-pack.  It still won't be offered as a hatchback either, which is rather odd now that they are becoming so popular.  Honda seems to be saving the large cargo area as a selling feature for Fit-Hybrid.  With the non-hybrid (5-speed automatic) model of Civic offering 39c/41h MPG, its 30 more horsepower and lower price could make it too good of a choice... leaving the appeal of the hybrid as a big unknown.  This newest generation still doesn't quite compete with what Toyota offered way back in 2003.  This design won't be able to later offer a plug either.  What are consumer expectations?


No Competition.  An ugly reality when it comes to the issues with Volt is that it's not a competitive design.  For example, the upcoming HOV opportunity in California bases eligibility upon the same criteria as before... a minimum engine efficiency of 45 MPG and an emission rating of PZEV.  They want to make sure when combustion takes place, it actually qualifies as clean.  Prius does.  Volt doesn't.  So, GM is now scrambling to design one that is.  Since we all knew about that criteria years ago, shouldn't it have been taken into consideration already?  Another much bigger example is to offer a model which doesn't require a plug.  As we see other automakers reach beyond 40 MPG with hybrids, how is a design heavily dependent upon plugging in going to compete?  Cost reduction from higher production volume is a much greater challenge when there isn't a no-plug counterpart available. This is why one-to-one comparisons are a problem, they don't take the big picture into account.  What about the business needs?


Daily Blog.  The enthusiasts for Volt thrived on it.  That was their routine opportunity to discuss... stuff.  The topic was rarely ever adhered to and it was common for the topic itself to not even be about Volt.  It basically served as a mechanism for bonding them together, providing something to do while waiting.  Constructive discussion was rare and got lost in the chaos quickly due to the lack of any thread structure.  It was just a stream of posts listed together with only the day itself linking them.  Well, now even that now looks like it will be lost.  The webmaster has been working for a month to end the blogging and push people over to the forum instead... something which should have happened years ago.  That way, everything is organized and can survive beyond just the daily attention.  The announcement was made today that the website has been sold to the same business which operates the big GM forum.  Interesting, eh?  It gets better.  Activity on that big GM forum has slowed down quite a bit over the past 6 months.  Membership is now at 53,273.  In the meantime, the big Prius forum continues to grow... now at 73,100 members!  They've lost their leader and many of the outspoken have grown quiet as a result of the hype fading.  So, it looks like they will be starting fresh.  That could be a good thing.  We'll see.


Halo Vehicle.  I turned on the television at exactly the right time today.  An hour-long special covering the autoshow in Detroit was just starting... and there was Volt, actually 3 of them.  It was the centerpiece of the first 25 minutes of the show, in fact.  The hosts began by pointing out the various performance aspects.  No mention was made of the tax-credit though; price was simply listed with it subtracted out already.  That's very misleading on many levels.  But it didn't matter.  They called Volt a "plug-in hybrid", then moved on to the pure electric vehicles.  The segment concluded with Volt as well.  I couldn't believe what they talked.  The hosts stated Volt was a "halo vehicle", then went on to explain how it would sell in very low numbers and the purpose was to draw in consumers to the showroom to purchase something else.  How about that?  The downplaying of sales expectations is happening on several fronts now.  So much for being a "game changer".


Diesel & Hydrogen.  Neither one is showing much potential.  Progress is extremely slow too.  Spending lots of taxpayer money on research for them doesn't make much sense when there's the need for cuts to balance the budget... especially when plug-in opportunities are so much greater.  The Obama administration is looking into phasing out that funding for diesel & hydrogen in favor of supporting electric vehicle efforts.  The budget proposal also includes eliminating special "tax preferences" for oil & gas companies... which, believe it or not, would cost taxpayers more than $43 Billion over the next ten years.  A proposed $588 Million would be used for electric (vehicles & infrastructure) instead, including a change from the current tax-credit to a point-of-sale rebate.  Taking this stance sure supports the arguments that we are now seeing signs of peak oil.  Change is coming.


Honda Fit Hybrid.  Reaching the top-seller position is good reason to be proud.  But with Fit, even in its domestic market, that seemed odd.  How could such a small, practical, and affordable vehicle shoot from strong sales to #1 like that?  The exact number was 14,873.  That's substantially better than Prius with 13,711.  Could it really have been just the government incentive alone?  After all, that ended 4 months earlier.  What the heck?  Had Honda stumbled across some remarkable new way to appeal to consumers?  What changed?  Turns out, the situation wasn't that complicated.  Last month was when the hybrid model was introduced in Japan and around half of the Fit sold then were that model.  Ahh!  When things don't add up, there's usually something important that hadn't been mentioned.  That was most definitely the case in this situation.


Getting Absurd.  It may be more realistic at this point to say they're getting desperate.  Some of the stuff being posted makes you wonder what in the world those not liking Prius actually think.  This was my favorite: "Prius is a mass market failure."  How could a vehicle that's been in the top-20 sellers list (sometimes the top-10) here be considered a failure?  Sales that high are something many vehicles never achieve.  Then of course, I could point out how Prius was the #1 seller in Japan for 20 consecutive months.  Ugh.  Whatever.  Another quote I'd like to point out is this: "Have you forgotten that the Prius started at $40k when it first came out?  $37k in 2003.  Most would cost you at least $45k-$50k."  It's hard to believe someone would attempt to rewrite history like that.  Didn't he realize how easy it is nowadays to search for that information online?  I only paid $20k for my 2001 and $25k for my well loaded upgrade in 2003.  The ultimate though was this concluding phrase: "...the fact the Prius is nothing more than just another car now."  It's the compliment owner have been striving for.  Prius has become ubiquitous.  Yeah!


Geek-Mobile.  It's amazing how long it takes to figure out what the heck various people see.  Sometimes, they genuinely mean no disrespect.  But when they cannot articulate their feelings, you have to wonder.  We've heard countless claims of Prius being ugly over the years, but oddly that never came with a reason why.  For so many to not provide a description, you end up scratching your head bewildered.  What was the common expectation they had which Prius did not fulfill?  The latest attempt at an insult was the "geek-mobile" comment from the CEO of GM.  Even the nature of that was never really determined.  Why?  How come some people agreed?  For that matter, what was it that made Volt enthusiasts desire their vehicle instead?  After all, shouldn't a supposedly futuristic vehicle look the part?  Apparently not.  It now seems as though the origin of the ugly claims stems from Prius not resembling a traditional vehicle.  Who would have thought!  Someone finally just blurted out that comment to me.  They are actually expecting vehicles to retain the old-school boxy look with the rectangular light assembly in front.  Unique new aerodynamically inspired lights and sloping body are not appealing to them, neither is cargo access that doesn't resemble a trunk.  Makes you wonder what future vehicles will look like, not being able to take advantage of more efficient shapes.


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