Personal Log #503
February 21, 2011 - February 26, 2011
Last Updated: Tues. 4/05/2011
page #502 page #504 BOOK INDEX
Oil Change. I experienced a happenstance with the previous oil change. Rather than a random light tap of the filter-wrench causing it just grasp the filter-housing, it turned out to be a precision hit. The thing slipped on entirely, an absolutely perfect fit. The metal tool was now tightly bonded to part of the car itself. It looked permanent too. So much so, I worried about not being able to get it off. Oops! Well, upon inspecting the situation for this oil change, I discovered the convenience of already having it on and no chance of it (apparently ever) slipping loose. The tool is small, weighs very little, and rests just a half-inch from the threads with almost no length increase. Most of the filter itself is internal anyway. In other words, my slip appears to be a discovery I feel comfortable suggesting now... with that specific tool, of course. I could imagine others not fitting that tight. So, I'm leaving it on. As for the cost, it was a little bit higher this time... not too bad though: $34.22
Real-World Data. We got a little bit for Volt today. The owner summarized his experience with: "My first trip to the gas station in two months. The efficiency tally is 980 electric miles at 2.43 miles per/kWh and 250 miles at 32.5 mpg." His location is the San Francisco Bay area, so that most definitely isn't what you'd expect for Winter efficiency. Driving only 615 miles per month isn't exactly representative of typical distance either. Not knowing how much electricity was actually consumed (including charging losses) as well as how often it was plugged in makes the report less informative, but at least it is real-world data rather than hype. Makes you wonder what kind of sales a Volt with a smaller battery capacity could attract. That depleted efficiency isn't even remotely close to the 50 MPG that I witnessed while driving the PHV.
Hype Aftermath. The change Volt is currently experiencing has been witnessed before, but never as dramatic. I remember other debuts. The much hyped Two-Mode quickly fell apart shortly after rollout. Expectations didn't meet what actually got delivered. Others hybrids, like Accord & Aura, were flops pretty much immediately. The clone approach Insight took left many wondering for awhile. But that ultimately saw a big drop in interest too. The unique approach CR-Z took was fascinating. It was a terrible hybrid but looks like it could become a popular traditional vehicle instead. Then there are those in the middle, like Camry & Fusion. Sales are ok, but could be much better... and very well could pick up later. Time is needed for their story to unfold. Prius was a mega-hit from the beginning. The 6 to 9 month waiting list for the first 2 years confirmed that. The second-generation model made that overwhelming clear. Mainstream volume for a profit sure made the industry finally take notice. Now, there's Volt. Its price is way too high. Efficiency doesn't meet expectations. Enthusiasts have lost their daily blog. Initial sales are slower than hoped. The rollout is off to a rough start.
Another Perspective. I don't mention Leaf much, simply because neither Nissan nor the enthusiasts try to greenwash. There's no attempt to spin it as an all-purpose vehicle. It's a niche which will serve you extremely well if it fits your needs. They know the typical household will have another vehicle available anyway. The honest perspective has kept them out of the spotlight. There's no controversy. They were even upfront about the impact of Winter a long time ago, well before rollout... quite unlike Volt. Anywho, at some point it was inevitable that a few owners would begin to knock the plug-in Prius. Sure enough, I stumbled across this on the big Leaf forum this morning: "I drive 56 miles round-trip to work and do not have the option to charge there. For me, the PHV Prius would offer literally nothing over the current model." Don't you just love reading absolutes like that? Remember my back commute with a PHV last Summer? The drive was 54.3 miles. The displayed average from that round-trip was 73.0 MPG. How is that "literally nothing" over my 2010? It sure looks like a 20 MPG improvement to me.
Might Not. When an article has this for a title, "Plug-in Prius might not warrant extra cost", isn't in reasonable to expect some type of mention of price? There wasn't anything beyond the usual 3 hours to recharge, 62 MPH limit, contrast to Volt, and then some MPG numbers. The complaint was only getting 47.1 MPG during the week of the blizzard driving in North Dakota. Supposedly, that's 3 MPG less than the EPA estimate for the no-plug model. Not having any idea how much MPG for any vehicle drops during extremes like that is typical for consumers, but for a supposed journalist... no way... especially for an article apparently making comparisons. I'd be thrilled to get MPG that high dredging through heavy snow. He made it sound as though plug-in vehicles offer no benefit during the Winter.
Certified 40 MPG. Ford's new automatic Focus got an official EPA estimate of 40 MPG highway. Needless to say, the GM supporters aren't happy about this latest news in the non-hybrid market. The automatic Cruze only gets a 37 MPG highway estimate. Manual transmissions don't provide much for bragging rights. And you know how much pride is involved with the estimates. It's why the city estimates are totally disregarded. The 26 MPG for Cruze and 28 MPG for Focus aren't really anything to be proud of. That drags down the combined estimate quite a bit, especially since city accounts for 55% of the value. But with gas prices surging, it's no surprise traditional "economy" vehicles are still getting lots of attention. Comparing them to favorably to guzzlers is easy.
Strange Times. Just a few days ago, gas was $3.19 per gallon here. Now, it's $3.49 without surprise. We saw it coming. We also saw the fade of Volt coming. After all the awards encompassing the autoshows, then what? The enthusiasts lost their voice online. They've still got a forum, where great support as owners could be provided, but there isn't much interest. The desire is still for blogging. But support for that has been reduced. I hadn't expected things to play out this way. The timing is remarkably quick. It's amazing how quickly hype can vanish when such a variety of choices can be seen coming. The impression from consumers already seems to be one of expecting lower prices. Why pay so much when waiting just another year could bring something better? Each automaker will be offering new high-efficiency vehicles. There doesn't seem to be resistance anymore. Things have certainly changed. Seeing $4 gas again will shift the market, giving that extra encouragement that's always been needed. Heck, it should even make the "diluted" version of Volt easier for enthusiasts to accept.
More PHV. Looks like the tally is up to 160 in the United States now. The latest recipient was the South Coast Air Quality Management District (the San Bernardino area in California). They get 3. Unfortunately, that's the only information provided about this newest testing effort. The demonstration project as a whole is gathering a ton of real-world data from a diverse collection of driver. Not much has been shared yet though. Fortunately, we again got confirmation that the plug-in model still delivers 50 MPG after depletion (which I witnessed firsthand) and it will be "a few thousand dollars more expensive than the existing Prius". It sure is nice hearing that from Toyota. We also got a "will go on sale early next year" too. That correlates with the news of battery-pack production starting in the Fall. I can't wait to get mine. The time I spent behind the wheel of one last Summer holds vivid memories for me. In the meantime, it's watching the competition figure out what they'll offer.
Let's Forget. Pretend none of the hype for Volt ever happened and those still fiercely defending in lose their influence. What does a consumer see? And let's not forget, what does the consumer feel? After all, there is much emotion attached to the decision of which vehicle to purchase. Sadly, that often defies logic. It makes for quite a challenge to understand. But then again, in times of need consumers find it easy to become practical. So, wants give in to requirements. Knowing that, how would you respond to this: "But, let's forget about those people for now and consider what the Volt is from an objective, scientific, useful standpoint. If you drive less than 40 miles per day, then you burn no gasoline at all." Does it resemble my reply: That's the problem. It isn't actually 40 miles and no gas. Winter delivers 25 miles and requires a small amount of gas routinely for warm-up. Summer still remains an unknown. The 35-mile estimate should be pretty easy without A/C. But with it running while cruising at high speed, what will range be? Unfortunately, science doesn't do a good job of factoring in the impact of price. That's a classic engineering verses business problem. How many consumers will do the math and deem the choice too expensive?
Eggs & Basket. Things took a turn for the worse today. The price of oil exceeded $100 per barrel. That concern of "too little, too slowly" became even more clear as a result. The ongoing downplay of Volt from a "Prius killer" and a "game changer" to a vehicle which needs a chance for early adopters to discover got ugly. Both the daily blog and the big GM forum made comments pointing out need quite unwelcome. Having no other option available (smaller battery-pack, no plug required, etc.) was adequate when the the price of gas was still tolerable. The rapid return of $4 gas isn't what they wanted to deal with so soon. To make matters worse, the timing well supports the upcoming new bigger Prius and the efforts of several automakers to deliver affordable plug-in hybrids. The Volt enthusiasts thought they had a lot more time. GM placed all their eggs in one basket. Not developing anything to compete directly with was a risk which shouldn't have been taken... and that's getting difficult to argue with now... especially if you want to avoid sounding hypocritical.
BYD Plug-In. The upcoming F3DM model from BYD is starting to draw some attention. It expected to be the first plug-in vehicle available here from China. The size of the battery-pack and range expectation are the same as Volt, yet the price will only be $28,800. That really makes you wonder. The car itself is indeed stripped down to the basics. The engine is a 1.0 liter 3-cylinder, very much like the one originally planned for Volt. It's quite noisy. The switch to it was described as "anything but smooth and subtle". And the power is thought to be much less. In other words, this is the opposite extreme of what GM is offering. But with a price dramatically lower than the $41,000 base model for Volt. The plug-in hybrids Toyota & Ford are planning to offer will fit nicely in the middle. 2012 is when all are expected to be available.
Avoiding Times & Quantities. As the hype for Volt
fades, the final few attempt to spin what's left for attention while milking
the only thing bragging point. I interjected with: "Careful to avoid
times & quantities. Typical vague response."
They like when I chime in on that big GM forum. It gives them an
excuse to pounce. That interaction had been quite beneficial in the
past. It sometimes got them to reveal a detail they had been trying to
conceal. But not anymore. The exchange of information flows the
other direction now. It gives me an opportunity to recite goals,
pointing out there are many requirements to achieve. That wrecks their
cherry-picking, where they focus entirely on a single aspect of design.
Anywho, I loved the response: "Pot, meet kettle." The
cliché was intended to make me appear hypocritical. Instead, I just
pointed out all the goals again (as a subtle way of reminding them what Volt
$30,000 or so;
3.6 kWh of EV capacity;
50 MPG after depletion;
PZEV emission rating.
Cost Perception. What will the reduction for Volt make consumers think? Trimming off at least $7,500 won't exactly go unnoticed. How much change will that bring? Is that even enough to keep it competitive? The CEO suggested shooting for $10,000 lower. That makes sense too. If sales are a bit of a struggle prior to tax credit expiring, they could be more of a challenge later. But then again, the pressure from high gas prices could change the spending habits of those still buying monster-size SUVs. Of course, the loss of sales from them will push the need for profit to another source. What will that be? With so much resistance to offering a smaller battery-pack, will they shrink it anyway? After all, Toyota is still fully endorsing the hybrid approach rather than exclusive electric. It's taking advantage of both technologies. That "best of both worlds" approach works great when the system also offers engine efficiency notably higher than traditional vehicles. Since Volt's doesn't, that is a problem. Cutting back on trim-level only takes you so far too. How much does that transmission cost? With the much bigger electric-motors and power-split devices using clutches, that design isn't cheap. And even if consumers doesn't understand any of the technical aspects, will they notice how much different that second-generation is? Will that led to another "early adopter" phase?
Winter Driving. The return of the cold & snow sure was nasty. True, I enjoy the real-world opportunity to endorse the hybrid system in extreme conditions, but dealing with heavy & deep snow at each corner is rather annoying. You never know what will be waiting there for you. We got over a foot, so you can imagine how long it takes to get that all plowed well. You really don't want to stop in 8 inches of plow remains only to discover your attempt to go when traffic clears isn't going to be a rapid launch. But then again, it sure beats not going at all. With almost 35,000 on these factory tires now, the tread grip isn't exactly aggressive anymore. I let the traction-control do its job; though, I have been surprised to confirm how well PWR mode works for keeping momentum going in the first place. That works surprisingly well. MPG obviously plummets from that added demand. But the point is to get you from one point to another, which it does indeed deliver. I miss Summer!
Turning Point. More and more GM supporters are saying
Volt came up short. They are tired of hearing that and hope admitting
it will allow them to move on. Question is, to what? Leaving
that as open-ended as possible results in no replies... which has leaves the
opportunity for Prius attacks. Some simply don't
want let go. The turning point won't come until then. It's hard
for those few remaining to take that next step:
"Yeah, still better than Toyota pushing the Prius plug-in vaporware."
At least with comments like that, it's easy to respond:
Not even trying to be constructive anymore. Wonder what that indicates?
The difference between the plug-in model Prius and Volt should be obvious at
this point. Toyota is closely sticking to the price & performance goals. GM
abandoned their goals, then discovered too late that was big mistake. So
even before rollout began, there was already talk about what the second
generation model must deliver.
The situation is a mess now. They've got a vehicle the enthusiasts love and
the mainstream regard as just a curiosity. In other words, Volt is a niche
and GM is scrambling to figure out how to transform it without wrecking its