Personal Log #504
February 27, 2011 - March 3, 2011
Last Updated: Tues. 4/05/2011
page #503 page #505 BOOK INDEX
February Sales. In Japan, Prius regained the top-seller position with 19,110 sales. (Fit slipped to the number two position with 16,876, traditional & hybrid combined.) In the United States, it's back to the norm again with 13,539 for Prius. That goal prior to the Toyota conspiracy remains elusive. It's not too far away though. 15,000 per month for an annual total of 180,000 is fairly realistic, now that gas prices are soaring and this generation is well established. The 258 sales total for Two-Mode (all 5 models combined) speaks for itself. The new Mercedes ML450, which also offers a Two-Mode system, didn't sell at all... bringing the grand total for the year to just 1. Other notable hybrids were: Honda Insight 1,722; Ford Fusion 1,379; Honda CR-Z 1,091; Lexus RX450h 999; Toyota Camry 993; Ford Escape 795; Toyota Highlander 707. The rest have uncertain market influence due to sales being even less. Diesel (non-hybrid) is supposedly drawing more interest. But with the most popular model (VW Jetta TDI) selling only 3,404 last month, that doesn't exactly indicate much market growth. Meanwhile, there's Volt with a grand total for the entire 3 months of sales availability coming to just 928. Needless to say, sales over the next few months will be very interesting.
The Answer. What's left of that daily blog, the big GM forum, and a Detroit publication all provided the answer yesterday. Each response was the same. Status of Volt is being downplayed, claiming it will become the industry giant... just give it time. In other words, the price & efficiency can no longer be avoided. There's simply too much real-world data now to continue hopes for better soon. The old motto of "game changer" and sales pitch of "range anxiety" have vanished, no longer mentioned by those who had exclaimed them relentlessly in the past. They don't want to acknowledge the competition either. Comparisons are now always to the no-plug Prius. I saw the price of gas yesterday jump from $3.39 in morning to $3.54 in the evening. That concern of "too little, too slowly" has become all too real of a problem. No one wants to talk about sales expectations anymore.
Lexus CT Hybrid. I saw a television commercial for
the CT400h several times today. It resembles a luxury model Matrix
using a refined version of the hybrid system in Prius. MPG is 42
combined (43 city, 40 highway). Price is $29,999. Initial
comments are that it is a nice balance, offering a better drive experience
at a reasonable price. This newest hybrid is available now. And
with the price of oil continuing to climb, it could turn out to be very good
timing. With the hybrid system so mature now, misconceptions are no
longer trouble as they were in the past. Seeing $4 gas again should
make it clear the promoting of 30 MPG as "fuel efficient" doesn't make
sense. What do consumers really want? What do they need?
The Question. That daily blog for Volt was founded by an extremely dedicated supporter. He made strong contacts with GM executives and was able to procure privileged opportunities along the way as a result. It was obvious his desire for the website was to draws lots of attention. So, his openness to outside opinion (like that from me) was greatly appreciated. That flushed out details which otherwise would not have surfaced. Unfortunately, that detail came with the consequence of missing expectations for many. Whatever the case for his particular recent choice of selling the website, the purpose of the new owners is far from clear. We had heard very little and there most certainly wasn't anything resembling a mission statement. This morning seemed to take that next step, with them asking this in context of February sales: "So where does the Volt fare in all of this?" I'm curious as heck what the responses will be and who they will come from. With $4 gas pretty much inevitable in the next few months, it's not like the competition isn't preparing to capitalize on the opportunity.
Expectations. In Japan, that battle for the top-seller position seemed to be a big unknown for February sales. Turns out, Prius beat Fit by a healthy margin just based on initial estimates. Here in the United States, there were 13,539 purchases of Prius. The other major players were cars like Camry & Corolla. Toyota sold more of them than the GM counterparts by a wide margin; however, GM did show a far better standing then in the past. So, now we can talk about the future... which I attempted to do on that now daily blog struggling for attention: Watching sales of Aura & Cobalt slip away was an obvious sign of trouble. That middle-market where, high-volume & business-sustaining purchases come from, went shopping elsewhere. It's good to see a turn-around, where Malibu & Cruze have become those mainstream sales. The situation begs the question more than ever now. Why didn't Volt design target that middle-market? We all knew gas prices would rise again and there were countless warnings about not having much time available. We've seen 928 sales total for the first 3 months. What should the expectation be for the next 3 months? What about the 6 months following them?
Living In The Past. No, I don't mean those who resist change and prefer the old-school aesthetics. It's those still pushing promises of the past which didn't come to be... specifically, the hype points for Volt. In some people's mind, they were delivered. Reading comments like this "allows it to drive 40 miles on battery power alone" and this "averaging a fuel-economy of 50 mpg" make me wonder just how desperate some have become. The EPA estimate made it clear neither goal was met. Owners reports and media articles make that overwhelmingly clear. Yet, we are still seeing quotes like that routinely. It's disingenuous, at best. I suppose living in the past is easier than facing reality. But then again, getting the next generation developed and rolled out would be a whole lot with the support of enthusiasts rather than downplay of expectations. Oh well. Sales indicate need more than anything else anyway.
12.9 kWh. Seeing that
same 10.4 kWh quoted as the per-charge
consumption for Volt is becoming a rather maddening situation. Going
by only what the car uses for driving totally disregards charging losses.
That extra 2.5 kWh not accounted for each time the car is plugged will add up to quite
a bit of electricity over time. Of course, we've seen a number of
owners simply not mention electricity at all. They focus on that
"gallons saved" value, which is obviously not the same as gallons consumed.
Sadly, the hype is being replaced with greenwashing... misrepresentation by providing only certain information, rather than
everything you actually need to know... leading you to assume incorrectly.
The value we've seen quoted by review articles is 12.9 kWh for a full
recharge. Interesting, that's less than an owner report the other day
who observed 13.29 kWh at 40°F. He
used the same Kill-A-Watt device for measuring consumption as I would.
Knowing all this makes it quite clear that only sighting 10.4 kWh for
usage is misleading, at best.
Disaster Time. What a mess! Today started out
with Toyota news from Europe. The Prius+ will indeed offer seating for
7. It will use a lithium battery-pack, located in the front dashboard
area. How about that? Then came the oil-price climb. It
broke $100 per barrel again, but this time stayed there at closing.
Needless to say, focus is on fuel efficiency more than ever now. That's
not good timing for the news which followed... Volt sales. For the
month of February, only 281 were sold. You can imagine how defensive
of a position the enthusiasts took... only to discover there was little
response. Without that daily blog, attention for Volt has faded.
It's already being dismissed by many as too expensive. It clearly
doesn't target middle-market. And it's not what the mainstream needs.
There isn't a no-plug counterpart either. If all this isn't of a
disaster in the the making, what other bad news could be considered
acceptable? There isn't time available for uncertainty anymore.
Goals must be made clear. What is GM's stance? Will they just
sell lots of Malibu & Cruze instead?
Almost Gone. It's truly bizarre watching that daily blog for Volt essentially... die. The frequent energetic exchanges which gave it a distinct draw is gone. Many of those regular posters have vanished. That drama of this transformation is pretty traumatic. You wonder what led up to it. For the former owner of that website to suddenly... well, jump ship... is something that's extremely difficult to dismiss as an "it was time to move on" type decision. I could imagine scaling back for awhile, hoping others would contribute more. But to stop cold, that's not easy to avoid speculating about... especially 3 months after driving a Volt daily. To think all those heated debates of the past are now history. It's almost all gone. Whatever emerges in its place will be quite different. Much will be left behind and not worth reanimating. The lesson learned is that hype can lead to disenchantment... which this situation now appears to be.
Harsh Review. It's intriguing to read a review of a review, especially when it's from a major Detroit publication being critical of Consumer Reports. This verdict about Volt wasn't exactly well received: "When you are looking at purely dollars and cents, it doesn't really make a lot of sense. The Volt isn't particularly efficient as an electric vehicle and it's not particularly good as a gas vehicle either in terms of fuel economy." Neither was the comment provided afterward: "This is going to be a tough sell to the average consumer." Getting confirmation of what I've been saying all along sure is vindicating. The 25 to 27 miles they observed during their Winter testing was deemed a compromise. Remember all the hype saying that would never happen, how EV range would always be 40 miles? GM delivered a vehicle they want to sell, not one they need to sell. That's an ugly reality we've dealt with before. There's nothing wrong with offering both types. But when choice is limited to just something well out of the price range of mainstream buyers, harsh or not, that's a genuine problem.
PHV Longevity. Assuming the design of the plug-in Prius currently being tested resembles the mainstream rollout model... Ever take a moment to consider the advantage of having separate HV & EV battery-packs? The EV pack will always be used first, since there's no EV button on the PHV. That means those kWh will provide the MPG boost, leaving the HV pack untouched until afterward. Imagine how many miles the HV pack won't provide kWh for as a result. That could work out to something like 3500 to 5000 less annually than a no-plug Prius. Many years later when the EV pack is starting to show some age, the HV pack will still be going strong. That could contribute to unusually high resale values and a heck of a nice upgrade platform.
New Tires. Now I
understand why I didn't notice the faster stealth speed with the 2010 at
first. It must be slower until new tires break in, because that's
certainly what I'm seeing now. What I'm not seeing though is a MPG
hit. In fact, it appears as though efficiency is immediately higher!
I wasn't expecting that. What I am expecting is a little bit of grief
from my Prius owning friends for not having replaced the factory tires with
the very best I could find online. I followed my gut about what
specifications would be considered a nice balance. These are
fairly common too; easy to get is a plus. Traction & Tread should be
Reports of real-world experiences are scarce still, since most 2010 owners
haven't driven enough to need replacement yet. So, it's going to
be a discovery process. And in my case, knowing
Winter driving is typically the worst in March, it was time... despite
last's week snow storm not posing any problem. Why push it? The
data I collect will be helpful to others. Snow will likely come,
providing firsthand observation opportunities right away, rather than having
to wait until next Winter. Anywho, I ended up getting
Goodyear Assurance Fuel-Max tires. They are the same size, but should
last considerably longer than the 35,000 miles from the originals. They are
warranted for 65,000. The treadwear rating is 580. The maximum
cold PSI is 51. The price I paid for the tires, installation, and
disposal of the old ones was $489.79 (including tax).
Outdated Spin. That seems to be the greenwash spin emerging as most common now. The advertising of only highway efficiency estimates is a major contributor to the problem. It gives the perception of the MPG gap between hybrids & traditionals being closed. But in reality a compact Focus SFE delivering 28 MPG city doesn't even remotely compete with the 51 MPG city from the midsize Prius. They leave out that detail though. They also never mention smog-related emissions. Then after getting your attention, the focus is almost always directed to plug-ins. That results in quoting range statistics. Price simply isn't a consideration when it comes to "innovation" judgment. The effort to keep a technology affordable is totally disregarded. They don't want to acknowledge what it means for a technology to mature. Think about the PHV. There won't be an early adopter phase. It will be ready for mainstream sales right away. The plug-in feature will be just an option, much like any other package choice. You won't even need to have a charger installed. Just an everyday 120-volt connection will work fine. It's an extremely realistic approach. Yet, the antagonists are already trying to spin that as a bad thing, calling it outdated.
Dealer Gouging. The consequences of "too little, too slowly" are beginning to surface for Volt. It's really unfortunate watching this part play out. Those in support of the rollout approach will call this growing problem as unforeseen. Those of us who have already been through it just shake our heads in disbelief that advice pointing out the risk wasn't taken seriously. With all the build-up hype, such slow rollout and to only select regions was a recipe for trouble. Demand would be high and supply would be low. Dealers take advantage of that situation... and they have been... especially knowing that people are willing to fly in from another state for the purchase opportunity. Toyota forced dealers to charge only MSRP and would only ship a Prius to a consumer who placed an order online. That meant the fastest possible delivery to a particular person at a particular price. The direct approach worked well, putting the dealer in the position of a quick (though slim) profit without having to deal with anything beyond prepping the vehicle and broking the sale. Too bad GM decided to just ship unsold vehicles like this, especially in 2011... a time when online purchases are common & safe. Remember the state of the internet back in 2000 when I placed my Prius order? It was something few businesses had yet to try. I had a dial-up connection back then. Yet, it worked out fantastic.
Consumers Comment. The enthusiasts for Volt had something to lose, so responses were understandable. Some would take comments as constructive, others with indifference. A few took it personally. Select individuals responded with hostility. It became quite predicable over time. What we haven't known is how consumers in general would respond. Well, we're finding out now... from a diverse crowd, some who don't like any kind of hybrid. The comments came from an article written about Volt. It stated the price as $32,780. Leaving out both the destination charge and the tax-credit is rather blatant misleading. The mention of 35 miles for range without any disclaimer whatsoever is greenwashing, since it's common knowledge now that EV is reduced greatly during the winter. Anywho, the comments posted were surprisingly cruel. There were many insults questioning the intelligence of anyone who would ever consider any vehicle with a plug. There were countless misconceptions being spread. There was only a single comment (among the 51 total) which applauded GM for the effort, but with the downplay spin. That all sure makes a person wonder how the next year will play out... especially with the increase in choices coming.