Personal Log #506
March 9, 2011 - March 15, 2011
Last Updated: Thurs. 3/17/2011
page #505 page #507 BOOK INDEX
New Avatar. I got a new one for the big GM forum. Remember all those years ago when I first started posting there? I got treated just like everyone else... through the first 100 posts. They had no idea I owned a Prius. Then without changing what I had been saying, in fact I even reposted some of the older comments, they abruptly changed their attitude on the 101st post... when I went from no avatar to one showing a Prius. The open-mindedness instantly vanished. Well, now with the prospects for both Volt and Two-Mode looking more distant than ever, I figured it was a good time to change. After all, this is when newbies are heard most... when there is no clear future anymore. Anywho, a few weeks ago, I got out of the Prius with it still on. There in the dark, I saw the back end crusted over with a thick layer of muck. That nasty late-winter salt & sand mess actually looked quite captivating. Almost completely colorless, yet emphasized by the contour of the raised lettering on the metal license-plate... something which is now discontinued and will soon become flat plastic. It was a moment to remember. I didn't have camera handy though. Just my phone would have to do. And it did, that surprise opportunity worked out so well, it has become my new avatar... one which clearly explains my userid, but doesn't make it obvious you're looking at a Prius. See... photo album 166
Real-World Data. It's quite a bit of entertainment reading MPG reports for Volt. From the handful of enthusiasts who actually bought one, you get the "no gas" attitude. In other words, this is the new version of smug. They pretend there's no such thing as the PHV or that any other automaker will be offering a plug-in hybrid. On the opposite extreme, there are owners reporting efficiency of their extended drives... road trips away from a plug, taking advantage of the high-speed blended efficiency. One was a simple 225-mile drive, starting with a full charge. The displayed result was 48.9 MPG. Hmm? I can get that from a cordless Prius. Another was a trip from the south of California to the north and back, entirely without ever plugging in. The battery-pack was depleted from the start too. The average displayed was 36.9 MPG. Huh? That's just traditional vehicle efficiency. With reports like that, it certainly makes you curious to hear what ordinary day-to-day driving brings over long spans of time.
Blog Persistence. It certainly seemed to drag on for quite a long time. The supporters of GM on their big forum simply assumed I wanted anything they endorsed to fail, not even bothering to read what was actually posted. None of the other automaker supporters were making "game changer" claims or declaring to be "vastly superior". It was only them. And with reasoning so weak, it was hard to believe they'd continue to be so narrow-minded about Volt. They absolutely refused to acknowledge any similarities to how expectation & delivery resembled the history of Two-Mode. So, I persisted... documenting much of what was said & done in these blogs. Now, those concerns pointed out are being validated. It's an unfortunate reality. We watched the "over promise, under deliver" play out, yet again. As that sinks in, we have to consider the fallout. Last year's smear campaign got ugly. But that's what happens when the underdog gets desperate. Trying for a more practical outcome, the most sensible approach would be to offer a second model of Volt, one adapted to match mainstream consumers. The current model could become the "special edition".
Too Little, Too Slowly. The arguments are winding down. They've run out of excuses. For Volt to be more than just a "halo" vehicle, it has to become part of the mainstream. In other words, it must replace other vehicles. Waiting for the next generation design is what enthusiasts chant now. That's the too slow part. Looking at the number of Volt currently available for immediate purchase on AutoTrader, I see the number has grown to 315. What the heck? If the entire production was already spoken for and demand is at the mercy of limited supply, how can that be? It doesn't make any sense. Why aren't they sold already? That's the too little part. GM delivered a vehicle that's very expensive with an engine no more efficient than a traditional vehicle. Why didn't they stick to the original price and MPG goals? Is that why so many on the project left prior to rollout? The Prius supporters are aware of what mainstream buyers have for priorities... and await the fallout coming from others as the realization that Volt doesn't fulfill them becomes apparent. Autoshow excitement differs quite a bit from signing the dotted line.
Confusing Choices. A few Volt enthusiasts still attempt to differentiate "EREV" from being a plug-in hybrid... yet fail to ever explain why? It's amazing to see so much effort being put into something which consumers won't really care about. Ask yourself about the transmission in your car. Do you actually understand the detail of what components interact and when? Or are you instead interested in cost, reliability, sound, feel, and efficiency? Whatever. Their efforts give them some pride, making it a little bit easier accept the inevitable later. This time EREV label was brought up, I posted: But what does EREV actually mean? Notice how much Volt and the plug-in Two-Mode have in common. To add to the mess, automakers are expanding their own choices being offered by introducing even greater variety. Consumers are already confused about hybrids. A recent survey pointed out that some didn't realize a hybrid could run using only an electric motor. Others thought hybrids didn't have any tailpipe emissions at all. Then there's the belief of needing to plug in. A few still presume range is limited. That greenwashing fear of having to replace the battery-pack later persists for some as well. Hearing about the surprise discoveries from Volt & Leaf enthusiasts points out that even the better informed fall into the trap of over-generalizing and assuming. Do you really think arbitrary speed, power, and range limits will overcome the basics, like price? Consumers are becoming aware of the influence outside-temperature and travel-time have on capacity expectations. What benefit is there for a marketing term like "EREV" when the typical consumer will see it as a plug-in hybrid anyway? After all, it has an engine.
Growing Divide. The approach to advertising Volt has been to denigrate electric-only vehicles. That's rather odd, since it prevents product diversity and more clearly draws the line between hybrid & traditional. The manual transmission Cruze Eco has emboldened the traditional supporters too. They focus entirely on the HIGHWAY estimate, dismissing real-world data and spinning the value for CITY. I still can't believe one even made this comment: "When city mileage is up around 28-30 mpg, you have people's attention, that can see savings." Obviously, some fell for the greenwashing effort a few years ago. Needless to say, I had to sound off, taking a little bit of a shame approach to make the point stick: HIGHWAY is a steady cruise at a high speed. CITY means not HIGHWAY. In other words, everything else... including the daily commute. Seeing 30 MPG labeled as acceptable shows how far we've lowered our standards and how little we care about reducing emissions & consumption. When the competition delivers a cordless 50 MPG and +75 MPG with a plug, shouldn't there be concern rather than excuses?
True Disaster. Today provided one heck of a wake-up call, a major does of reality. The petty bickering over the "need" for a guzzler and how much patience we should endure pales in comparison... not even close... a bitter reminder of how messed up some priorities have become. The 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that followed created the biggest natural disaster in Japan's recorded history. The speed & scale of the destruction was mind-boggling. And with that happening in highly populated areas, the video footage captured was history documented for centuries to come. It will be difficult to ever forget the loss of life and damage to property. Gone. Dealing with the mess will take an extraordinary long time too, even if there isn't any radiation fallout. Sadly, that could be a reality. True life news like this should encourage people to step back and consider how dangerous our choices can be. It probably won't though. The obsession with pride and short-term gain is quite compelling.
Highway MPG. The greenwashing is really getting bad. Today, it was an article with this for a title: "Conventional gas-powered cars starting to match hybrids in fuel efficiency." No mention of CITY efficiency was ever made. Nor was there anything about emissions. It was just one HIGHWAY reference after another and another... The effort to mislead is terrible. They simply leave out information, telling you only about what they want you to know. You'd think they would at least stop generalizing about hybrids at this point. But some just plain don't want anything to do with a success like Prius. Heck, even the upcoming larger model "V" must be stirring fear at this point. With a combined estimate of 40 MPG (that's 42 city and 38 highway), it is clearly not a match for the current traditional favorite only delivers 33 combined (28c, 42h). But if they only ever mention the HIGHWAY value, you might believe otherwise.
Valuable Feedback. Getting to hear one of the 15 early rollout Volt testers discuss those experiences with a bunch of Prius owners was fascinating. Quite a number of poor design choices were made along the way. So even with a genuine effort to deliver a well-tuned system, there were still many goals not being met. Trying to look past that mess, many good suggestions were provided for GM and the other automakers. The first should be obvious. It's the mindset of the market itself. Any post-sale activity is still considered bad and carries a heavy stigma. There's no such thing as "software upgrade" yet, even though that is a well-established practice for computers. In the automotive world, any type of revision like that still gets the "recall" label and is considered a fix rather than an enhancement. That really impairs the rollout of new technology. It prevents post-sale opportunities as well. The industry worries about certification & warranty problems any update could pose too. That limits thinking to the old-school catering of creature-comforts, winning out over design improvements. Imagine interface upgrades. Ever consider a more-informative screen for the experienced hybrid driver, perhaps something with greater detail for those who have outgrown the basics? Or what about an algorithm tweak to squeeze out another MPG under certain conditions? Heck, what about navigation-system updates? Feedback like this will take years to implement. It's unfortunate the automotive players involved are horribly slow & resistant to change.
Wild Day. You don't expect so much to still be happening with Volt, but that is indeed the case. In the hypocritical nature rhetoric we are slowly getting use to hearing, the talk of a second model for has begun. It's coming from enthusiasts those who don't want to give up the "will out accelerate most sedans" bragging rights but recognize the urgent need to reduce price. So, they suggest exactly what I had in the past. But rather than resulting in an accusation of trying to undermine Volt by making it appear more like Prius, they simply pretend none of that is a concern... even though they themselves said it to me based on the very same need years ago. Figures. Slow to notice what the markets really needs verses what they want is nothing new. Makes you wonder if they had doubts about the production increase hype yesterday. Turns out, that article which spread the rumor was "inaccurate" about the intent for Volt. Hmm? Of course, decisions from above shouldn't be taken to seriously anyway. With so many executives coming & going, the goals for Volt continue to change, as do the automaker itself... today of which provided yet another example. It was announced that GM's CFO for only 1 year would be stepping down now. Geez! Talking about instability at the top. The saga goes on. Don't be surprised when the next wild day arrives.
Battery Location. Saying it was in front in the
dashboard area for Prius-V with the lithium battery-pack was a bit vague.
But then again, an unveiling is intended to leave you wondering a bit
anyway. Drawing you in is the point. We didn't have to wait long
for detail either. Photos of it are available already. The location of the
battery-pack is the center-console, that area between the driver and
passenger seats. You know, where the cupholders are. Well,
they're still there. But underneath is quite different. Instead
of a storage area, there are cells. It's so well-concealed, you would
even realize anything had changed... if it wasn't for the rather obvious third
row of seats. That's why the battery-pack was relocated. It was
to make room for extra passengers. I think this approach is very
exciting. It proves there is room available for additional capacity,
something the Volt enthusiasts argued wasn't possible.
Not A Hybrid. You'd think they'd learn from history. Simply saying "not the same" is far more effective than attempting to dismiss entirely. With Volt, it was always the argument of not being a hybrid at all, rather than just a different type. In reality, it's a plug-in hybrid. Consumers will see the engine and wonder how it could possibly be argued as a EV, without even needing to know the technical details. However, we actually have them. Turns out, the system charges the battery-pack while driving... something the enthusiasts fiercely claimed it would never do... because that would be yet another thing to support it being a hybrid rather than an electric. The latest revelation came from an owner observing it firsthand with a ScanGauge. He noted that once the pack was depleted, the engine would run for roughly 2 minutes at about 2200 RPM then another 4 minutes or so at around 1500 RPM... followed by a switch back to driving with the engine off for a minute. Then the cycle would repeat again. That certainly sounds like a hybrid, taking advantage of having both engine & motor available.
Even More Intense. Throughout the day, the topic of Volt's price intensified. A big Detroit publication attempted to relieve the pressure by pointing out the effort underway to increase production dramatically over the next year (from 10,000 to 120,000) with the hope making it profitable within 3 years. There was only an implication of lower price, nothing actually stated. It gave the impression that ample supply would just naturally provide that... the continued claim is limited supply causing trouble currently. But that still doesn't make any sense. The number of Volt listed for immediate sale has grown to 268, with almost all priced between $41,000 and $44,695. How could that be possible if customers are supposed waiting for delivery? Availability is in the markets most likely to draw the highest sales. With so much unspoken for, that would imply those regions are saturated already. Needless to say, something is wrong.
More Price Arguing? On that daily blog, apparently not.
My post resulted in a few negative votes, but they all were cancelled out by
midday. What does that indicate? I responded to someone else's
comment pointing out what Lutz had said all those years ago and what he
would say now, seeing the fallout of not having delivered on that original
goal. Maybe they are finally starting to see the important. You
think? Whatever the case, you know how I can only resist so long
before chiming in:
The "nicely under $30,000" goal made a lot of sense. For all those
years prior to stating that, it was price that was always a major priority
What would make a plug-in any different? Getting ultra-high efficiency is
great, but simply is not realistic for those who cannot afford the vehicle
This is why things got ugly as the price expectations raised and the
efficiency expectations fell. Missing the goal hurt sales potential, now
there's that scramble to get back on track.