Personal Log  #509

March 30, 2011  -  April 8, 2011

Last Updated: Sun. 4/17/2011

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$113.21 Per Barrel.  That was the highest the price of oil reached today.  $112.79 is what it closed at.  Unlike the price jump back in August 2008, this time it appears that going down anytime soon isn't realistic.  Go Prius!  What else is there to say?  How long will consumers wait for a solution to their guzzler?  I'm seeing a surprising number of new Ford Fiestas on the road now.  With the negative reviews of it here last year, that certainly wouldn't have been an expectation... even at $4 per gallon for gas.  This is why waiting for the next generation of Volt doesn't make any sense.  It's unfortunate the design assumed a lot more time would be available.  The choice of easier to embrace efficiency choices will grow over the next year, including other plug-in hybrids.


Follow Up?  It's rare that a constructive question about Prius is posted on the big GM forum.  Today though, we got this: "Why has Toyota not followed up on the Prius success?"  Much of the understanding comes from seeing the big picture, a trait not shared by those who come from an environment where short-term gain and trophies are the basis of business.  It's very much a clash of cultures, something the bankruptcy trouble should have rectified... but apparently didn't.  Anywho, this was my reply to the question:  It became apparent early on that a dedicated vehicle would draw far more interest than sharing a traditional body.  So, focus was shifted over to cost-reduction instead... which is exactly the path GM is now following, right?  Toyota now has a variety of hybrid configurations to work with, spanning from 1.5 to 3.5 liter engines with front, rear, and all-wheel drive.  Each continue to see efficiency improvements too.  The next year will bring about the first of new vehicles to benefit from the diversity effort. Isn't that the same thing GM wants from Volt?  The platform is designed to take advantage of a plug too.  We've also seen lithium battery-packs in the usual location as well as modules designed to fit between the seats in front, providing a variety of choices for consumers.  The intent is to push the mainstream away from traditional vehicles quickly.  Prior to the earthquake disaster, the goal had been to produce & sell 1 million annually by the end of next year.


85 MPH.  The unforeseen consequences of raising the speed limit should be obvious at this point.  Arguments about travel between long distances in open country seem reasonable, until you do the math to reveal that it only saves a few minutes of travel.  Yet, that's exactly what the state of Texas is planning to do anyway.  How many studies must their be to show that gas is wasted the faster you drive?  Of course, telling that to an oil-producing state is as silly as arguing with Detroit that their highly-profitable SUVs aren't as safe as a regular sedan.  To make matters worse, people end up driving faster elsewhere too.  Highways with slower limits have them for a reason, the heavier traffic and frequent ramps make faster speed dangerous.  It becomes even more of a factor when snow & ice is taken into account.  We've already seen heavy emphasis on highway MPG.  Now, it's highway speed too.  This is a good example of our market taking steps in the wrong direction.  Of course, a plug-in Prius is better equipped for efficiency with that type of travel than Volt.  The power-split device offers the best of both worlds.


Statistical Misleading.  We've seen quite a bit of that over the years.  By quoting a percentage rather than an actual quantity, it's very easy to mislead.  People just assume greater size as a result.  Taking that the next step further is what we saw today.  The monthly advance from 281 to 608 was labeled as a "sales surge", being a "remarkable increase", where there was a "double in volume".  In reality, that 608 for March is far below the 5,000 per month minimum for a mainstream vehicle and even off target for GM's own initial rollout target of 769 monthly for the first 13 months.  April results should be interesting.  With gas so expensive, sales being lost to traditional compact cars is becoming a reality the enthusiasts hadn't anticipated... despite being warned countless times it could happen and being called a "troll" for the effort.  Knowing that makes the attitude now easier to understand.


Price Exclusion.  That's what the Volt verses Prius argument as has come to, which was made overwhelmingly clear today.  There were two roads tests published, from two different sources.  One was just plain cruel to Prius, mocking it as noisy, cheap, and rough in contrast to Volt.  Heated comments flooded in pointing out the obvious price exclusion... which is a drastic difference... something not to be so easily dismissed.  It's really too bad the writer didn't bother to do some research.  His experience simply came from a rental Prius.  Imagine comparing the new Lexus CT200h instead.  Despite having a $29,995 sticker price, the Lexus ride experience is much nicer.  The tradeoff is being less efficient; however, it's combined 42 MPG is still a combined 5 MPG higher than Volt.  Of course, no mention of the plug-in model Prius shows imbalance anyway.  The price difference isn't just the cost of the battery-pack.  GM knew it couldn't compete directly with Toyota.  That's why they designed for such dissimilar appeal.  The second publication simply just glossed over the high price by sprinkling random praise distraction throughout.  What is the purpose of Volt?  Their average from Volt was 79.94 MPG.  Remember how I got 84 MPG with the PHV?  Also, let's not forget the larger interior Prius provides.  Needless to say, the price arguments fell on deaf ears there.  The bias in some reviews is awful.  That's why actual sales are so important.  No other measure indicates true demand.


One Millionth Prius.  This is quite a milestone to achieve.  Here in the United States, we hit the million mark until yesterday.  (Last October, the official sales tally was 2,000,000 Prius worldwide.)  Looking back, it was quite a journey.  I had no idea when I bought my Classic there would be so many misconceptions and so much focus on guzzling.  But then again, gas was less than $1 and we weren't actively fighting any wars in oil-producing nations.  When I upgraded to the Iconic model, things went from bad to worse.  The monster-size vehicles had taken over and there was an intense anti-hybrid campaign underway.  Following that struggle came the 2010 upgrade.  We were in the midst of bankruptcy recoveries and a smear campaign.  What a mess.  Fortunately, throughout all of that, Prius remained true to the effort to reduce both emissions & consumption in a reliable way at an affordable price.  We get a model with a plug next year, taking yet another step forward with Prius.  I can't wait!


Success or Failure?  That's the question being asked on the big Prius forum.  Remember the "too little, too slowly" concern?  With gas now $3.79 per gallon here and already higher in other parts of the country, time is up.  Though, one particular Volt owner didn't think so:  "I certainly didn't expect it to hit the ground running ready to replace every other car on the road and be the perfect fit for all drivers."  That's spoken like a true supporter, one willing to vote with his wallet but totally of what had happened prior to rollout, what consumer needs actually are, and how convoluted acceptance can be.  Oh well.  No better time to learn than the present:  All the hype certainly did.  It was heavily promoted as a game-changer immediately upon rollout.  Now, we're seeing lots of downplay to just "early adopter" status instead from the enthusiasts remaining, those who haven't become disenchanted.  New owners who hadn't been involved during the hype typically aren't aware of that history, hence such a different perspective.  Reality is, the point of Volt was to be a mainstream choice when $4 gas returned and that goal wasn't achieved.  It failed.  Round 2 could be a success.  But in the meantime, the GM buyers are flocking to Cruze instead.  That sure looks like missed opportunity.


Who?  The spin is getting old.  The excuses are getting thin.  Supposedly, the answer to the "Who is the market for Volt?" question is they're the same consumers who buy Prius.  Whatever.  This is nothing new.  Attention is simply shifted over to the next generation.  I responded to the rhetoric following that question on the big GM forum with this:  Lacking any detail certainly is one way of avoiding "over promise, under deliver".  But we know that I wasn't looking for a vague sales pitch.  We also know that the original plan of targeting Cruze & Malibu buyers was abandoned when the price priority wandered.  If there's going to be a variant from Buick offered, it will be thought of as an upscale plug-in hybrid rather than the one from Chevy.  Something still needs to be offered in the Cruze/Malibu price range too.  What I'd like to know is who the Volt target is now... and of course, how will the second-generation model fit into the picture later.


$4 Gas.  It has arrived in some places already.  With oil currently at $108.63, the expectation of gas staying at $3.59 here much longer isn't realistic.  With pain at the pump growing, it certainly looks like Toyota is well positioned.  With the newest hybrid selling well, a bigger Prius on the way, and one offering a plug to follow, the choices are expanding while still remaining affordable.  A compact model later will be a nice addition too.  Ford, Hyundai, and Honda will continue their hybrid & plug efforts aimed at mainstream buyers too.  Where does that leave GM?  The second-generation BAS called "eAssist" is just a mild hybrid with a price target which still hasn't been revealed.  And with Volt rapidly becoming a niche, that means Cruze will be the high-volume offering.  The other automakers are really uncertain, especially Nissan & Chrysler.  Seeing more of a diesel push from VW is a big unknown.  With the most efficient compact gas cars less to purchase and less to fill the tank, the MPG similar to TDI doesn't provide a strong incentive for diesel.  For me personally, I'm patiently waiting for a PHV next year.  Observing the MPG it provides throughout each season should be fascinating.  The taste of 80 MPG last Summer sure was exciting.


March Sales.  Prius did very well here, selling 18,605 for the month.  That was to be expected from the disaster in Japan combined with the recent rise in gas prices.  Cruze did well too, with 18,018 sold.  Of course, that's a far cry from both Corolla & Camry which each exceeded 30,000.  But it shows a clear trend away from those monster-size vehicles of the past (with the exception of pickups actually used for work & utility purposes).  That also should stir a little worry about Cruze stealing some sales away from Volt.  With only 608 of that plug-in sold in March, it's not exactly meeting expectations prior to rollout.  This was the first month of sales for the new Lexus CT200h.  With 2,199 purchases of that hybrid, it's off to a good start.  To everyone's surprise, Insight is now drawing consumer interest again.  Honda sold 2,872 of them.  Sales of most all the other hybrids are up statistically, but the overall quantity is disappointing.  Selling efficiency choices is quite a challenge... even when the are affordable.


Trolling.  I hadn't posted anything on that Volt daily blog for an entire week.  So, it didn't surprise me at all that a troublemaker finally dropped some bait.  He started by insulting Prius then moved on to me.  The attempt to provoke a personal attack, giving a reason to call me a troll clearly didn't work.  It was quite obvious I wasn't the instigator.  Most there have become familiar with his attention-drawing tactics.  They just ignore them.  I usually do too.  And my responses are never personal.  Exactly like with Two-Mode on the big GM forum all those years ago, it's the same old questions being asked and the same old needs being pointed out.  I did find it intriguing how he twisted my main question though, asking "What is the market for this car?" instead.  It got me to respond with this:  Interesting spin.  The question was actually WHO not what.  The answer is car enthusiasts.  Mainstream consumers await a next generation model, one configured for Cruze/Malibu buyers who are less interested in speed & power and place a much higher priority on price.


More Downplay.  The price of gas has tripled.  The misconceptions have been debunked.  The industry has shifted from fighting hybrids to embracing them.  Even pure electric vehicles are now available.  Despite that, we're suppose to consider the slow pace of Volt sales acceptable.  The hype of being a game-changer is long gone.  Those same enthusiasts who mocked the plug-in model of Prius, giving the configuration an "anemic" label, now face having that very same word used to describe Volt's market penetration.  Having to tolerate their downplay really is a pain.  Adding spin to what expectations were all along makes the situation worse.  Thankfully, I can refer back to the logs that documented events as they unfolded.  They tell an entirely different story than references back to history long after it has passed, since key detail is often forgotten & omitted when looking back.  Of course, the best way to combat it is to simply hold them to their own standard.  Remember how they judged Prius progress?  They claimed sales had to reach a minimum of 60,000 per year before it could be considered anything more than just a niche.  That's 5,000 per month... which is significantly more than just the 608 for March.


30-Month High.  It's official.  The price of a barrel of oil has entered record territory again.  Only this time, it looks more like a permanent situation rather than a temporary spike.  With so much turmoil in a variety of oil-providing nations now, instability of the entire market is finally being taken seriously.  It simply is too much of a risk expecting lower prices anymore.  Observing vehicles on the highway and parked in lots, you see get a clear message of guzzler abandonment.  The cost to keep their tank full isn't worth it and the age of those "good for the economy" purchases are now old enough to need replacement.  Pain at the pump is difficult to justify after awhile.  Interesting has definitely shifted to much smaller SUVs and ordinary sedans.  New hybrids are on the way.  That should stir even more interest in efficiency over speed & power.  It's about time.  Of course, we always knew it would take high gas prices like this to motivate.


Disservice.  Seeing oil dependency draw attention again is a welcome change.  Of course, that's coming from consumers in general.  The attitude lately from many GM supporters has been that of delay.  In fact, turns out two of the really intense Volt enthusiasts downplaying the situation just happen to be Two-Mode owners.  That explains a lot.  They are already well aware of the acceptance problems that come from a technology being far too expensive.  The outcome is reinforcement of it being a niche... which they simply haven't cared about.  One particular Volt owner does though.  Yes, this is the same one attempting to contribute to constructive discussion on the big Prius forum.  He expressed concerned today, saying it was a major disservice to Volt emphasizing activities done to squeeze out more EV.  He sees the importance "Just Drive It!" has for mainstream appeal.  Unfortunately, his audience are the same enthusiasts who deliberately go out of their way to make Volt different... those who absolutely insist EREV is superior, rather than just accepting it to be a plug-in hybrid variant.  The approach is counter-productive, which he summarized by stating: "This is very very bad in my opinion... very nearsighted."


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