Personal Log  #518

June 11, 2011  -  June 22, 2011

Last Updated: Sun. 7/17/2011

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Window Mount.  I continued to experiment with the filming of drives with the Prius.  Capturing video in bright, sunny conditions while driving at 70 mph presented challenges I really struggled with.  Fortunately, it looks to be easier to deal with from this latest attempt.  The success with the suction-cup mount for my very small display camera led me to give a much larger double suction-cup mount a try.  Turns out, I still had minor issues with vibration.  Fortunately, there's absolutely no concern about the attachment itself.  In fact, it's surprisingly difficult to remove afterward when pulling on it.  And willing to try the absurd, I attached a bar-mount to the end my other suction-cup mount to create a stabilizer for the arm holding the much larger camera for exterior capture.  That triple connection to the window seems to do the trick, though the car itself still vibrates.  But the 500% playback speed should overcome what remains for distortion that can be seen from HD viewing.  It's all quite easy to attach too.  Next is to try a polarizing filter.  Stay tuned for new footage.


Volt Fallout.  Documenting day to day detail is no longer necessary... since nothing related to Volt seems to hold any attention anymore.  The talk of significantly lower prices within just a few years falls on deaf ears now... since no one can explain how that will actually be achieved.  Arguments of it being competitive due to the tax-credits doesn't interest anyone... since we all know that money comes from taxpayers who expect more than just a niche.  Comparative analysis reports ask why the plug-in Prius was excluded... since it doesn't make any sense comparing the cordless model with such a drastic price difference.  Discussion of engine-efficiency or emission-rating has become a taboo topic... since even the average consumer knows GM has quite a bit of work to do just to catch up.  Marketing jargon hasn't been accepted by the media... since the consumption of gas by the engine makes it undeniably a hybrid.  Excuses about low sales has been exhausted... since the we clearly see how the numbers don't come anywhere near close to the hype.  Needless to say, those topics have been written about to ad nauseam... since that was the point.  Documenting this past as it unfolds is important.  So when we look back later, we'll remember what contributed to the fallout.


Video Downloads.  Each of those 7 new Prius drive & commute videos can now be downloaded.  Unfortunately, the highest quality master files cannot be shared in that way, since the size of each is enormous... ranging from 165 to 670 MB.  Of course, files of that magnitude don't playback well on portable devices anyway.  You cannot view resolution that high either.  Fortunately, I've been able to render much smaller versions that still look fairly good as a download for a handheld.  It's nice having something realistic enough to view on a smart-phone and even bluetooth to someone on-the-fly.  Too bad I didn't have such conveniences back when Prius was quite new, a decade ago.  Of course, we are only at the dawn of plug-in availability.  So, it's not like there isn't lots of opportunity still awaiting.


Size Matters.  Remember a purchase deterrent of the original hybrids that had absolutely nothing to do with efficiency?  It was the fact that the back seats didn't fold down.  Prius overcame that, by offering a dramatic increase in cargo-carrying potential.  Civic didn't.  That was a contributing factor to fewer purchases or why sales increased, depending upon your perspective.  Whatever the case, that's what we are seeing again now.  This time though, it's legroom in back and passenger capacity.  And you guessed it, a certain plug-in hybrid is now getting that type of attention.  People are beginning to notice aspects of the vehicle beyond just impressive MPG and the expensive price.  It's those more practical criteria which Prius does well, yet rarely gets acknowledgement about in reviews... until recently.  The upcoming larger model is really pushing that point as a highly desired characteristic for consumers.  Time will tell.  Sales begin this Fall.


How Hybrids Work.  Turns out, some surprising sources don't have any idea how hybrids actually work.  The most shocking examples come from comments from general media & automotive articles.  There aren't disputes about efficiency.  It's a matter of being clueless to how it's achieved.  Some simply assume the entire gain is from the engine shutting off at stoplights and regen from braking.  The thought of continuously changing energy flow isn't even considered.  Sadly, even website dedicated to vehicle education got the design of Prius wrong.  And of course, we have intentional misleading on the big GM forum contributing to overall confusion.  Needless to say, this lack of proper understanding is undermining efforts to promote Volt.  Isn't it ironic how my push for detail in the past would have helped them now?  Remember how vague things were about its operation just a year ago?  That's coming back to haunt enthusiasts now.  They shrugged that off as being unnecessary and really just an effort to undermine Volt.  Their warning to prepare was dismissed.  Consequences of that choice are now emerging.


No Resistance.  Finding out this next build of PHV model Prius will offer an EV button to allow drivers to choose when EV driving should occur combined with the increased recharge ability makes for interesting new circumstances... so much so, the Volt enthusiasts didn't show any resistance when this newest plug-in revision for was called second-generation.  September is when the packages & pricing will be announced.  I'm quite content with waiting now.  The thought of it taking a year from the time I signed up for a priority-purchase and a year-and-a-half from when I last drove a PHV was rather trying on the patience.  Like all the other generations I've waited on delivery for, this one will be very rewarding.  Dealing with fallout from hype & misconceptions this year makes a delay worthwhile.  Consumers had made far too many assumptions.  GM needs to decide how to proceed anyway.  That sure make for a different situation than in the past.  We're not fighting a hope anymore.  This is reality.


Headlight Bulb.  I had to replace a headlight bulb (driver side).  I'm not sure why it died.  That just happens sometimes.  A front parking light died in my Iconic model.  That was a time consuming process to replace, though cheap.  Those lights are only $1.  This one wasn't.  And the high temperatures from such a bright light requires that you avoid oil from your skin from making contact on the glass.  So, I wasn't really looking forward to this effort.  But with all the rain recently, it was in my best interest to replace it right away.  $33.34 later, I was holding the box for with new one in my hand.  To my delight, access to the bulb was no big deal.  I could just reach in with my hand and twist to remove.  Within just a minute, I was done!


Video - Scenic Commute (to & from).  Continued improvement with the filming of the 2010 Prius as I drive encouraged me to attempt the capture of a commute to & from work.  Driving at the the sun in both directions meant new lighting challenges in addition to the usual video-related difficulties.  Setup for the display camera worked well, no external light problems anymore.  Reflection from the dashboard illuminated the windshield at times, affecting the outside view.  But a new camera mount I have on order should help with that.  It's lots of trial & error, including afterward with the rendering process.  Fortunately, the content itself is great.  71.1 MPG for the leisurely commute taking the scenic route to work that nice summer morning.  58.8 MPG on the commute back home.  It's all here and here for you to see.


Price Considerations.  Watching oil dip below $95 per barrel and the expectation of $3.49 per gallon gas sure is thought provoking.  It puts certain extremely expensive choices in a very non-competitive stance.  What do you do when the "boil a frog" situation sets in?  Consumers become use to seeing $4 gas from time to time and just learn to deal with that, rather than embracing change.  This is what the "too little, too slowly" concern addressed.  You can lose opportunity by not being prepared when opportunity presents itself.  There will be a variety of choices available next year, some placing a high priority on price.  That "who is the market" question was an effort to point out what mainstream consumers are likely to purchase.  We've heard far to many enthusiasts claims stating "it's worth it" countered by reviews stating "too bad it's so expensive".  Being affordable has been the key to high-volume sales for decades.  Why would adding a plug make that any different?


Changing Times.  Yesterday brought the news of one month into the rollout of Prius v in Japan (that new larger wagon model) resulting in over 52,000 orders there.  Combine that with the price of oil slowly dropping, it makes the dwindling attention for Volt even more understandable.  It also helps to emphasize the disconnect between enthusiast hype and actual mainstream consumer purchases.  Add to that, there's talk of the EV button for PHV again.  Yes, this is something Volt doesn't actually offer.  It's a driver-selectable option allowing you to specify when to engage HV mode... which means you can delay when EV is used.  For me, that would mean the usual 50 MPG on the 70 mph highway portion of my commute followed by EV the remainder of the trip.  This is something that had been much discussed, but Toyota wanted real-world data to determine benefits with respect to how consumers would actually use it.  In other words, we're seeing change from hype to practical.


Video - PHV First Commute.  This brief clip was from my first commute with the PHV model (plug-in) Prius.  It shows that drive just as I pull away from the first stoplight.  The following two blocks along with the ramp were all uphill.  You can see how effortless it was to accelerate to 50 mph using only electricity, despite the incline.  That "EV" symbol in the center of the efficiency screen indicates whether engine is on or off.  When lots of power is needed, the engine will run.  While cruising on the highway, the engine will stop entirely when going 100 km/h (62.1 mph) or slower.  When faster, the engine will spin and consume fuel as needed, in an extremely efficient state that results in very high MPG.  Driving around the suburbs, the engine will typically not be used.  Watch it and dream of the day it becomes common to see sequences it shows.


New Owners.  It's a regular occurrence to see an introduction posted by a new Prius owner, almost a daily event.  The dedicated forum has 77,333 members as of this morning.  That puts an interesting perspective on the big GM forum (54,800 members) and the dedicated Volt forum (6,699 members).  Needless to say, new Volt owners have been joining the big GM forum for a bigger audience.  Strange thing is though, they don't post introductory threads or even share any driving data.  They all tend to do the same thing... belittle parallel hybrids, ignore the plug-in Prius, and promote Volt as "fun to drive".  It's patterns like that which catch my attention.  Anywho, I responded to yet another one of those with this:  It's astonishing how nearly every Volt owner avoids discussion of the plug-in model of Prius.  They imply no change is coming.  The test-drive experience is really going be as a surprise to them, as well as consumers.  They won't be expecting the all-electric drive through the suburbs to be so different from what's currently available.  Do you honestly think consumers switching from a Camry or Corolla are looking for a "fun to drive" experience and are willing to pay a significant premium for it?


Video - PHV Night Cruise.  This late night cruise on the highway with the PHV model (plug-in) Prius shows how seamless the blending of electric-only and engine-assist operation can be.  Watch the video closely as the engine stops running and the MPG average continues to rise.  The car-shaped symbol in the middle of the "Hybrid System Indicator" screen of the dashboard display illuminates with an "EV" inside when the gas-engine is off.  You can see that transition both at the beginning & end of the video.  It's a paradigm-shift to witness such high-efficiency being achieved so easily like this.  Think of the potential for change this offers.  I was quite excited to discover this footage came out so well.  Though just 1 minute and 21 seconds long, it captures some informative driving moments.


Real-World Data, upcoming.  Next year will bring a variety of choices.  Prius has a huge advantage, since the plug will expand upon what's already available.  It's fairly simple to imagine the benefit a plug will offer.  The current electric abilities will be enhanced.  You'll get more power and be able to travel greater distances using electricity.  The approach is something consumers should understand.  If not, many automakers will struggle since adding electric-only to hybrids will be common for many.  How that's achieved will vary quite a bit though.  But like most mainstream considerations, it all boils down to how much you'll get for a competitive price.  Niche vehicles (low-volume production) don't face that particular problem.  But they aren't intended to become the next standard for the automaker either.  Ultimately, it's the real-world data resulting from each upcoming vehicle that determines its fate.  No amount of hype can overcome the necessities of the masses.


Real-World Data, next.  What are consumers truly waiting for?  The migration from SUV to midsize & compact cars was uneventful and certainly didn't follow any type of pattern.  It just happened.  You look around now and wonder where all those monster-size guzzlers went.  Then you have to ask, "What's next?"  The resulting real-world data from new hybrids and plug-in options will play a major role in that.  Many purchase decisions are based upon observation.  Seeing an owner effortlessly exceed 75 MPG is quite compelling in itself, without even needing to point out the ability for some drives to be without the engine ever starting.  Affordability has been the most significant argument point for hybrids in the past.  Regardless of efficiency, if the sticker-price is out of reach, many consumers simply aren't interested.  Knowing that, it was always a source of bewilderment how GM would choose to disregard that fact.  Whatever the case, marketing cannot overcome the impression real-world data makes.


Real-World Data, worth.  Those in favor of Volt round range expectations for Prius down to 10 miles and still continue to claim 40 for Volt.  The lack of real-world data makes that easier to do.  It's not constructive.  We know the EPA only gave an estimate of 35 and that Winter causes much lower distances.  Those same troublemakers spin stories about the plug-in Prius expected to cost very close to Volt, yet having nothing to support that.  Claims are just vague misleading hearsay comments.  It's quite disturbing to think some casual readers will actually believe those posts without doing anything to actually verify their validity.  Fortunately, that just earns support online and at the coffee shop.  Consumers researching a purchase don't cheer with the crowd as they would do in a forum.  Determining how much a vehicle is worth requires real-world data to justify the price.  It's been that way for an entire decade already with hybrids.  Buying a vehicle requires much more than just a "fun to drive" or an "it's worth it" endorsement.  After all, how often do you hear simplistic arguments like that in favor of popular vehicles like Camry or Corolla anyway?


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