Personal Log  #519

June 23, 2011  -  July 1, 2011

Last Updated: Sun. 7/17/2011

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New Toyotas.  To no ones surprise, we're seeing lots of spin about "dropping sales" as if that marketshare has been lost forever... even though we all know the disasters in Japan had a profound impact on production.  You can't sell what you don't have.  Yet, the competition will argue otherwise.  Regardless of that nonsense, progress continues.  Prius v is on the way.  There has been a rumor about the C model being all-wheel drive.  And of course, the PHV model will really build upon efficiency choices.  Then there's the non-hybrid plug-ins.  We still expect an EV version of the Rav4 resulting from Toyota's partnership with Tesla.  On their own, the iQ model of Scion will be an EV as well.  Combine that with the next generation Camry for next year, it sure looks like any judgment based solely upon recent events doesn't mean much.  After all, this is when Summer clearance sales take place anyway.  Toyota certainly isn't going to get stuck with excess inventory this year.  Watch for what happens this Fall, when things begin to return to "normal".  Antagonists will discover the market has changed.


Sonata-Hybrid.  Saw my first today.  It was at work.  I parked, got out of the Prius, and was surprised to see what was across the aisle.  It was the "Blue Drive" emblem on the side that caught my eye.  With so many other Sonata's on the road, it would have been easy to overlook without that.  I walked around to the back to make sure I was really looking at what I thought.  Sure enough, there was a "Hybrid" emblem.  Sweet!  This is an unexpected turn of events for those still in favor of improving traditional vehicle efficiency rather than embracing hybrid technology.  Why are some so against motors & batteries?  Is change that scary?  It will be intriguing to find out how rollout proceeds.  What will those reviewing this newest hybrid expect?  What are consumers hoping for?  With such a wide variety of hybrid designs, it's difficult to even guess.  We know Prius strike a great balance of priorities.  Will this hybrid too?  Efficiency is lower and it doesn't offer the convenience of a hatchback.  But the price is right.


Video - Fast Commute (from).  Commuting back home from work with the 2010 Prius on that beautiful summer day, I swapped out my HD camera for scenery with another for comparison.  The weight of it combined with the front placement of the tripod mount (rather than centered) made the vibration even worse.  Video capable of capturing every little detail isn't always the best choice.  Regardless, capture of the hybrid information is working well and it certainly is nice seeing 55.8 MPG after more than half of the drive on the highway at 70 MPH.  It was a memorable moment I'm glad I was able to capture.  Not having footage like this in the past to share made convincing others that doing little to achieve such great efficiency really was possible.


Video - Fast Commute (to).  This is my highway route, the faster commute option with my 2010 Prius.  Efficiency is lower due to the speed, but 62.6 MPG is hardly anything to complain about... especially on such a beautiful summer morning.  The larger & heavier HD video camera still presents a few challenges to overcome, most obvious is the vibration.  Dealing with reflected light is much improved though, thanks to a polarizing filter.  Needless to say, I'm quite pleased with the results from the travel at 70 MPH.  You'll likely find it interesting to see that particular commute.


Expiring Tomorrow.  The highly treasured HOV stickers in California are about to expire.  They helped promote sales of Prius.  But ultimately, they would become counter-productive for a vehicle with mainstream aspirations.  So, only a limited number of them were ever offered and all of those received will expire tomorrow.  It's an interesting milestone, especially since states like mine (Minnesota) never offered them yet sales were strong anyway.  Antagonists claimed they were the sole reason for Prius sales.  Arguing that was futile, since constructive discussion wasn't possible with them.  Now, they have nothing to argue anymore anyway.  Of course, that was a perk without direct cost to taxpayers.  Credits for the purchase of plug-ins are quite different.  Fortunately, they too will expire.  The point with any incentive is to provide an easier new technology rollout.  If production & sales volume is mainstream after expiration, mission accomplished.  If that wasn't even achieved while the incentive was available, there's reason for concern.  With Prius, there's nothing to be concerned about.


Optima-Hybrid.  Looks like Kia understands what buyers from middle-market will actually be drawn to.  For $26,500 plus $750 destination, you get a 34 kW electric motor capable of sustaining a cruising speed of 62 mph without assistance from the 2.4 liter gas engine.  That sure puts some perspective on the 60 kW electric motor the plug-in Prius will be using.  Anywho, the system is estimated to deliver 35 MPG city and 40 MPG highway.  That's an obvious increase over the 24/34 the current 2.0 liter traditional model delivers.  Since it's an ASSIST hybrid, how much electric-only driving the 1.4 kW lithium-polymer battery will deliver remains a mystery.  It's likely a passive recharging system, quite different from the persistent design FULL hybrid provide... especially if the A/C isn't electric.  But then again, offering a plug is realistic with this size motor.  Whatever the future, this current effort to deliver a noticeable efficiency improvement while still being priced in the mid-20's is good step in the right direction.  Let's hope this sells well so the next comes quickly.


Bad Review.  That's putting it mildly.  It was CNN who stepped up to sound off about the "vastly superior" nonsense a few still proclaim about Volt.  Being an overpriced plug-in isn't what consumers want.  They don't want a system that reverts to ordinary traditional efficiency after depletion either.  The review pointed out the business shortcomings as well, emphasizing how well positioned the plug-in Prius will be instead.  I was exceedingly curious what the responses to all that would be... especially with this as the closely remarks: "Everybody should be glad that General Motors and the rest of Detroit have recovered from the recession.  But an excess of praise in the wrong places doesn't help anyone."  Turns out, the enthusiasts didn't want to even acknowledge the review was published.  It's like the sales numbers, they simply don't want to talk about them anymore.  The hype is gone.  Reality is setting in.  The problem of "over promise, under deliver" has become quite difficult to deny.  A plug-in hybrid designed to appeal to mainstream consumers isn't what excites enthusiasts.  They've learned that lesson the hard way.


56.2 MPG.  The study of that as a fleet average for 2025 presented by the White House last week sure has some in an uproar now.  To me, looks like a vote of no-confidence from some backing GM, indicating neither Two-Mode nor Volt are actually up to the chore.  Knowing that Ford & Toyota are already striving to deliver profitable, high-volume, plug-in hybrids that won't require huge premium doesn't seem to be a huge problem for them.  In fact, it should only take a generation for price to become a wash... giving it plenty of time to migrate down to even more affordable vehicles.  Heck, smaller vehicles will be able to achieve that MPG even without a plug.  Combined with the 75 MPG the PHV model Prius will easily achieve next year, offsetting a 28 MPG hybrid "guzzler" for those who truly need 4WD and towing ability isn't a big deal.  But sadly, those opposing this are horribly vague about what level should actually be set and are simply trying to stir fear about cost.


Reality Check.  What influence does advertising only highway MPG really have?  Do consumers just disregard the city & combined estimates?  Do they understand that all those estimates are generalized values, not necessarily representative of what you should actually expect?  And what about enthusiasts bragging about the most efficient model that only seldom gets purchased?  Then there's price, which is totally acceptable to be dependent upon taxpayer funding for plug-ins and absolutely critical for economy vehicles.  Notice how mixed the messages are, how easy it is to become confused about purpose... and that's without even mentioning emission-rating.  How do we know the price of gas will even get people to purchase a more efficient vehicle?  What if they just find a way to drive less instead?  Embracing hybrids has always been difficult due to so many fighting against their acceptance.  What will it take for significant change?  Think about how many were uncertain about a Prius purchase, then jumped at the opportunity immediately following a test-drive.  Even when a vehicle fits all their criteria, some still feel uncomfortable about taking that final step.  It makes selling a vehicle which isn't as affordable or as efficient even more difficult.  The reality check is to think about all that and consider how long it will truly take to make the production of traditional vehicles an exception rather than the norm.


$91 Per Barrel.  That's what the price of oil closed at this week.  It had been slowly dropping for the last few weeks.  The government even decided to release a large portion of the emergency reserves as a result.  That all contributed to seeing the price of gas here settle in at $3.39 per gallon.  The expectation now is for those prices to remain relatively stable throughout the driving season.  The temporary sales boom Detroit enjoyed from those higher prices combined with the effect of the disasters in Japan seems to be coming to an end.  As the Summer inventory sells out without any need for clearance sales, the start of new model-year production in the next few months should make for a very interesting market situation.  What will become popular then?  I suspect interest in downsizing to subcompacts to fall apart.  Compacts should remain strong sellers.  Midsize vehicles will continue to take away from the monster-size guzzler market.  In other words, the outlook remains very good for the v model of Prius.  With such a large interior, affordably priced, and delivering over 40 MPG, it should be popular here like the rollout for it has been in Japan... especially considering the situation with oil & gas.


Affordable Plug-Ins.  Any attempt to discuss efficiency inevitably ends up including Prius, even if an owner isn't participating.  That obviously angers those on competitors forums, especially when an owner finally does chime in.  Those in favor of traditional vehicles attempt to disregard hybrids, especially plug-in configurations.  It's becoming increasingly more difficult though.  The rise & fall of gas prices combined with the over-promise under-deliver of Volt makes for a very confusing market... about to be saturated with a variety of very different choices.  Consumer opinion seems to be playing a larger role than in the past too.  People are relying on commentary contributions from owners.  Online access enables feedback opportunity more than ever now and the sharing of real-world experiences is a powerful influence.  What to believe or even what questions to ask is a problem though.  So, it's pretty easy seeing consumers sticking to the basics with the initial plug-in offerings.  A fundamental Toyota will be striving to deliver with the PHV model (plug-in) Prius is making it affordable.  Allowing time to refine the design for both better operation and lower cost was good reason not to rush to market.  This Fall, we'll find out details of what will be rolled out.  Being within reach of middle-market budgets is a very big deal... for both consumer & business, since high-volume production is a benefit to all.


Plug-Only.  Doesn't it all come down to wanting to know what the strategy is?  That plug-in with a sticker-price of $30,000 delivering 40 miles of unconditional EV range and 50 MPG after depletion didn't happen by the end of 2010 as hyped.  So, now we have to attempt to have constructive discussions asking what the cordless solution will be from GM... now knowing that Volt will sell at a premium for many years to come.  Will we see an eAssist model of Chevy Cruze someday?  The system only uses a 15 kW electric motor, but that extra horsepower would be more effective in a Cruze ECO which is 800 pounds lighter than the Buick LaCrosse.  Cost is a big issue though, especially with a system that's clearly not as capable as Prius using a 60 kW electric motor and a power-split device.  And let's not forget that Ford will be offering C-Max.  Other automakers are promoting their attempt to fill that middle-market offering too.  Why does GM, especially with stock prices under buyback expectations, have to be so uncertain about what the next steps will be.  Volt being a plug-only approach begs the question of what their other vehicles will become.


Tastes Like Chicken.  One of the big automotive magazines published a first-drive report of their experience behind the wheel of a manual-transmission Chevy Cruze ECO.  They summed up the efficiency part with this: "We, of course, drove the Eco like we'd stolen it and still managed 29 mpg overall in 600 miles of driving."  On the big GM forum, I asked:  So, if you bought an automatic instead and did drive it without aggression, you'd get what?  33?  34?  35?  That's setting the efficiency bar really low, especially for a car with noticeably  less legroom in back than a regular Prius and quite a bit less than the upcoming bigger model... which offers a combined MPG estimate of 42.  Acceptance of lower efficiency standards will harm Volt.  People will settle with Cruze for half the price.  Becoming complacent about oil dependency and simply accepting the higher price of gas is the "boil a frog" situation playing out before our eyes.  People simply adapt to paying more rather than actually doing something to deal with the problem.  It tastes like chicken to me, having driven nearly 220,000 miles with 3 different generations of Prius.  Rather than embrace change, there's still denial about need.  Frog legs for dinner.


Smoooooth.  The newest non-hybrid efficiency vehicles depend upon transmissions with additional gears and different ratios.  That's leading to discussions about sound, feel, and performance lag.  I get a kick out of how outdated all of that is, how it became a non-issue a decade ago as Prius owners racked up miles on their planetary (split-power) device used in place of a shifting transmission with many gears.  Oh well.  Better late than never, I guess.  My response was a reply to a Volt owner joining the discussion on the big GM forum with this: "Funny, my Volt exhibits none of these problems. Electric drive is the future."  I posted:  It's good to hear others finally saying that... after 11 years of car enthusiasts not understanding those claims from Prius owners.  In fact, even the automotive magazines ragged on the smoooooooothness of the drive, spinning it as if no gears shifting was a bad thing.  Only now, they are recognizing the potential.  Of course, many of those "fun to drive" commentaries didn't acknowledge the reason why.  We do hear about the high-torque immediately available from electricity.  But the benefit of having a traction motor connected to the wheels by a PSD is totally overlooked, including the feel.  Adding gears (and complexity) to transmissions of traditional vehicles for the sake of squeezing out a few more MPG is counter-productive, wasting resources and delaying the acceptance of hybrids on a grand scale.


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