Personal Log #520
July 1, 2011 - July 8, 2011
Last Updated: Sun. 7/17/2011
page #519 page #521 BOOK INDEX
Changing Times. Watching truck sales remain strong as gas prices drop makes you wonder. A lot can change surprisingly quick though. The excess inventory is now becoming a big problem, similar to the mess contributing to financial difficulty in the past. Gas is going up again. And we just found out that fleet averages actually fell (got worse). An interesting new twist is the reveal of Sonata-Hybrid sale information; there were 1,422 purchased last month. That sure puts some enlightening perspective on the 76 Silverado and 61 Tahoe hybrids; Two-Mode certainly isn't making much of a difference despite strong truck sales in June. With economy trouble still, market change an expectation now. In fact, this time is long overdue. Question now is what consumers will accept.
Strange Commercial. We've all seen them. You know, where there's no clue as to what is actually being advertised. This one really caught me off guard though. Two guys holding a strange conversation in the office ended up going for a gelato run in a vibrant red 2011 Prius. What the heck was this television commercial for? There were comments about monetary exchanges of the past, then parking meters. They ended up finding a tight spot, one which appeared to difficult for the driver to squeeze into. However, he didn't have to. The Prius parallel parked itself. I had no it would end up being an advertisement for that special Prius feature. Who would have thought Toyota would continue to promote the diversity of technology at this particular time of market struggle? It does make sense. Automakers can't depend on old school practices anymore and Toyota is well ahead of others with respect to new choices.
Mitsubishi EV. The upcoming electric-only vehicle coming from Mitsubishi got an EPA equivalent rating of 126 MPGe. That's quite a bit higher than the 99 MPGe for Leaf and the 93 MPGe for Volt. The base price without destination will be just $27,990. In other words, it goes without saying that this news today gave everyone reason for pause. Needless spin is inevitable. But the peaceful moment to think in the meantime is nice. 62 miles for estimated range is shorter than Leaf's 73 but more than the anticipated 50 for the iQ. Who will buy it? What will it be used for? When will it be considered more than just a niche? Next year is definitely sizing up to be an interesting one.
Air Dam. Remember the concerns about driving through snow with Volt and numerous the complaints about routinely scraping due to the air dam in front being so low? That has grown into a genuine problem. A permanent change would compromise efficiency. GM depends upon the improved aerodynamics that column of plastic provides. Without it, overall fleet efficiency will drop. Two-Mode hybrids use the same trick, but fortunately those vehicles high enough to avoid scraping. Volt isn't though. Cruze isn't either. Seeing the MPG estimates from the EPA rise as a result of this isn't what the automaker wants. So, the current compromise is to have dealers provide the modification for any owner who complains about scraping. Interestingly, even the shorter plastic doesn't provide as high of a clearance as Prius. I'm quite curious what comments posted online will be about this situation. It's difficult to guess what the reactions will be.
Diesel Niche. Remember how there were such high expectations for diesel years ago? The strong but small following of supporters didn't grow. New consumers weren't drawn into the online world of enthusiasm. It basically just fizzled away. The same thing has been happening with Volt lately. We have watched that huge daily blog go from lively posting to almost nothing. Activity has shifted over to a forum, but posts are surprisingly limited considering the abundance of driving experiences there are now to share. It's much like the "EREV" marketing label. Few beyond the enthusiasts use the term, so it's not a worthwhile means of drawing interest. Some argue Volt is an EV with the hope of attracting attention. Others embrace the reality of it being a hybrid (due to the direct-drive and the fact that it has an engine which consumes roughly a tank of gas every 1,000 miles) with the hope of enticement. But with all the mixed messages, the odds of it becoming a niche are all too real. Middle-Market consumers needs something to embrace.
19,429 Sold. The sales results from Japan were unexpectedly late; however, they certainly were worth waiting for. To be specific, it was finding out that 19,429 Prius were sold in June there. With so many vehicles destroyed and the infrastructure so impaired over there, a hybrid like Prius is quite a sensible purchase. It's nice to see Toyota being able to fulfill the demand, even if it does mean us having less here as a result... especially when demand is high without any government incentives available. In the end, the technology will come out even stronger as a result. So, we'll all benefit. Think about what they have to do for production. Combine that with all the new vehicles on the way, the situation certainly isn't business as usual anymore. Imagine that plant in Mississippi resuming construction someday. Recovering from industry fallout then dealing with disaster sure makes you wonder what historians will think of these times. The start of plug-in purchases by mainstream consumers is already marked with significant events.
Video - Afternoon Drive 2. This is the best yet; my first attempt to capture the 2010 Prius in action with 2 GoPro cameras went well. It was a beautiful day, so experimenting with a wider angle lens than in the past made for a good morning... which ended up early afternoon by the time all the trial & error was complete. The GoPro deals with vibration much better than regular HD video cameras, even when played back at 1080p with fast moving scenery. I'm quite pleased with that setup. Anywho, the drive itself through outer most reach of the suburbs was an efficient one, as you can see. The resulting 54.6 MPG speaks for itself.
Prius History. It really makes you stop and
wonder when you encounter someone who has only admired hybrids from afar.
Young and likely building up lots of debt was the person like that I had a
conversation with today. I was actually just casually looking at the
selection of computers, wondering what the new back-to-school selection
would end up bringing. She asked why I needed even more power than
what was there. I mentioned the overnight video rendering. That
quickly led to the topic of Prius. She started asking lots of
questions when I pointed out having driven them for almost 11 years now.
It hadn't crossed my mind how much of a history resource I had become, nor
did I realize how interested someone would be about that long ago past.
Now that there's no debate anymore about the future of hybrid, that
curiosity to make sense. Prius clearly isn't the fad antagonists had
once tried to portray it as.
Lost Touch. Reading this comment, you can't help to think the person has completely lost touch with the current market: "I have a 1997 geo metro. Still gets 42mpg... There is NOTHING amazing about the pious mileage. It is AVERAGE for a smaller car. Consider that in the mid 80's honda and VW had cars that would get 55 mpg, which easily bests the prius." That Metro is a tiny car with a 3-cylinder engine. Think of the safety features it lacks with respect to a modern vehicle, not to mention how much dirtier it is compared to the PZEV emission-rating from Prius. And since when is Prius small, especially compared to Metro? Of course, if your perspective is solely based upon 80's technology knowledge and late 90's vehicle experience, it's quite easy to not take you seriously. Some other source of credibility source needs to be provided. Heck, for all we know that MPG quoted was nothing but a brief random sampling rather than an on-going average. After all, it is all too common for ideal-condition efficiency to be reported and the harsh reality of real-world driving to be overlooked. Also, notice how the fact that those 80's vehicles being both diesel and manual transmissions wasn't mentioned. Excluding detail like that is a common technique for those attempting to undermine the progress of hybrids like Prius... or simply clueless about what it actually provides.
Waiting List. More and more, some are beginning to wonder if there really was a quantified list of any sort for Volt. Claims of demand from GM were always quite vague, stressing interest but without any specific connection to orders. Realistically, it doesn't matter. That time and those expectations have passed. Now we are trying to figure out how things will proceed from here. I interjected this into today's discussion: We already knew that each expressing interest would not result directly in a sale. Much of that was easy to confirm too, simply because the counts came about prior to the reveal of the price and the estimated MPG values. The real-world data disappointment (Winter efficiency) following rollout obviously didn't help either. GM would deliver Volt for demo models and to dealers requesting some for selling. There wasn't any priority order program as Toyota had done in the past and is planning to again. That lack of effort to match wanting consumers to available inventory has helped to confirm things aren't a rosy as they've been portrayed.
So Far Ahead. The same video camera I've been using for the display captures in the Prius was attached to my helmet today, continuously snapping photos every 10 seconds for my entire bike trip. It was a beautiful day out on that secluded trail out in the country. There were a few others out enjoying the unusually cooperative weather. Sure enough, at a rest stop someone asked about the camera. Based on the brief feedback I was getting while in motion, I figured that would happen the moment I stopped. They wanted to know all about it. But then when I finished providing answers about the camera, they turned to asking about me with, "Have you always been into the new technologies?" My response was, "Well, I've been driving Prius for almost 11 years now." The next question which immediately followed caught me by surprised, "How can Toyota be so far ahead of the American automakers?" That certainly caught me off guard! The reply to that was pointing out how the business cultures differed, how one invested heavily into the long-term well being and the other focused almost entirely on quarterly profits. There was no argument about that difference. It was just a sad reality being confirmed. The questioning then turned to asking how they'd finally offer something competitive. I had no idea wearing a helmet-cam could so easily turn into a discussion about hybrids.
What Happened. It's fascinating to read a comment like this from a long-time Prius supporter: "Really? I didn't know this. Wow." It was in response to a comment about what happened on the website dedicated to Volt. I provided this background information: Knowing details of that past provided a clue of what to expect upon rollout, especially with the extreme denial we saw from die-hard enthusiasts when direct-drive info was leaked. It was quite obvious there would be downplay coming. 1,776 miles of driving a Volt, yet never revealing the very information many people were begging for, was a major clue things were starting to go wrong. Why in the world wouldn't they share MPG data? Next came price... which horrified some and disenchanted others. It was a serious blow to a vehicle technology which had been hyped all along as a mainstream choice for consumers in late 2010. Upon rollout, a major change came from a non-GM source. It was an abrupt shift in stance from the founder of that daily blog for Volt. He worked intensely for 4 years to establish a website to support the rollout effort, then suddenly became quiet. Strangeness in his reporting of real-world data was the first clue. Nothing reported during the blizzards at the end of the year where he lived added to the mystery. That was a golden opportunity to endorse Volt performance in hostile driving conditions. Instead, we didn't hear a peep. Then came the announcement of the website being sold. Something was amiss. Now all this time later, we know things aren't going as hoped. So, taking a look back at how GM & Volt got into this mess should help us better understand what is to come. In the meantime, I'm scrambling to document every little detail of cordless Prius real-world data (including video) so I can share extensive comparison info later when I get my PHV. Don't expect my 11-year effort to abruptly come to an end. I plan on kicking gas for many years to come.
Uncertain Demand. It certainly looks like all Prius purchases are all sold orders now. That means deliveries to dealers are already claimed, not available for immediate sales. When I drove by the local Toyota dealership here, there were only trunks & minivans in back. No more Prius, Corolla, Camry... or any car to speak of in normal status. Supply is sparse. So, what does that mean for demand? Are consumers buying from other automakers or just patiently waiting for inventory to return back to normal? With the price of gas bouncing up & down, what level of priority is fuel-efficiency now? In the truck market, they still don't seem to care. But then again, pickups are typically used for utility as they were designed. It was using monster-size SUVs for daily commuting that was the problem. Now with all the SUV downsizing, they are losing their appeal. Cars are returning to popularity to some degree. How much is uncertain. Time is what will ultimately reveal demand. The rollout of the new Prius models should be well timed for that... a fortunate break for a Japanese automaker struggling from infrastructure damage.
1 Year Later. I bumped the "Freedom Drive" thread on the big Prius forum with this today: As this publicity stunt gone bad fades from memory and all the hype dies down, the reality of sales is beginning to emerge. The expensive plug-in that was delivered, which reverts to traditional vehicle efficiency after depletion, isn't taking the market by storm as it was hoped to. In fact, their own traditional compact is instead. The public stock our government was hoping to sell back is still valued at less than what we paid for it. Accepting that loss would officially qualify it as a bailout... and without any competitive high-efficiency technology to show for it. Heavy dependence on taxpayer funding (credits) for the sales of Volt further stress that point. Waiting and hoping for the best isn't exactly a sound plan. Showing patience works if there's something realistic to be delivered. But all is quiet now. No more 1776-miles drives. No more 230 MPG advertising campaigns. Even the spin about low sales has subsided. What should we expect from GM now?
June Sales. The effect of those disasters in Japan
are clearly being felt still. Watching inventory shortages play out is
rather creepy. Some dealer lots are completely bare.
Fortunately, there are some sales, but the pickings are slim. Prius
was way down, to just 4,340 sold here during the month. Insight was
the next most popular hybrid with 1,021. Surprisingly, the CR-Z was
close behind with 966. Interestingly, there were 1,708 Leaf delivered
& sold. That put Volt in a very awkward position, with only 561.
No one really knows what that means anymore. It's quite obvious though
that opportunity is being missed. Cruze has sales of 24,896.
That overshadowed everything else, becoming the top-selling car. So it
should be quite clear far more GM customers place affordable pricing as a
higher priority than ultra-high efficiency. Remember the craziness of
the "Freedom Drive" publicity stunt that happened a year ago?
The Volt enthusiasts certainly weren't expecting a status like this the
following July. We all now patiently await the arrival of the new
larger and the plug-in models of Prius.