Personal Log  #521

July 9, 2011  -  July 16, 2011

Last Updated: Mon. 7/25/2011

    page #520         page #522         BOOK         INDEX         go to bottom 



After Rollout.  Both Two-Mode & Volt were heavily promoted as "game changer" technologies while being developed, then experienced very low sales after rollout began.  Both had attention quickly shifted to the next-generation design and the current one downplayed.  Now combine that with very strong sales of Cruze and the growing interest for having GM offer a model with eAssist, it should be easy to see the trouble ahead.  Volt is slipping further and further away from the middle-market vehicle that we were told would be delivered.  Neither production nor price resemble the typical mainstream offering.  How will that be overcome, especially with GM's own offerings competing against it?  Notice how Ford doesn't place emphasis on rollout or penetration anywhere near as much as GM.  Claims that it's just spin in defense of Toyota don't hold.  A great deal of importance was place on Volt, but the battery-range, engine-efficiency, and emission-rating didn't meet their own goals.  So, have aspects of business expectations not fall into place afterward shouldn't be much of a surprise.  That may sound cold & harsh, but it a whole lot easier to set new more realistic goals than just claiming its "vastly superior".


Trouble Ahead.  The downplay of expectations for Volt continues.  Supposedly, the technology was intended to better position GM for the future and high-volume sales of Cruze now has been the plan all along.  In the meantime, the plug-in model Prius is an "underwhelming" attempt to deliver an EV.  Supposedly, it was never the goal for Toyota to deliver an affordable plug-in design that significantly boosts efficiency.  From that, it's pretty easy to tell how desperate the situation has become.  You can only do so much to distract from disappointing sales.  It would be one thing to simply be quiet & patient.  But it's entirely another to dismiss the importance price and be so dependent upon taxpayer funding, especially with the way our economy & deficit is... all while disparaging Toyota and pleading for supporters to see the error in their ways by embracing "range extending" instead.  That doesn't exactly endorse any particular goal, it's just more of the same trophy-mentality we've seen for years.  That spells trouble ahead unless something changes.


Shop for a Volt, buy a Cruze.  With a title like that, it doesn't take much to suspect a financial publication published the article rather than an automotive enthusiast media source.  Sure enough, Fortune stepped up to point out what should have been obvious.  In fact, they stated it so well, here's the what was at the heart of the report: "Customers that drooled over the Corvette eventually bought an Impala or another Chevy model.  Customers who admire Volt for its engineering cleverness are choosing the Cruze or Malibu.  In other words: GM's marketing for Volt is working to a T."  As you can imagine, reading that doesn't make the enthusiasts happy.  Needless to say, my measure of merit... sales shared by a growing number of others.  Remember the concern?


Debunking Myths, trolls.  After a day of ponder, this is the myth I'm going to point out.  Some people think there's a natural progression toward efficiency improvements.  I've heard this countless times in the past: "Let the automakers work out the kinks, then I'll consider buying one."  Trouble is, how will they actually know when that's been accomplished?  We've got those people called trolls, individuals who intentionally undermine progress by claiming those kinks still exist.  They create & feed myths.  Does the typical consumer realize there are individuals like that?  How would they even know the difference between someone trying to help and someone trying to hinder?  The key is to be aware of their existence.  Watch for them, don't just assume all is done for the greater good.


Debunking Myths, others.  The benefit from continuing seemed illusive at this point and jumping ahead to read the comments confirmed the futility.  Mixed messages over the years about Volt and those attempting to undermine Prius appear to have confused readers to such a degree that even articles which address that become confusing.  These turned out to be anything but actual myths.  Remember misconceptions of the past?  They all repeated over and over again, even when the audience differed.  It all comes down to the basics in the end.  Consumers will purchase a vehicle offering a nice balance of features at a reasonable price... which is what the mainstream market is all about.  Hybrids are so common now, they've already proven realistic.  What myth can survive with all that real-world driving taking place?


Debunking Myths, forced.  I should have stopped, this seems to be a waste of time at this point.  Supposedly some people believe GM was forced by the government to create Volt.  This is the first I've ever heard anyone mention that.  Had CAFE standards been addressed back then, perhaps.  But back in early 2007, it was the huge success of Prius and the push from Tesla that got GM concerned.  Maybe we can even give some credit to Ford for continuing to invest in their battery research & develop as a contributing factor too.  Whatever the case, we always knew Volt was an enthusiast driven venture.  Had it been government or business, the outcome would have been much more in line with high-volume production & sales.


Debunking Myths, expensive.  Now we get to the real content, where the true colors came out.  This was the justification for the price: "Being in a segment all by itself, the Volt has no equal."  It's that same old vastly superior nonsense, dismissing affordably in favor of solving this supposed problem from other EVs: "...contributing to range anxiety and resulting in inferior levels of convenience."  It's hard to believe that's the spin we get now.  Makes you wonder what the approach will be next year, when the other plug-in hybrids come to market.  What will be the justification for a much higher price be then?


Debunking Myths, engine.  By the time I got to this point in the article, I wondered what the true purpose of it was.  Mentioning the need to plug in not being necessary again didn't make sense.  It was a repeat of the first myth, just pointing out a second time that there was an engine available to provide power after the battery-pack had been depleted.  This make me wonder why I've even spending time documenting this.  Perhaps it will be the first of many examples straining to keep attention on Volt.  After all, other plug-in hybrids will offer the very same ability... though some will offer greater flexibility than others.


Debunking Myths, modes.  Supposedly, Volt has 5 distinct modes and Prius only has 2.  I had absolutely no idea what the heck this article was claiming.  The author literally just made up what he thought could be described as operational behaviors.  It was just plain weird.  How could there only be 2 for Prius, especially since there are 3 mode buttons on the dashboard and another for when none of them are engaged.  The frequently changing power-flow on the Energy Monitor should have been a clue too.  In other words, this was a prime example of a red herring, where you get distracted by something that really doesn't equate to anything.  I saw it as a rather transparent attempt to make Volt appear superior.


Debunking Myths, temperature.  This one actually makes a little bit of sense.  Extreme cold & hot are known to affect battery performance.  But fear that you'll be unable to start the vehicle during the dead of Winter or peak of Summer is rather pushing it.  Maybe people haven't ever noticed how temperature affects efficiency of their own traditional vehicle each season.  Having never considered a situation before could lead to some uncertainty.  But when it comes to common sense, you have to wonder if an automaker would ever risk the liability of selling a vehicle like that.  When has there ever been a reliability issue of that nature?  Why would this be any different?


Debunking Myths, range.  Now that Volt is available, lists of misconceptions are popping up.  They're quite strange though.  It makes you wonder where those myths really come from.  Nonetheless, they are rather interesting to consider.  But then again, they could be used as a red-herring.  So, beware.  Anywho, at the top of this particularly entertaining list was range.  Supposedly, some people are concerned about it only being able to drive for 40 miles.  How anyone could think that after the battery is deleted you'd be stuck is rather bizarre.  Of course, all the promotion proclaiming Volt an EV could have unintended consequences of people assuming incorrectly.


Diesel Cruze.  The rumors are growing.  A publication based in Detroit put it this way: "The new Cruze could get 50 mpg on the highway, beating the pants off something like a Prius."  Talking about hyping up expectations!  How is that realistic?  Of course, another Detroit publication implied the 50 was an average, not just highway.  City is much lower.  But that information was conveniently missing.  Prius delivers 50 MPG on the highway and even better in the city.  I witness it firsthand everyday.  Heck, I have even captured & shared video of that.  But how will the Cruze achieve the same?  The diesel model already available outside the United States doesn't.  How will this one be different, especially with the smog-related emission requirements?  There's no contest which is cleaner or which will provide a better overall average.  Yet, GM is planning this anyway.  Diesel fuel is more expensive.  The engine adds to vehicle cost & weight too.  Also, some systems require a urea tank for emission cleansing.  Do you think Ford will ever bring any if its diesel vehicles to the United States?


Dealing With Trolls.  This became an intriguing discussion on the big Prius forum.  How do you deal with intentional undermining efforts, especially from those who thrive on attention?  They spread FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) and misinformation... which can result in lots of time being wasted and confusion among new members.  Needless to say, there was a wide range of suggestions, as well as the background I was able to provide...  Ironically, I got involved on that daily blog for Volt to dispel the misinformation.  They got really angry too, not the slightest bit happy that someone with so much real-world data was setting the record straight.  But the webmaster knew it kept them honest and the banter generated lots of traffic.  So, I wasn't ever banned.  Of course, always being polite and resisting the temptation to follow their red-herrings really help... being was a quite challenge.  Personally, I was truly amazed so much cheerleading could take place with so little actual design information to support the claims.  In the end, that hype was proven unworthy of the attention it got and they've been cautious about what they say to repeat it from happening again.  So, I feel like I came out ahead, having learned quite a bit about Volt through observation of the design as it progressed.  From a troll point of view, they dropped far more bait than I ever bit at.  Their FUD harmed their own credibility, despite me being the outsider.  It's a roll-reversal usually overlooked due to newbies assuming veteran members would never attempt such a thing.  To my delight, the moderators on the big GM forum actually turned on those doing that, since it was bringing down the reputation of the website as a whole.  Long story short, neither banning nor ignoring works for some.  There has to be a variety of approaches working in concert with each other all at the same time... a multi-front anti-FUD effort.  Turns out, that's a good participation opportunity for newbies anyway.  They get a chance to sound off and contribute their experiences.


Production Recovery.  The word from Toyota today was that production will have recovered back to normal levels in September.  That sure is a relief.  What an odd situation, for dealer's lots to be so empty.  Inventory has been so limited, it makes you wonder how a salesperson could continue to earn enough commission to pay their bills.  It's quite an unusual situation to have to deal with.  Such extraordinary circumstances like that sure are an odd twist in history.  To think that Toyota, Honda, and Nissan all got hit really hard and Detroit was somewhat able to exploit the opportunity.  True, GM really blew it with Volt inventory.  But Cruze was able to rise to the occasion.  And let's not forget Sonata from Korea, which is selling well in both traditional & hybrid models.  Of course, the forecast now is that more Prius will be purchased here this year than last.  The schedule for the rollout of the wagon model wasn't effected by the disasters either.  Who would have ever predicted the influence an earthquake, tsunami, and resulting infrastructure damage would and wouldn't have on the automotive industry.


Gas-Free Misleading.  Now that real-world data is available for Volt, next comes the misleading.  This statistic posted a few days ago has stirred that problem: "About two-thirds of the more than 2 million miles driven by Volt owners to date have been powered by domestically produced electricity".  No mention was made about how many gallons of gas or how many kWh of electricity were actually consumed.  It's just a vague statistic.  Emissions from electricity creation can be dirtier than gas combustion, especially if coal was the source.  Then, there's the reality that most of the data came from warm-weather driving.  Of course, that statistic does overwhelming support the fact that Volt is not an EV.  But then again, other plug-in hybrids won't be reporting data that way anyway, since combining gas & electricity can be better for reaching optimum efficiency.  What would you report for a PHV owner  sustaining 100 MPG on the highway at 70 mph?  Statistics without data shouldn't be taken at face value.  Does the early-adopter outcome represent what mainstream owners would experience or are they exploiting efficiency opportunities?  Always dig for detail.


What's Next?  Now that the website dedicated to Volt has lost just about all of its blog attention and the forum there has only sparse participation, it's time to ask what's next.  Looking at the big GM forum, that's a mess.  There isn't any clear support there for any GM technology anymore.  In fact, many of the efficiency related threads are actually about the competition instead.  Ford seems to possess much potential, but how that will play out is anyone's guess.  Honda & Nissan are big uncertainties.  Interestingly, the first hybrid from Korea is off to a promising start.  Then there's VW, coming from the land of diesel, its really hard to take any of the ever-changing hybrid concepts seriously.  Eventually, each of the automakers will finally offer something relatively competitive.  But how long will that take?  An answer to the "what's next" question specifically for next year leaves you with a selection of new vehicle & technology introductions... making you wonder how deep each will strive to appeal to mainstream consumers.  Needless to say, we face a new frontier filled with lots of traditional buyers who already have very particular purchase priorities.  Perhaps we should be asking "how much" change they are willing to accept.


back to home page       go to top