Personal Log  #528

September 8, 2011  -  September 15, 2011

Last Updated: Fri. 9/16/2011

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Long Wait, part 8.  Ongoing economic struggle combined with a major green government venture-capital failure today sure is bringing price to the forefront.  Even the most staunch of Volt supporters on that daily blog stated this:  "My guess is the Gen I Volt will be the best Volt made.  Gen II will shift downscale to compete on price better with the Prius/Fusion while the ELR will slot in above the Volt as the premium EREV."  In other words, everyone is finally in agreement about need and that's a discreet admission to being in error about priorities.  Without knowing the price of PHV yet, they recognize how heavily it weighed on Toyota's design decisions... and see how much more appealing that makes it for mainstream consumers.  I find that somewhat relieving.  But when sales of PHV shoot past those of Volt, then what?  It would be terrible if the hype started all over again.


Long Wait, part 7.  The biggest unexpected news today was that there would be an Expo this weekend in San Francisco featuring the what appears to be the North American configuration of the 2012 plug-in Prius.  That would certainly provide a few more bits of detail.  I highly doubt those attending will find out pricing information then, but it's already becoming apparent there will be packages to choose from.  There will be a new "Touch Pro" navigation system and a "GreenEdge" high-efficiency audio system.  So, it seems a safe assumption there will be one package offering them and one not.  Other goodies were listed in the "New Prius Family" press release, all likely candidates for a premium offering.  On the unofficial side, rumor has been that the equivalency rating for the PHV here will be around 111 MPGe.  That's more than just a little bit higher than the 94 MPGe for Volt, so you can imagine trouble on the way from that.  My favorite quote about the situation came from the an automotive blog that only occasionally features topics about hybrids was this: "The mileage may be on the low side, but on a value per buck basis, this thing is going to eat the Volt."  That goes to show how MPG alone is not compelling enough to be competitive.  It takes a good balance of features.


Long Wait, part 6.  The morning after the press reveal leaves us with fewer questions, but certainly not answers to everything.  Price is the big one, obviously.  There was a strange measure expressed as 14.5 miles EV at 53 mph.  That gave the impression of it being the marketing maximum.  Driving faster with the engine motionless is possible, but you won't get 14.5 miles from that.  It takes more energy to drive faster, especially beyond the 100 km/h threshold since the engine will spin then.  53 mph is 85 km/h, which is likely a common top city speed in Europe.  So, expressed in those terms of travel make sense.  For America, we likely won't get all our detail until the reveal here in mid-November.  Another bit of European information was an overall efficiency rating of 2.2 L/100 km.  That's 134.5 mpg is in imperial gallon, which is 1.2 times larger then a US gallon.  Also, keep in mind that they use different measurement methods.  We were provided with photos too.  The charge-port will in back, same location as the gas filler hole but on the passenger side.  Prius itself will be receiving a mid-cycle refresh.  A variety of bits in front will see cosmetic changes, the rear lights will change, and there will be new tire rims.  There will be an improved multi-information display too.


Long Wait, part 5.  Details are emerging now.  The big matter at the moment is battery detail.  Rather than the 5.2 kWh size we saw earlier, it will be 4.4 kWh.  That's without a range change.  Being lower capacity means smaller size & weight.  Cost will be less too.  The current NiMH battery-pack is 1.3 kWh and weighs 42 kg.  This one is obviously physically bigger, but the weight is only 80 kg.  That's an increase of 84 pounds.  As a result, overall vehicle weight increases only 89 pounds.  There isn't a spare tire anymore, but with it such a common size that isn't much of an issue using a repair kit for emergencies.  The false floor has battery cells underneath now instead.  Since it remains flush (just like the cordless model), you'll still get all the full cargo area for packing lots of stuff into.  For me, that means transporting a 3-wheel recumbent bicycle from time to time.  And yes, this pack will qualify for the tax-credit too, not that it will be a determining purchase factor.  Overall price was a high priority in the design.


Long Wait, part 4.  It's almost over.  As a result of the reveal time being so close, there's been a strange calm.  Those claiming Volt superiority aren't certain what to expect from Toyota.  Late in the evening, as morning hit Europe, news from Frankfort started to come out.  It was our first taste of the production model plug-in Prius.  In a video, we could quite clearly see that it would indeed come with a HV/EV toggle button, allowing you to delay when electric-only depletion occurs.  That's something Volt doesn't offer.  I'll certainly be taking advantage of that for some of my travel and winter warm-up when a plug isn't available.  The other new button was one called "EV City".  It's basically the electric-mode equivalent of a power-button.  We also briefly saw that the battery will be composed of 4 sub-packs rather than 3 as with the data-collection models.  The false floor will be flush too.  Not much else is known yet, but it won't be long before we get the rest of the details.


Long Wait, part 3.  Remember the first publicized plug-in Prius?  The prototype was a previous generation model which used dual NiMH battery-packs.  That extra power allowed for the 100 km/h (62.1 mph) electric-only drive speed and provided a means of collecting real-world data.  Unfortunately, there were patents & lawsuits preventing that research from actually being implemented.  People seem to forget those bits of history.  Of course, there are some who pretend that never happened too.  There's also the spin that Toyota claimed it wasn't possible to use lithium in a plug-in.  In reality, they twisted what was said about lithium not being cost-effective and the point about low yields.  Production in other industries has helped to work out issues with the latter, but cost is very much still a problem.  Fortunately, that wait for the reduction is buffered by the tax-credit available... which should help establish strong demand... which should contribute to lower prices.  The catch is it must happen quickly.  We should not wait long once rollout begins.  Taking too long to ramp up production following rollout could cause consumers to lose interest.


Long Wait, part 2.  Deeper reading into the discussion at hand, this sentence hit me after having already replied: "One of the biggest car companies in the world, IN THE WORLD, said they couldn't do it. The sad truth is, they didn't want to."  So, I followed up with:  I think I misinterpreted the rest of the post, not realizing that the "biggest" referred to the collapsed GM business.  Some of us wrote off their insincere and ever-changing promises many years ago, waiting until they actually delivered something rather than award merit based on announcements.  Now GM is attempting to recover their business, but still disregarding actual need.  Cruze obviously isn't a solution.  Neither is eAssist.  Volt is over-engineered, missing middle-market consumers entirely.  What a mess.  As it stands now, they still don't have an answer to Prius either.  There is nothing targeted for a mid-20's price offering a significant improvement to emissions & efficiency without being dependent upon a plug.  In the meantime, Toyota's 2012 line-up will offer several choices... Prius, Prius-V, Prius-C, and Camry-Hybrid.  Sadly, the summary of the situation with Volt still stands.  GM delivered a vehicle they wanted to build, not one they needed to.  It sure is going to be one heck of a wake-up call for them when plug-in Prius sales begin.


Long Wait, part 1.  On a thread discussing the merits of offering tax incentives to plug-in vehicles, this question was posed: "And ask yourself, why, WHY did it take so friggin' long for an answer to the Toyota Prius."  It's a sensible thing to ask from anyone without knowing the history of what led up to this point.  I provided:  No need, we've known that answer to the plug delay for a long time now.  Electricity has been dirty and used non-renewable sources.  Shifting over to a plug-in prior to the switchover to better electricity wouldn't actually solve any problems.  In fact, it could have made them even worse.  And why would any automaker sabotage the battery market by offering a plug-in before capacity, cost, and reliability reached a reasonably competitive level?  It's only now that lithium chemistry has achieved that.  While Toyota waited, they refined their hybrid system to easily accommodate the upgrade and get consumers use to the idea in the meantime.  So by the time production begins, many of the aspects of rollout would have already been heavily tested and responded to.  It's a good business approach for delivering a vehicle capable of high-volume profit sales shortly following rollout.  Consumers won't be waiting for a next generation design like a certain other plug-in hybrid.


Thermal Details.  An argument Volt enthusiasts like now is to push the Winter operational uncertainties of the PHV model Prius, since those details haven't been officially released yet.  That makes it very hypocritical refusing to discuss them about Volt still, yet they do anyway.  Prior to rollout, mentioning that topic labeling you as a troll trying to make Volt fail.  Now, they simply pretend EV purity has been achieved... even though we know that's far from the truth.  In reality, both vehicles are hybrids.  Prius is highly optimized for thermal efficiency; otherwise, delivering the PZEV emission-rating would still be the challenge Volt continues to face.  The added benefit of such attention to smog-related emissions is having hot coolant readily available for warming passengers... and the battery-pack.  Anywho, the official thermal detail released from GM is that the engine in Volt will run until the coolant temperature reaches 150°F (65°C) whenever the outside temperature is 25°F (-4°C) or colder... which is quite normal in Minnesota.  In fact, we can go weeks at a time without the temperature ever getting that warm.  Once reaching the threshold, the engine will remain off until coolant temperature drops to 104°F (40°C).  For the cordless Prius, that threshold is 114°F (45.5°C).  But the Prius system is heavily insolated, so it's really a matter of how long that lasts while swooshing through the cold Winter air.  Prius will run the engine enough to get the temperature back to 114°F 45.5(°C).  Volt will run the engine until the temperature climbs back to 150°F (65°C).  See how quickly comparisons get confusing?  Prius will run the engine more often, but for shorter intervals.  Volt will run the engine longer, but less often.  Of course, the engine in Prius is more efficient and it frequently takes advantage of direct-drive.  This is why insisted on knowing gallons & kWh actually consumed is so important.  How else would you properly compare them?


11-Year Anniversary.  It was yesterday for me.  Having driven a Prius for 11 years now boggles the mind.  It seems like just yesterday when I was impatiently awaiting delivery of that first one.  Certain individuals on the big GM forum despise having someone with so much real-world exposure always striving for constructive discussion.  They want cheerleading, anything else is unwelcome.  My response to their nonsense was this:  It all comes back to the same old question, Who is the market for Volt?  There will be increasing hybrid choices to choose from as the price of gas continues to squeeze incomes and those new CAFE requirements approach.  The new smaller Prius will be priced in the low 20's with a little bit higher MPG than the current model.  The plug-in Prius will offer absolutely amazing efficiency for those with short commutes, a significant MPG boost for those with longer commutes, and deliver standard Prius MPG following depletion.  In other words, these offerings target the mainstream directly, in terms very easy to understand.  Replacing traditional vehicles is the point.  Talk of the next generation Volt indicates interest in the technology, but highlights that how the current generation doesn't address the needs of middle-market.  High-Volume profitable sales won't be achieved from continuing with vague comments and relative measure.  It other words, the "it's worth it" and "best in class" arguments only work with enthusiasts.  The typical consumer wants clear numbers... like price, gallons, kWh, and emission-rating.


Saving Gas.  Putting efficiency in terms of "saving" gas has always been misleading, since the quantity differs dramatically depending on the type of vehicle you compare the consumption to.  In terms of stating a factor makes the situation even worse.  Today, it was "5 to 10 times less".  I questioned why the person was comparing Volt to the cordless model of Prius.  He revised his claim to "3 to 5 times less".  I asked how that was possible, knowing how heavily GM has promoted the "1,000 miles per tank" observations they've made from owners so far.  That works out about 0.74 gallons of gas consumed per 100 miles.  Over the same distance, the cordless Prius consumes 2.0 gallons.  So even without going any further, you can already see how flawed his original claim was.  And that's not even taking Winter efficiency into account, since most owners didn't take delivery until Spring.  Anywho, assuming the +75 MPG expectation for PHV (based on my 80 MPG observation, as well as several others in the early data-collection program), that would equate to 1.33 gallons... which means Volt isn't even saving 2 times less.  In other words, don't just accept quoted numbers without researching the detail.  This shows some are quite willing to make claims that simply cannot be validated.


Energy Politics.  This has always been a hot topic.  But in the past when gas was much less expensive, the disingenuous nature of claims was easier to slip by.  Now, we have presidential candidates drawing attention the topic... beyond just the "Drill, Baby, Drill" cheering of the past.  Some want to exploit all the non-renewable resources we have available.  Others simply promise lower gas prices in responsible manner.  Both disregard the future, placing short-term gain over long-term sustainability, and don't address the many benefits of reducing consumption.  We have even been told continued consumption at this level will help increase jobs.  Huh?  What about the jobs we've been talking about in support of new automotive opportunities and renewable energy technologies?  Of course, we still hear from climate-change skeptics too... despite the record flooding & drought conditions lately.  It's quite absurd and obviously not being taken seriously.  Good sound business investment in the future now means no need to scramble later.  Why isn't that part of the energy politics debate?


Cylinder Deactivation.  It has been limited to larger engines.  The more cylinders available, the less noticeable it was deactivating some.  With 8, only running with 4 easily balanced out load on the camshaft with little negative effect while cruising.  With 6, it took extra cushioning to prevent heavy vibration and sound-proofing to keep the noise from getting too harsh.  With only 4 total, cutting 2 meant stroke issues.  Either the piston-position was up or down, nothing in between as with 6 or 8.  Today's announcement from VW stated they have figured out how to overcome those issues of only having 2 pistons providing power.  It's seems to be clever solution for a problem with an alternative already available.  Using a hybrid design like Prius, you're better off simply shutting off the engine entirely.  Why bother with the complexity of splitting valve control when stopping all engine combustion is even more efficient?


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