Personal Log  #537

November 10, 2011  -  November 18, 2011

Last Updated: Mon. 11/28/2011

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One-Year Anniversary.  There's not much to say at this point.  The concern about "too little, too slowly" came about due to how slow change in the automotive industry had been prior to then.  Combine that with the struggle GM was having with Two-Mode, there was good reason to push.  After all, even at the time of bankruptcy we could see Volt heading the same direction.  It would work, but be far too expensive.  Sure enough, a year later and that's the number one complaint... even with such a generous tax-credit.  The anniversary today is that it's been one year since the IPO.  The offering of public stock was supported by the federal government purchasing 500 million shares.  It was an attempt to provide the automaker with lots of cash, but not be considered a loan or bailout... since they could later be sold back.  If all went well, taxpayers would make a modest profit in return.  Instead, the stock price plummeted from $33 to just $21.68 each.  That's quite a loss.  To make matters worse, there's still a huge void between their most efficient traditional vehicle and Volt.  That's missed opportunity the competition will take advantage of. In other words, the concern was validated.  What happens now?


Charging Losses.  Thankfully, we're seeing awareness of kWh values from automakers now.  That's the quantity of electricity consumed by a plug-in vehicle.  Reporting only gas used by a hybrid with a plug makes no sense.  Ignoring a fuel isn't the slightest bit constructive either.  Yet, that information was conveniently excluded by many.  Unfortunately, those who are now beginning to include it don't take all the electricity consumed into account.  There are losses caused by converting household AC electricity into DC for battery storage.  One new owner genuinely attempting to be helpful stated the situation this way: "I can confirm that using a 'Kill-A-Watt' meter to measure the power to charge the battery is - pretty consistently - by a factor of 1.35 higher than what the 2012 Volt display shows what was used for a trip."  In other words, when using the entire 10.4 kWh of electricity available from the battery, about 14.0 kWh is actually provided by the cord.  That's 3.6 kWh never mentioned. It's quite a bit higher than the 12.9 kWh originally predicted too.  Charging losses are something we need to raise awareness about, to hopefully prevent a new misconception from emerging.


Order Submitted.  What can I say?  I was a very exciting experience.  Of course, it took me 4 times longer than everyone else... since I was taking the time to graphically capture each & every moment of the ordering process.  After all, it's not everyday you get to participate in a moment of history like that.  Anywho, I ended up with confirmation number 640.  That's an impressive count considering it really only took people a few minutes to submit, receive, then confirm an order online.  Next comes the painfully long wait.  The order itself isn't a placeholder in line either.  It's just to reserve a car for you. Early 2012 is all the final notice I got said.  That's good enough for me.  The next few months include 3 major holidays, so it will go be somewhat quickly anyway.


Plug-In Order Day.  It finally arrived.  Wow!  There are many online at this very moment who are expressing their apprehension about the process.  There is uncertainty about what the dealer must do to process the request and doubt that there will be enough available.  After all, with over 42,000 expressing interest by signing up for the priority ordering opportunity, it does make you wonder how many will be allocated for this initial disbursement.  Only 16,000 to 17,000 are expected to be available in this market next year.  Could an early sell out actually happen?  That would be intriguing.  I can't imagine so many preferring the online purchase approach though.  Traditional ordering from a dealer still seems more likely.  Watching those result in long delivery waits is more realistic.  After all, how many consumers have ever interacted with a plug-in vehicle before?  Even the plug itself is an unknown for most.  Anywho, it's been fascinating watching the posts appear.  So many waiting for the moment to push a submit button.  Here's what my input was to the craze:  This is my 4th time doing this now... 2000, 2003, 2009, 2011.  It's very exciting being on the verge of another memorable moment in life.  My late father would have found it very fulfilling to share the experience.  He was the one who introduced me to the worlds of cars all those decades ago.  Thanks Dad!  30 minutes to go.


Video: Suburb Drive 2.  Ready to order my plug-in Prius online, I prepared for a coffee run in the meantime.  Looking at the thermometer changed that though.  It was only 18°F, quite a change from the unseasonably warm weather 5 days earlier.  It was a beautiful sunny morning, I was yearning to test out the polarizing-filter augmentation, and I had the time available.  So, that's what I did.  Of course, I'd also be finding out what happens with my video setup when the defroster is required.  I drove the same route, but with even worse lighting conditions this time.  What was captured turned out great.  But even better, the real-world data itself revealed nearly identical efficiency... despite it being so much colder.  51.6 MPG certainly isn't the efficiency you'd expect.  Of course, it takes me more than 2 minutes to setup all the equipment.  So, the system isn't ice cold when I start.  The coolant temperature reaches the needed 103°F minimum while I'm still calibrating the camera for the speedometer cluster, allowing the engine to shut off.  But then again, the drive is over 30 minutes long and warm-up is more efficient when the vehicle is moving.  Ultimately, it's probably a wash.  Though, that's still informative to know regardless... drives


Lots of Bragging.  The voice of enthusiasts & owners are drowning out what's actually needed.  That's a bad sign.  Then when there is an attempt to respond to need, we get comments like this: "You seem to think that GM's goal was to flip a switch and make millions of Voltec cars.  They said it's the future, but the future isn't built in a day.  It takes time."  That misrepresentation is a great example of how downplay actually occurs.  They attempt to distract from the actual numbers stated in the past.  Some of us still remember though.  We are quite happy to point out detail... and the lack of:  That's a gross exaggeration.  There's a very real need to exceed the mainstream sales minimum in our market of 60,000 annually.  Why?  It's because the tax-credit will be expiring.  Reaching a business-sustaining level (lower price, higher volume, and profitable) within just a few years is the expectation.  Remember all the hype about Volt quickly becoming a top-seller?  That means achieving 120,000 annually here.  To continue with statements like this, "The Volt is real and exceeds all expectations.", won't change the reality of GM's own production and the competition within.  Bragging about being better than other automakers won't either; that's just a distraction.  I did like your question of, "Isn't that efficient enough?", since the statistic provided was quite arbitrary, with no reference to diminishing returns or vehicle size.  Consumer purchase decisions will address that, whenever the future does finally arrive.


Prius C.  A little bit of detail was revealed today in Tokyo, including photos.  It's a nice looking little brother to the current Prius.  There isn't any efficiency information available for us yet, but we now know that a 1.5 liter gas engine will be used in combination with a 45 kW electric motor.  That makes it like a Classic model, but more efficient and more powerful.  It's obviously more practical too, since it is a hatchback rather than a sedan.  Price hasn't been stated yet, but this compact model is obviously less than the base of the midsize.  Weight is said to be 596 pounds less, so that will definitely contribute to record-setting MPG without a plug.  We'll find out more early next year, as this model of Prius is shown in Detroit and as sales of it begin in Japan.  By the way, they'll be calling it "Aqua" there.


Favorable Reviews?  Each review of Volt includes the usual reference to speed & power.  Most just barely touch the aspect of efficiency.  None actually address the topic of emissions, avoiding coal obviously.  In fact, the comment "it still uses gas" seems to be popping up more often now.  What I'm pleased to see is how the basics are finally getting acknowledged.  Whether or not there is a place for a fifth person to sit has fallen by the wayside.  It's the 2 extra inches of legroom in back that Prius offers that people are now pointing out.  Practical is winning out over bragging rights.  Gotta like that!  Anywho, a long review from a GM supporter who has often battled against me concluded his sharing of a test-drive experience with this: "All GM really needs to do is to find a way to work the price down on the car without resorting to the de-contenting demon.  The Volt pretty much renders the Prius obsolete."  Don't you love how simplistic that was put, along with the usual smug?  Needless to say, I carefully worded my response, hoping for something constructive in return:  Nice write up... until that gotcha at the end.  Choice of motor & battery size in Prius was for optimum balance of price & performance.  Since GM instead decided to favor performance, what do you think they'll do to get the price down?  For that matter, how much does price need to come down?


Camry-Hybrid Arrival.  Delivery to dealers has begun.  This represents the start of the second generation for Camry hybrids.  Of course, that rollout designator doesn't actually reflect the advancement of the technology itself... just the vehicle it is available in.  That's why the vague label arguments of the past made no sense.  They only recognized a single vehicle, not staggered upgrades spread throughout a variety of hybrids.  Anywho, the 41 MPG combined sure is nice.  Seeing a $1,150 decrease in price for the LE model is even better.  It is an odd directional step in favor of product diversity though.  The emission-rating for the hybrid is supposedly the same as that of the traditional.  Toyota's choice to favor power & speed rather than optimize for emissions, yet still deliver better efficiency than the competition, shows a serious investment in the technology.  Giving consumers options like that is how older technologies are phased out.  Let them choose.  And now that availability has begun, they will.


$98.99 Oil.  The price climb continues.  Gas is $3.15 and diesel $4.15 per gallon.  That's a huge difference.  With the holidays approaching, don't expect that to change either.  It's a fact of life now.  We've grown accustom to being above $3.  Of course, how $4 will make diesel a compelling choice instead of gas hybrids is anyone's guess.  Yet, GM is still planning to introduce them.  I can't wait for comparisons to the plug-in Prius.  Averaging over 75 MPG will sure make people think twice about 40 MPG from diesel.  That per-gallon cost easily washes out the premium for the plug.  Time will tell.


Video: Suburb Drive.  There's finally a new video to share.  It was a remarkably beautiful late-Fall day and the last time I'd likely see 55°F for a very long time.  The sun was shining brightly, creating an incredible sight as it illuminated the wispy clouds across the blue sky.  That's a nightmare situation for filming video from inside a vehicle though.  I still haven't quite figured out how make a polarizing-filter with a GoPro camera.  But in the meantime, I've improved the mounting arrangement to make it setup easier.  There's no more vibration from the scenery camera anymore either.  Being such an inviting opportunity to play outside anyway, I setup for a full-scale test.  Who knew the circumstances would work out so well that I'd end up sharing the footage captured.  True, there's more refinement needed still.  But I'm getting better at the process, including the rendering of the video afterward.  The drive itself was to the usual destination, that same coffee shop.  But this time, I took a suburb route.  The fastest speed limit encountered is just 45 mph and there are plenty of stoplights along the way.  That means the battery-pack will end up down to 2 bars, regardless of how I drive.  Fortunately, that's an excellent real-world situation to show, especially when the end result is 61.7 MPG after 15.6 miles.  The drive ended with the battery-pack at 6 bars too.  And yes, if you look closely just before I get into town, that white car I followed was indeed a Sonata hybrid... my first ever spotted on the road just happened to be when I was filming.  With a bit more work, it looks like I'll be able to prevent light from hitting the speedometer cluster and find a way to use a filter to prevent windshield glare.  Each attempt gets me closer.  By the time I get my PHV, lots of practice would have established a nice collection of videos for comparison... drives


Priority Ordering.  We got the official word from Toyota today.  We'll be able to submit priority orders for our plug-in Prius next week.  It's the second step, confirming interest in an actual purchase.  The first was simply adding your name to a notify database with your choice of dealer.  Now you specify the package & color as well as provide a $500 deposit.  That will set us on the path to delivery... the long wait.  It puts us in front of dealer orders, hence priority.  I like the opportunity, but at this point can easily demonstrate patience.  Getting a new car in the dead of Minnesota Winter wouldn't exactly be the ideal.  But by the time Spring arrives, I'd be yearning for the plug.  Hopefully, it will happen sometime just before that.  We'll see.


Engineering Arguments.  They are starting to make me crazy.  Thank goodness that's about to fade.  Volt will no longer be car of the year, since a new year is about to begin.  Makes you wonder what vehicle will get awarded that title.  Not that it matters, since business goals outweigh trophies.  Sales are difficult to ignore.  A particular few certainly try though.  Today, it was the argument that Volt was "better" than Prius.  Of course, I couldn't resist the chance to point out how vague "better" was... emphasizing how engineering merit is not the same as consumer need:  The "better" referred to by acceleration and fastest EV speed is an aspect of appeal to enthusiasts, not a priority of the mainstream.  The "better" referred to by the use of less gas doesn't take into account electricity consumption or overall emissions.  The "better" referred to by sales is what reflects the progress of actual change; bragging rights don't mean much if few ever own them.


The Wait.  I'm actually enjoying it. 4th time is the charm, eh?  Back in January 2000, I started my first wait.  That was a "boldly going" experience, totally worth every minute of anticipation.  I still remember that beautiful September day of delivery.  Oddly, the April to October wait back in 2003 was more surreal.  Prius was no longer a dream of technology advances, it was a well proven approach for being green & efficient.  Then in 2009, that next opportunity to upgrade came at a time when Prius had already become part of the mainstream.  So, the wait from January to May was basically just icing on the cake.  Now comes the plug. That I've been waiting decades for, since back when my late father fueled my interest in cars (pun intended).  Having driven an early model PHV back in August 2010, I already know how much the hybrid system is enhanced.  That it will have very strong appeal... so much so, I really don't want to miss any of the excitement build up.  No rush.  This is the history we'll all want to remember.


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