Personal Log  #538

November 19, 2011  -  November 27, 2011

Last Updated: Sun. 1/22/2012

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Sales Curiosity.  Now that Chevrolet dealers are allowed to sell their Volt demo models, the expectation is that there will be a large surge in sales for the month... since demand is supposedly well above supply.  Curious to find out what the potential could be, I did some searching online to see if inventory data was available.  Sure enough, it was.  Gotta like the internet.  Anywho, it's a really big deal that GM boosts the purchase rate and keeps it up.  There are 3,066 dealers.  Each will need to sell at least 1 Volt per month to meet the sales goal next year.  Of the 35 dealers in the metro area where I live (Twin Cities), 24 of them provided online access.  From searching each:  One dealer had 7.  One had 5.  Two had 4.  Six had 3.  Four had 2.  Nine had 1.  One had 0.  That came to a total to 55 Volt available immediate purchase within a 50-mile radius.  Each of the other 11 dealers likely had at least 1 available as well.  That makes me more curious than ever.  Too bad I hadn't thought of searching earlier.


Cycle Life.  How many full discharge cycles are actually available?  That's always been a concern with lithium batteries, not just their initial cost.  The plug-in Prius uses a different chemistry than Volt & Leaf.  It doesn't use the pack exclusively for hard acceleration or high-speed cruising either.  Volt is the only with liquid cooling, Leaf & Prius use air.  So right from the start, there isn't a way to do direct comparisons.  All will lose capacity over time, we know that part for certain.  How much is the question.  With Leaf, range is reduced and there's nothing you can do about it.  With Volt, dependency on the engine will grow.  With the plug-in Prius, you'll basically just get more of the same hybrid efficiency.  However, the school of thought is that won't happen as quickly for Prius due to the lower power threshold... the very thing Volt enthusiasts have been mocking.  Not working the battery as hard should extend its life, something already well proven with the approach prior to introducing a plug.


Predictions.  I see the plug-in option for Prius becoming more common due to price dropping and market acceptance.  At the same, I see energy density increasing, which will result in modest capacity gains... kind of like the the efficiency improvements of the past we've already seen from Prius.  The next generation will simply offer more at the same price.  I don't see the demand for sacrificing storage to deliver a significant capacity increase.  That large area above the false floor for cargo is a major sales draw.  Prius is well known for being practical, not just being clean & efficient.  There's the issue of timing too.  The tax-credit already has an expiration date.  Government budget shortfalls could make it come sooner.  This approach already takes that into consideration.  The goal is to achieve high-volume sales to meet CAFE regulations as well as reduce our demand on fossil fuels.  It's a challenge balancing time & priorities.  PIP strives to deliver.


Worst Enemy.  For one particular automaker, the worst enemy is itself.  Resulting self-inflicted wounds are what continuously draw the attention.  Others stay surprisingly quiet.  Just the one seems to step on its own efforts. Ugh!  Anywho, this was the summary I provided about that problem today:  Sadly, GM has a reputation for ever-changing plans.  When they finally decided to endorse hybrids rather than fighting them with their "stop gap" campaign, we kept hearing different intentions for Two-Mode.  They couldn't make up their mind how it would be configured & implemented.  I started my more extensive blogging in part to keep track of the frequent changes.  Recently, we've been seeing the same thing again with both eAssist & Volt.  To make matters even more confusing, weak Volt sales have stirred executive talk about a more affordable version being offered.  But to keep the reputation of Volt intact, it would be rolled out as a Cruze instead.  Now, there's the mess with post-accident fires.  Having such a difficult to access battery-pack is going to complicate matters.  Watching the shoot-the-messenger & conspiracy-theory responses to that in addition to the cold-season efficiency drop evasion, you can see trouble brewing.  Those enthusiasts didn't bother studying history, despite countless warnings about market problems of the past.  To think that warranty claims later could make the mess even more complex, it makes you wonder how the heck GM will become competitive.


Full Year's Data.  There's been a battle going for a few days now on the big GM forum.  It started with my asking for electricity consumption data, since all that had been provided was gas consumption data.  Questioning the only trophy Volt enthusiasts have left to flaunt isn't exactly inviting a constructive discussion.  Needless to say, it was a repeat of the same nonsense of the past... with one important exception.  Now that there's a website collecting owner data, they have something new to spin.  Of course, it doesn't include kWh data either.  For that matter, gallons also aren't available.  All we are presented with is MPG and Mile values.  Not knowing how often owners actually plug in or for how long is a big deal, yet carelessly excluded.  Anywho, since some of distances logged are in excess of 12,000 miles now, an effort has begun to portray that as a full year of data.  In reality, the database only has a single entry for April.  So, there's really only 6 months of data... all from warm-season driving.  The intentional disregard for cold-season results is blatant greenwashing... and you know they'll become hypocritical next year about this, claiming that's exactly what PIP owners are doing... despite the fact that it's exactly what they're doing now.  Fortunately, the typical mainstream consumer waits for the first full year to pass anyway.  So, not much damage should come from their deception.


Order Expectations.  What would you expect from the priority ordering opportunity?  How many people do you know that would place a deposit to purchase a car online without ever having driven it?  That's an extremely difficult perspective to consider.  In 2013 when the plug-in model of Prius starts showing up in dealer inventory, the simple matter of selecting that package option will make sales dramatically either.  It's a brilliant approach.  The enhancement of EV driving from a higher capacity battery and a plug is a very easy concept to understand.  The benefit is obvious.  It's basically just a matter of price consideration.  You don't even have to bother a level-2 charger.  An ordinary household outlet will do the job in just 3 hours.  In other words, I'm thinking order expectations won't have any reflection on demand once regular shipments begin... or when real-world data begins to stir excitement.


Business Reality, agreement.  It's quite odd when the majority actually agree with you.  This was the quote which I selected to respond to:  "My hope was they would price it only slightly higher than the regular model."  The priority of price continues to remain near the top.  My contribution to that was:  With only a modest price premium, that could have given it the competitive edge many had been hoping for.  Instead, it's going to be a struggle to point out detail differences.  It also leaves a large efficiency product gap.  eAssist doesn't fill the void. 31 MPG for a combined estimate is far too distance from Volt's efficiency.  There's nothing in between from GM.  Other automakers are working to offer something in that zone though.  Handing over sales to the competition isn't exactly a good business plan.  Longer term will be an issue too.  You get a hint of that from the press release.  GM only listed engine horsepower, not the overall combined.  Pointing out that Camry uses an 105 kW electric motor and Malibu only a 11 kW makes the difference overwhelmingly clear.  So, they didn't.  With such a small electric motor, not much more can be squeezed out of it.


Business Reality, trouble.  The title of the article caused quite a stir: "Hybrid-like fuel efficiency for a non-hybrid-like price."  These were the thoughts I posted on the big GM forum:  GM has so many issues at this point, it's hard to know where to begin.  They renamed their second-generation BAS system to eAssist, so it wouldn't be associated with hybrids anymore.  Then what do they do shortly before the reveal?  They rename it again to ECO.  No wonder so many of their supporters confuse facts.  It's really hard to follow history with changes like that.  To make matters worse, they abandon the "not a hybrid" approach itself by comparing their system to 4 other hybrids.  The comparisons themselves are total greenwashing too.  Listing only the competition's highways estimate is called cherry-picking.  That intentional exclusion of both city & combined estimates is just plain wrong.  Then of course, the entire purpose of that approach was missed.  Having a goal of being significantly less expensive would offset the less effective hybrid system.  Well, that didn't happen.  26 city and 38 highway for $25,995 isn't enough to compete with Camry's 43 city and 39 highway for $26,660.  Also, note how the press release made no mention whatsoever about emissions.


Wake-Up Call.  They're not happy with me.  Reality is rapidly crashing down.  The first year is just about over and the second presents a variety of new challenges, namely competition.  I pointed out:  Volt enthusiasts should enjoy the engineering merit their vehicle of choice has earned.  But that praise needs come to an end as the first year completes.  That means turning attention to business objectives.  It's time to become supporters.  For those who actually purchased one, they too should receive acknowledgement.  However, they already have a reputation for only sharing information about gas consumption.  Disregarding electricity consumption could easily be considered greenwashing.  That's not a good approach with the ultimate goal being sales.  With the plug-in market so volatile in the first place, not being open when sharing owner experiences is a terrible choice.  People should be informed about how often the vehicle is plugged in and how much it takes to charge it.  They want to know how many kWh it took to travel that distance reported, not just gallons.


Wow.  This comment seems innocent enough, at face value anyway: "The Volt is a great car.  I'm getting by on less than 3 gallons of gasoline per month.  11,000 miles at 29.8 gallons to date."  The problem is, it's more of the same nonsense again.  Only one of the two fuels used were actually mentioned.  Needless to say, I couldn't let that go.  After all, the comment was made on a blog celebrating Volt awards.  All they really just wanted to gloat.  I wanted to keep them honest and remind them of purpose.  It's not celebrate being a halo.  How do you think that turned out?  Here's what I asked:  Do you have an idea how much electricity was consumed?  Knowing how often you plug in, if the pack is totally depleted, and when ownership began is helpful information too.


Video: Winter Afternoon.  The next day, the sun came out and all the fresh snow quickly began to melt away.  It was a very good representation of Spring here, making it a excellent example of what I'll be comparing to when I get my plug-in Prius early next year.  So, I went for a drive along the same country highway from many of my earlier videos, back when it was much warmer.  Efficiency wasn't as good with so much colder of a temperature.  The end result after 17.8 miles was 52.2 MPG.  I certainly have nothing to complain about from efficiency like that, but it's hardly representative of the Winter driving I experience routinely in Minnesota.  It's probably familiar to those not living as far north though.  Watch this...  winter


Had Someone.  Don't you love how someone will state a what-if, pretending it didn't actually happen?  Well, I saw exactly that today: "Look at it this way, had someone a decade ago predicted that we'd see every automaker scrambling to make electric or electric-assist cars we'd have laughed, especially as gas was so cheap."  It's quite frustrating how history gets distorted like that.  This was my response:  That's exactly what happened, the forums & blogs confirm it.  Later in 2004, the efficiency technology was labeled as just a "stop gap" and still laughed at.  Finally, when GM changed attitude and rolled out something, it was expensive and only available on the largest vehicles.  Years later when it was scaled down, the technology was still expensive and relied upon a plug.  Now, GM has its own "stop gap" to make up for the price-drop wait in the meantime.  We knew it was coming.  Peak oil (high price spikes and loss of market stability) happened exactly as predicted a decade ago.  Sadly, the obsession with speed & power continues to misguide efforts.  Business need comes secondary to engineering praise.  There isn't a product for the mainstream, those middle-market consumers who purchase vehicles like Malibu & Cruze based on a balance of priorities, including a heavy consideration of price.  With Toyota about to debut a 55 MPG model of Prius priced around $20,000 without needing a plug, the automaker scramble is easy to see at this point.  Adding capacity to take advantage of plugging in is easy to see too.  The catch is actually having something available to sell.  One size does not fit all.  How much longer will it take for the technology to offer a variety of affordable choices?


Endless Ranting.  It really does come to an end.  Both on the big GM forum and the daily blog, the "over promise" rants are all but completely gone.  There's nothing left to dispute the "under deliver" outcome anymore.  Some will refer back to revised plans as if none existed prior to them, but the attempt to divert attention away from actual need is easy to see... so are the claims they make up about the competition.  In other words, shaking out the shortcomings of Volt prior to the rollout of PHV has been quite informative.  Getting practice dealing with their twisting of so-called facts helps too.  We'll still get lots of being vague and quoting extremes, no matter how well prepared.  It's human nature to deny when goals begin to slip.  It always comes down to sales in the end.


Video: Snowy Suburb.  The first snow of the year fell 2 days later.  That meant driving that same suburb route, yet again.  This time though, I had a wet windshield to deal with, the flakes were still falling, it was quickly getting dark, and rough road surface presented a new source of vibration to deal with.  Talking about a challenge... not to mention the driving itself.  Watch the road as I near the water tower.  It's shining, glazed ice.  All worked out well... even the resulting efficiency.  51.9 MPG from 15.6 miles of real-world Prius driving in Minnesota.  The video captures what I see routinely during the warmer days of Winter, as Fall fades away and when Spring finally arrives.  See it here...  winter


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