Personal Log  #569

May 13, 2012  -  May 20, 2012

Last Updated: Weds. 6/06/2012

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Gallons Saved.  I was quite intrigued when this newest advertising campaign from GM featuring Volt was launched.  It's been 3 days.  Comments online about the "2,130,000 Gallons of Gas Saved" have been mixed.  The most obvious talking point came from what they were comparing to.  That wasn't stated.  Being vague allows you to assume it's in comparison to the high MPG choices that don't offer a plug.  But in reality, it looks like they are still using the 27.5 MPG average for the United States.  Naturally, there wasn't anything stated about how much electricity was actually consumed in its place either.  Knowing there are over 1 million Prius on the roads here, that's rather frustrating to see such lack of detail proliferate.  It certainly is nice to see gas dependency getting attention.  But that's leading to an increase in downsizing purchases of traditional vehicles, not a strong demand for Volt.  What will the situation be like 2 years from now?  Next year?  In the Fall, when Ford's plug-in becomes available?  As the biggest guzzlers disappear, what draw is there to purchase a much more expensive vehicle like Volt when you can just get a Cruze, or Sonic, or Malibu ECO instead?


Discovering C.  This series of quotes was from a delighted new owner: "I had always wanted a Prius, but never thought I could afford one... I sat in a car labeled Prius... I thought it was the traditional Prius... I had no idea there was a new model out... Then I saw the sticker price and I was sold!"  His thrill was clearly expressed in his introduction and follow up posts.  It was fantastic hearing from someone who discovered Toyota's newest hybrid, quite unexpectedly.  It was a natural choice for him.  No pressure.  No doubt.  Of course, now behind the wheel of one, he added this: "I can also see why the whole mpg thing becomes an obsession - the car kind of makes you want to do better."  That was great to read.  I articulated my feelings with:  Hearing that you didn't know a new Prius was available is very exciting.  It means there's untapped demand, a juggernaut waiting for more showroom discoveries.


Goodbye $100.  It looks like seeing that for the price of a barrel of oil is gone.  Pressures have finally subsided... allowing the closing price for the week to drop all the way to $91.48, making it the lowest we've seen for a very long time.  That means the concern of $4 is gone too.  Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be having a negative on the interest in fuel efficiency.  It appears as though higher MPG is a priority now among most consumers.  To what extent is the question.  This is a great opportunity to establish PHV in the meantime.  The expectations for plug-in hybrids are all over the place.  Being able to supply lots of real-world data prior to the next inevitable climb of gas prices should be quite helpful.  What are the assumptions now?  With all the hype from Volt over, it's time to find out if there was any collateral damage and deal with it quickly.  Would any of that even have influenced consideration of a plug-in Prius?  What about Ford's upcoming plug-in hybrid?  Less expensive gas may actually benefit EV rollout as well.  Establishing networks of charging-stations and lowering of battery cost requires lots of time.  PHV supports rapid acceptance without dependency upon it.  Tax credit expiration isn't a problem like it is for Volt.  That pressure still very much exists.  In fact, it will probably struggle more with the price of gas lower.  These are definitely interesting times.


Next-Gen Worry.  The talk of next-generation design for Volt has evaporated.  It had been a strong reason stated often for patience.  But that delay only made sense if you assumed the competition wouldn't be improving their designs within the same time period.  Turns out, Ford is in the process of doing that now and Toyota will be roughly when Volt gets an upgrade.  Knowing battery-tech and engine-efficiency will both be improving for them, any argument for Volt becomes moot.  The moving target is obvious.  Enthusiasts see this and have noticeably backed off as a result.  They are worried that GM will always be struggling to get ahead, that leap-frog hope depends heavily upon a dramatic cost-reduction.  Without that, the will have to settle for "direct competition" rather than being "vastly superior" as long hoped.  To them, the word compromise means "failure".  For the rest of us, it means "balance".  That's why they worry.  Trading off power & capacity for affordability is unacceptable, in their minds.  Of course, so is having a vehicle which doesn't stand out.  Being an ordinary family car doesn't draw attention.  That type of success is actually a conflict of interest... something else to worry about.  In the meantime, there are PHV owners like myself who are thoroughly enjoying the plug-in boost.


GM Stock.  It's extraordinarily difficult to have constructive discussion when it comes to the financial outlook for GM.  That's why Volt comments were often taken as confrontations, believed to be undermining efforts.  The situation became polarized.  With no opportunity for analysis, you were doomed to the "Anti-GM" label regardless of what you posted.  Only cheerleading was acceptable.  My approach has always been the grading method, identifying progress and by pointing out potential.  There's no outright failure.  Of course, when it came to Volt, the homework assigned wasn't what was actually turned into the teacher.  So, enthusiasts were always angered by not giving it an "A" based solely upon engineering accomplishment.  It didn't matter to supporters that the business aspect hadn't been addressed as instructed.  Whatever.  That could go on and on; however, there's no need anymore.  Reality has come crashing down.  Last week, the United States Treasury issued a report on their 26-percent stake in GM.  The $49.5 Billion spent on reviving the automaker back to profitability, unfortunately, continues to be a struggle to recover.  The short-term profits have been fine.  But for actual monetary payback of the 500 million shares still owned by the government, it's a big problem.  At the time of the report, stock was trading for $22.54 per share.  That's well below the $33 each they were purchased at.  Today, the stock closed at an all-time low of $21.18 per share.  The hope for a net gain, to help cover taxpayer expenses, isn't going to happen.  GM has expressed frustration from delay of selling that stock.  They don't like such a large outstanding liability, which contributes heavily to the "Government Motors" references.  The Treasury department doesn't want to accept such a massive loss.  Those who argued there's plenty of time, that the "early adopter" stage of Volt isn't too slow, are growing quiet.  Consequences of not having addressed the business aspect are making themselves quite apparent.


Estimated EV.  That start at 13.1 miles when I first got my PHV two months ago quickly shrunk.  It was based upon the assumption of lots of EV driving.  Instead, my driving has been heavy on the HV... especially as a result of that trip up north.  It dropped down to 11.2 miles.  Of course, that's just a range estimate.  The computer uses prior real-world data to approximate potential.  The value has no actual baring on outcome.  I've hit 14 miles of EV a number of times, despite seeing lower numbers on the computer upon starting the vehicle after recharging.  Plugging in at both home & work has helped bring it up.  The estimate EV climbed to 12.8 last week.  This week, I watched it return back to 13.1 miles.  Yesterday morning, it hit 13.2 for the first time ever.  Yesterday afternoon, it was 13.3 miles.  Today, both recharges were 13.3 too.  Knowing that others get values in the 14's and 15's, I'm quite curious what mine will end up at.  Summer driving trips should have a heavy influence... downward.  Winter will be even worse.  It doesn't matter much.  Efficiency is absolutely outstanding.  At this moment, my current tank at 675 miles is showing an incredible 107 MPG.


Turning Tides.  Things change.  Those who had incorrect assumptions in the past are faced with how to respond now.  Many simply go silent, mostly to avoid being labeled as hypocritical or needing to apologize.  Some also fear retaliation through spin, knowing how easy it was for them to twist facts.  A few rare individuals actually follow their principles and concede.  They begin ignoring the technology which they had previously endorsed and pay more attention to what you have to say instead.  That's when you know the tide had turned.  Blinded by brand loyalty themselves, they had just assumed you were doing the same thing... never actually looking into the detail you had provided all along.  I've witnessed that phenomenon in the past, dating all the way back to the original Civic hybrid.  Throughout the years, others came and went.  But for Volt, it is especially noteworthy... since no other high-efficiency had been so hyped.  Ironically, they played right into the "over promise, under deliver" self-fulfilling prophecy... despite being warned of how that happened in the past.  Thank goodness the direction has changed.  The flow is going in the other way now.  Resistance before may not be anymore.  In fact, those who had opposed may even become supportive.  These are interesting times.


C-Max Detail.  As expected, this new hybrid from Ford is a close match to Prius v but has components a little larger.  Of course, the only actual specification we got was the engine would be 2.0 liters.  The battery for both the hybrid and the plug-model are just said to offer more capacity, no detail.  The press-release just generically said it will have a faster maximum electric-only speed for the hybrid.  But since rollout won't begin now until this Fall rather than next month as anticipated, there's plenty more time to unveil small bits of information to build interest.  Price of the base model was revealed.  It will be $25,995.  That's about $500 less than v's base but obviously quite a bit more than the regular Prius and the c model.  It likely means the plug-in base will be more too.  Odds are it will be a popular vehicle, since it's traditional-counterpart available in Europe is.  Here in the United States, it will only be available as a hybrid.  With the price of gas going down and people growing use to paying more to fill the tank, it would have been nice seeing C-Max on the road sooner.  Oh well.


Gauge Confusion.  The aftermarket gauge I have works fantastic for conveying coolant temperature information.  Knowing that reveals a lot about how the system works.  It's quite educational.  But when it comes to MPG information, my experience with it today didn't go so well:  The merge onto the highway this morning was with the usual 1500 RPM maximum, dramatically increasing MPG from the usual 30 to 90 by taking full advantage of the plug-supplied electricity.  Upon settling down to a steady cruise at 70 mph with an engine RPM at only idle speed, still drawing heavily from the plug-in battery-pack, I noticed the instant MPG on the gauge.  21.7 MPG!  Huh?  The instant MPG on the Prius speedometer was spiked at 100 and so were the minute-summaries on the Consumption screen.  The gauge MPG value kept jumping from a low in the 20's to the 80's & 90's.  It clearly didn't understand what was happening.  I wonder if anyone else seeing older devices struggling to properly report data from new technology.  There are bluetooth connectors now, which interface with smartphones.  That would provide the ability to easily upgrade software.  But for now, it still pretty early for plug-in hybrids.  Aftermarket device confusion will likely take awhile to remedy.


Shrinking Thread.  It's interesting to interact with Prius owner who is now leasing a Volt.  That perspective is rare, especially when Volt hadn't been closely watched until rollout.  Not having that history, things look different.  Not following the discussions closely either, adds even more to the perspective.  So, I wanted to know more from him before the shrinking threads no longer stirred.  The rhetoric is clearly coming to an end.  But this deserved a final poke: "Restating vague and undefined terms won't do much good.  If you have defined them more explicitly I apologize.  A link would be sufficient..."  Just 2 days earlier in this very thread, I provided specifics.  Keep in mind that 2 years ago, the Volt enthusiasts were standing absolutely firm on Volt selling 60,000 here in this market the second year, demanding we must all wait then until before drawing any conclusion.  Now, those specific individuals deny that ever happened.  So, I apologize for being brash sometimes when asked to repeat what I have already posted literally a hundred times.  It's difficult to interpret intent.  Long story short, Toyota has been quite specific over the years, setting very clear goals for market penetration.  Having that level of detail from them set the expectation of the same from other automakers... especially any who are depending heavily on tax credits.  The first goal I remember from Toyota was the 300,000 total. It seemed so far off, knowing it would take years for that many too be purchased.  Has that ever changed.  As for profitability, a design must be configured to make a profit.  Whether it does initially or not is a separate matter, since a buffer (like tax credits) can be used to help initial rollout... which begs the question of when that should expire.  Volt depends upon an expensive system.  Motor, Engine, and Transmission alone are very costly.  Just look at the struggle Two-Mode has had with that.  Then there's the battery.  Using 16 kWh is a killer.  At currently just under $700 per kWh (excluding support components), it dooms the vehicles to sticker-shock.  What does having a showcase vehicle, but selling mostly Cruze accomplish?  When will favor shift?  Notice how Corolla has been dethroned as #2 in Toyota's line up, replaced by Prius.


Late Groceries.  I finally had the opportunity to try what I had been talking about ever since I drove an early model plug-in Prius, way back in August 2010.  After the usual work day, I came home and ate dinner.  Then after doing a few chores, there was time to play.  With a few hours of light remaining and it warm enough for a Summer activity, I could go biking.  But before escaping, I plugged in.  Later when I got home, it was time to run an errand.  I needed groceries.  Wasting precious daylight was out of the question.  Now the sun had set and the Prius fully recharged.  It was a delight driving to the store and back... using only electricity.  With a maximum speed of 45 mph here in the suburbs, I had a variety of locations to choose from too.  That no-gas-required really changes your outlook on chores.  Late grocery shopping hardly felt like an effort.  Usually you have to convince yourself to go out to do tasks like that.  Now, it's an excuse to drive... especially short distances, which had been a MPG killer... but not anymore.


Surprise!  This morning's (Monday) commute provided an unexpected surprise.  Traffic was heavier than that last Friday (the Oops! from 3 days ago) and I did end up having to stop for some of those lights I had been able to sneak through.  Despite the extra acceleration draws, the efficiency was still remarkable... strangely, it was nearly identical: 562 MPG.  There was an extra surprise too.  I ran out of EV about 150 feet from my parking spot.  But when it switched over to HV mode, the engine remained off since draw from the battery-pack was below the usual threshold.  I wondered if warm-up was triggered by draw or simply running out of EV.  Now, I know.


Weekend Hatchback.  I certainly am using my PHV as if it was a regular Prius.  Both this and last weekend were major Spring cleaning efforts at Mom's, years of things stored away in the sheds to finally sort through.  That resulted in stuffing the cargo area with junk to get rid of.  I certainly did.  Some of it was pretty old & nasty too.  But with a large & heavy tarp, you can easily protect the vehicle interior rather well.  So, I loaded up the Prius... despite the moist, muddy, and rusted items.  That was quite effective, but looked terrible to have that much garbage inside of such a high-tech vehicle... especially when you consider it is very likely still the only advanced model in Minnesota.  But the utility aspect is a selling point, and I was definitely taking advantage of it.  Owning such a practical vehicle that's also extremely clean & efficient is marvelous!


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