Personal Log  #570

May 20, 2012  -  May 27, 2012

Last Updated: Weds. 6/06/2012

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100 MPG, part 2.  That idea of paying close attention to what distance achieving 100 MPG is effortless came from a "discussion" with a Volt owner.  He was trying to be helpful, but the responses were so vague, it became frustrating.  His effort led to suggesting some arbitrary numbers.  So, I'll give credit for that.  Unlike other confrontations, that one exhibited some merit.  Trouble was how to apply random observations to something effective for promoting plug-in hybrids.  It's far too easy to tell people numbers they cannot relate too.  After just 2 months of driving a PHV, it's easy to see the EV range estimate is quite misleading.  People have no idea what to expect following depletion.  They hear "then it runs just like a regular Prius" but don't understand what that means in terms of MPG.  So rather than continue to focus on the two distinct modes and continue to neglect blending, why not convey a measure which highlights it?  But rather than a fixed distance, we'll use a fix MPG instead.  I'll note whenever my MPG drops below 100 following the depletion of a single recharge.  Eventually, a pattern will emerge... without any need to refer to EV.  It will be a measure for people to consider when they know they will drive beyond the battery-capacity available... something no one has actually addressed with anything beyond just random observations.  Watch my spreadsheet.  And of course, be patient... since my MPG is often well above 100 and I often recharge at work.


100 MPG, part 1.  What is compelling?  The auto industry clearly lowered standards.  They had emphasized the importance of reaching 40 MPG for many years, then abruptly backed off when gas hit $4 per gallon.  All of a sudden, 30 MPG became the focus.  Sadly, it was what came next that was worse.  They switched from advertising city/highway/combined estimates to highway-only.  Not having anything efficient to actually sell and the revision of the EPA measurement system obviously put them in that position.  But what does that mean now?  At what point does the reality of diminishing returns influence consumer purchase decisions?  The efficiency value which comes up far more often than any other is 100 MPG. How many miles you can travel on a single charge before dropping below that mark would be a new way of promoting.  It could be quite effective too, since the EV estimate is inherently misleading for a plug-in hybrid like Prius.  Real-World data is far more of a draw than rating measures.  Prius has overwhelmingly proven that.  Knowing you'll go around XX miles before dipping below 100 MPG, regardless of how you drive, would be a powerful bit of information owners have yet to share.  Most of the time, I plug in with the MPG still well above 100.  So, I really don't know.  My very limited data hints that it's somewhere around the 20-mile mark.  Anyone care to guess where that average threshold will be for PHV?


Gas Prices.  One political party wants to improve efficiency technology.  The other wants to lower gas prices.  Which makes more sense for our children?  Which is more likely to get that politician re-elected?  It's so frustrating to the price of gas taking precedence over the consumption of it.  People carelessly guzzled for years.  They mocked hybrids.  The technology was misunderstood.  Greenwashing flourished.  Are things better now?  The technology continues to advance.  Support of it is quite limited.  The heavy dependence on tax-credits is a warning sign that a struggle is about to come.  Much needs to be done before that opportunity to collect expires.  And worse, what if the automatic budget-cuts next year impact that funding?  The price of gas being lower doesn't help advance progress.  It sets up false expectations, leading people to believe there's plenty of time still.  How much longer can we really afford?  For that matter, how much longer do you want to continue driving a vehicle that depends upon low gas prices?


Still?  I remember dealing with this same thing:  "Had my Prius for a week and I lost count each time someone asks me or makes a comment about "needing" to plug in my car each night to recharge the battery."  That became really annoying back in 2000... 2001... 2002.  It subsided, then almost went away entirely.  But now that Prius is penetrating deep into new markets.  It's back!  My guess at the best response would be to simply reply that you didn't get the plug-in model... and not provide anything else.  Make them ponder that on their own for awhile.  At some point, curiosity will get the best of them and they'll ask for more information.  You can trick them into intrigue, perhaps even open up the door to opportunity for showing them your Prius.  Then they'll be hooked.


Bottom Line.  It's interesting to read the perspectives of others.  They vary dramatically depending upon when they began observing the automotive industry and how much business background they have.  The enthusiast typically is quite new and focuses solely on engineering.  So, you know how pointless those discussions are.  They turn into meritless debates rather quickly.  What stands a chance at being constructive is what I'm trying to spend more time on now.  I liked & appreciated reading this today: "Bottom line - GM didn't do their homework on the Volt as compared to the PIP, or regular Prius on the design concept, approach, and execution of their hybrid."  My response to that was:  Actually, they did.  However, results of those studies didn't fit well with what they wanted to deliver.  It's the SAAB story... ironically, GM not taking the very advice they gave them.  They knew it was a bad idea disregarding sound business strategy and went with their gut instead.  After all, a powerful electric motor does indeed deliver a pleasant driving experience.  But then again, so does a gas engine with lots of horsepower.  Cost comes back to haunt and middle-market vehicles aren't exciting to executives & enthusiasts.


Actual Issue.  Stepping back to look at the actual issue, it's the mixed messages coming from both Volt owners and GM itself.  Sometimes Volt is an EV.  Sometimes it is a hybrid.  That's the inconsistency... which is very frustrating for some of us.  PHV is always a hybrid.  There's no issue with the engine running briefly.  It's not promoted as an EV.  The plug provides a significant MPG boost.  True, sometimes it doesn't use any gas at all.  But even when depleted, MPG is still above what traditional vehicles deliver.  Emissions are cleaner too.  The purpose is deep market penetration and high-volume sales quickly.  Within the next few years, when the next generation of Prius is rolled out, the PHV will naturally just be part of it.  That package option offering a plug will be a regular offering.  It's such a natural next step, it's easy to embrace.  For Volt, we're still scratching our heading trying to figure out purpose.  The issue of not knowing is a big deal... often overlooked by the petty squabbling common when plug-in owners attempt to have constructive discussion.  Ask yourself what the problem actually is when you encounter a heat exchange of posts.  It may not be what is getting the attention.


Lost Opportunity.  Repetition is the sign.  Today, it was: "Spin! Spin! Spin!"  We've seen that over and over again.  It's quite refreshing for GM supporters to grow tired of the same thing.  Moving on requires that step of recognition.  They don't want to see anymore opportunity lost either.  I added:  That's a good assessment.  It's the same old meritless statements.  Prior to rollout, it was: Hype! Hype! Hype!  We all know middle-market vehicles have different priorities than what Volt initially delivered.  The catch is, it's still promoted as if it the current configuration was designed for the middle.  It's that misrepresentation which rubbed people the wrong way, especially the disregard for market need.   That has been changing. Calling this stage "early adopter" is an acknowledgement that mainstream will be achieved by the next generation instead.  Understanding the system by clarifying vague claims of the past with real-world detail is how progress will come about.


Finale & Epilogue.  The thing which has caught my interest recently is Volt supporters also seeking closure.  A grand finale is their approach on the situation... wishing Volt good fortune and seeing no reason to for any other action beyond patience.  The PHV supporters are pursuing closure too, but how is quite different.  They provide an epilogue... finally putting to rest the unfulfilled hype for late 2010.  It would be nice to move on, even if the reasons for doing so vary.  The comparisons of Volt to Prius aren't attracting attention anymore anyway.  Increasingly apparent is the view of GM's own production, that the issue is within the automaker itself.  Toyota is really only the distraction.  That's becoming easier and easier to see.  There isn't an effort to kill GM or Volt.  It's really a push to not waste more opportunity.  Too much has been lost already.  That meritless hope of the past should have been a warning about trouble to come.  No more excuses either.  Set a clear & concise goal, then stand by them.


PHV Data.  We're into uncharted territory now.  There's an ample supply of material to make a mind wonder.  So many variations to ponder leads to a welcome loss of perspective.  A commute back & forth to work along with a stop along the way, even with just a single recharge, will result in MPG above 80.  That's what had been predicted.  Now, it's a reality.  Those who don't have to drive as for or like me who can recharge at work will see efficiency even higher.  I'm absolutely delighted.  Summer biking trips are soon about to result in lots of HV driving.  Far more of those miles than EV will cause my average to drop.  But that low will still be well in excess of what a regular Prius delivers anyway, which in itself is impressive.  It's an enjoyable experience.  Winter will even bring a thrill, which I'll document every aspect of.  Having plug-supplied electricity available improves efficiency regardless of the situation.  Witnessing results firsthand is rewarding.  This is what I posted online for yesterday's gas purchase, contributing to the collection of statistics owners have been sharing:  Still one pip showing, but it was close enough to need a refill.  DISPLAYED:  848 miles total, 454 miles EV, 393 miles HV, 111 MPG, 92 kWh.  CALCULATED:  104.9 MPG, 103.2 kWh.  MEASURED:  33.3 recharges, 8.077 gallons.  That was a very exciting tank; though, waiting 2.5 weeks for the real-world data was an exercise in patience.  It takes a long time to drive far enough to need to visit the gas station.


4 Million Sold.  It was way back in December 1997 that sales of the Original Prius began.  Then in August 2000, the upgrade was rolled out.  It was the Classic Model and we here in the United States got it first.  Mine was delivered a few weeks later.  Crown & Estima were then introduced.  The race was on.  There wasn't much competition though.  Most of the attention came from anti-hybrid efforts.  Thankfully, Toyota pushed on.  New hybrids continued to be introduced and the system itself was enhanced.  I upgraded at the first opportunity, becoming a pioneer again in October 2003 with a new Iconic model.  In a flurry of success, lot of real-world data provided great endorsement for the technology.  The ownership count grew.  I remember 500,000 sales being reached.  Then 1 million.  The third-generation design, as it is now referred to, was introduced.  I joined in, upgrading again.  It was fun being part of that.  There were lots of owners.  Hitting 2 million sales for Prius and 3 million for Toyota hybrids overall came quick.  It was the kind of growth needed, finally realistic.  Mainstream status could no longer be questioned.  Today, it was announced that the 4 million overall mark had been reached.  Yeah!  It's so nice knowing progress continues.  Several new models of Prius, including a plug-in are now contributing to the market penetration.  Hopefully, all that will serve as inspiration to the other automakers.  We hear about their efforts.  There are plans being made.  But at the same time, traditional vehicles march forward.


Hypermiling.  It's always intriguing to hear the different perspectives on this.  The origins can be traced back to that "Up To The Chore" saga.  That heated debate was intense and lasted an amazing year and a half.  The person who coined the term came up with it in response to something I had posted.  He was doing a variety of things to squeeze MPG from a Corolla, claiming there was no benefit to the hybrid technology.  Of course, he later discovered P&G (pulse and glide) could take Prius to a whole new level of efficiency... but that had some negatives, leading to conflicts of what was considered acceptable and the variations causing confusion... which years later, brings us to the uncertainty now.  I posted this, providing some history:  The term "hypermile" has been around for a decade.  It originated from traditional vehicle comparisons to the earliest hybrids.  Then the hybrid drivers began doing their own modified version of how to squeeze out higher MPG.  Over the years, the recommendations of what to do changed.  Then the next generation designs introduced new twists on it, making the meaning quite unclear.  Now, we have plug-in hybrids.  For Volt, there's the suggestions of shifting to L and taking advantage of MM.  Next year, there will be a HOLD button introduced.  For Prius PHV, there is an HV/EV button.  Plus, there's the obvious benefit recharging at work provides.  In other words, what does "normal" driving mean?  Think about how informative the real-time efficiency screens are to the driver.  Responding to the data being presented could be considered hypermiling; however, those screens are a standard part of the vehicle.  It's normal to have them. Ignoring them would not be normal behavior.  It would be like disregarding what a tachometer tells a manual transmission driver.


Sloppy Reporting.  Reading an article with this opening line will make you immediately check when it was written: "Up until just recently, hybrid models were not moving off dealer lots and most buyers didn't really understand the new technology.  But as gas prices have risen to $4 per gallon, sales of hybrids have skyrocketed."  Bizarrely, the date was yesterday and its focus was Prius PHV.  Huh?  Since when is hybrid technology new?  Did he actually mean plugging in?  But gas was first $4 per gallon 4 years ago, so what does recently refer to?  Then things got even more confusing with: "But the small hatchback is really designed for city driving and that is where it feels most at home.  It is great for zipping in and out of traffic and is easy to park because of its size."  Did the writer get mixed up, confusing the c model with the plug-in model?  None of the specifications, including price, were wrong.  In fact, even c was mentioned.  Then it stated: "The biggest drawback is the Prius plug-in Hybrid has a limited electric range of 15 miles before the battery is depleted."  That gave the impression in might be a covert promotion for Volt.  But then this was included: "The similar plug-in Chevy Volt can travel 25-30 miles on a single charge."  What the heck?  That's a sad excuse for journalism, especially from an automotive publication.  At best, it's sloppy reporting.


100 Miles Less.  It will be fascinating to get averages from PHV owners, especially since travel distance can vary so much.  In that recent press release from GM, it stated: "Typically Volt owners drive an average of 900 miles between fill ups at the gas station."  That's 100 miles less from the press release 1 year ago.  Remember all that publicity that provided?  Did it make a difference?  What are consumers really looking for?  What is there purchase criteria?  How much is the right amount?  I'll easily get 750 miles from my current tank.  That's well above industry average.  Will people really want more?  After all, it doesn't actually matter, since that isn't a factor of efficiency.  And how will the other automakers respond?  Will the ability to plug in be at the forefront of promotion?  If so, how often will the owners typically be plugging in?  Numbers like this don't have any sort of reference yet.  There's no plug standard.  Heck, there isn't even a no-plug standard.  In fact, there isn't a traditional standard either.  So basically, in this new age of efficiency focus rather than power or speed, change is extremely difficult to interpret.  Each number raises new questions.


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