Personal Log  #575

June 24, 2012  -  July 1, 2012

Last Updated: Tues. 8/07/2012

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Branding Choice.  Ugh.  The past has many, many examples of vehicles rebranded.  The automaker would choose to offer a cosmetically different vehicle that was virtually identical under the hood.  Volt appears to be taking that approach too.  Cadillac ELR will be the next GM model delivered.  It is expected to be the first to offer what the next Volt will include.  So, we are looking at a nicer class interior, sound-proofing, and suspension, but not much else different.  It could be the first step to downgrade Volt to being more representative of what Chevy usually offers.  That's good.  But no change to the propulsion system means it will remain very expensive.  So, what's the point?  Why didn't GM just do that in the first place?  I posted this in that discussion on the big GM forum today:  Yes, GM would have done well choosing to offer Volt as a nicer class of vehicle first.  It was configured to appeal to buyers of that price-point anyway.  Much of the flack & comparisons could have been easily avoided that way too.  The vehicle simply would have been paving the way for an affordable model later without any conflict of approach or even expectation.  Instead, the decision was made to make it a Chevy... which contributed heavily to the hope of mainstream sales within the first generation, feeding hype that could have been prevented.  However, there is the constraint of time and the reality of the technology not scaling as promoted.  What resources will be expended to offer something other than a compact?  How will aspects of price & performance be affected?  When should we anticipate that?  Think about how price has already pushed Volt interest over to other GM choices.  The growing pressure from CAFE standards means competition from within.  More affordable options from other automakers doesn't help either.  Can people be convinced to just wait in the meantime, as the technology improves?  If so, what will they be waiting for?  Long story short, we're beating a dead horse unless someone provides a new set of expectations.


Rollout Progress.  The antagonists pounced before much real-world data about PHV became available.  Focus was concentrated on those who had already begun to draw attention to choices for the masses.  With a plug-in like Volt, lots of time is still needed for significant cost reduction.  Seeing the rollout progress of PHV poses a very real threat.  I doesn't take much to confirm their fears either.  Reading new owner posts reveals the appeal of the simple approach.  The plug is offered as a package option.  You get a Prius with added battery capacity, expanding upon the abilities already offered.  Instead of a little bit of EV as the regular model provides, you get a whole lot more.  There's no paradigm shift, consisting of an entirely new vehicle.  It's the next logical step.  As a result, progress is rapid.  There's no resistance.  There's no hype either.  It's just a soft build up of interest.  By next year when national availability begins, sales will highlight the natural acceptance those of us very active online are observing now.  Ford will be offering a plug-in hybrid too.  The antagonists are well aware of the pressure building, where the expectation is for growth.  Low sales are bad enough, flat is even worse.  Watch what happens in states without local tax incentives or HOV privileges.  That will be telling about what's to come.  Remember, there will continue to be a MPG push from traditional vehicles, making sales of hybrids & plug-ins even more of a challenge.


EV modes.  There are 2 different modes available while driving faster than 62 mph (100 km/h).  Regular HV is when you explicitly push the button to halt EV depletion.  This causes the Prius to revert to the usual 50 MPG hybrid driving.  If you don't push the button, the default EV mode transforms to EV-BOOST mode.  This causes the system to take advantage of the plug-supplied electricity, which results in efficiency above 100 MPG.  When the EV symbol is small and the Eco-Meter has a center-divider to indicator a white zone, that's HV mode.  It will remain that way until push the button again or shut the power off.  When the EV symbol is large and the Eco-Meter only has a green zone, that's EV-BOOST mode while driving fast.  It automatically turns into EV mode when you leave the highway and changes back to EV-BOOST when you exceed 62 mph... or you acceleration hard... or the heater cycles back on.


New Own Panic.  The EV estimate, the range of miles displayed upon completion of recharging the PHV, has been the start of new threads lately... coming from owners new to the forum expressing their feelings in a heightened emotional state, with the insistence upon contacting the dealer right away.  It's been quite riveting to witness.  There's passion about this topic from all involved.  This was my contribution to the one today:  I watched mine decline as I drove more on the highway in HV mode.  It gave the impression capacity was somehow being lost each recharge.  In reality, it was just the EV estimate value influenced by previous driving data.  Now mine is up higher than ever, not having taken a long trip recently.  Actual EV driving distance hasn't actually change.  It's been consistent throughout, despite the estimate going up & down.  It reminds me of the reaction Prius owners had throughout the Iconic years.  When the battery-level dropped to 2 bars, that change to pink on the screen made them panic.  They truly thought something was wrong.  A few even took desperate measures, not realizing that was perfectly normal.  Everything is fine.  They certainly don't feel that way seeing it though.  This is unquestionably the "panic" situation for new PHV owners.


Yellow Skyline.  The cityscape I see when taking the scenic route to work looked absolutely awful today.  The dense morning air kept the pollution from blowing off into the country as it usually does.  Knowing that is normally passed on to others by the wind makes it even more disgusting.  But you usually cannot see it, especially up close.  Being about 15 miles away, the distance allows you to easily notice it.  Emissions from our vehicles contributes heavily to that.  Those who point out the problem get labeled as a "treehugger" or the driver of a "greenmobile", insults that are commonly accepted still.  Far too many guzzlers populate roadways, making the attitude easy to share.  The yellow color of the sky is dismissed as contributions from vehicles long ago.  They claim emissions are much better now, providing an excuse to consider newer vehicles good enough.  Why bother with a SULEV or PZEV rated vehicle?  That's sad.


Forum Trolls.  A thread from 3 years ago was bumped back to life today on the big Prius forum.  It was interesting to revisit it, especially due to the timing.  That was back when the newest generation was first rolled out.  Obviously, there was strong feelings about that from those who supported the competition.  I added to the discussion with these recent observations:  Sadly, as a forum matures, some members go rogue.  They thrive on the lively debates and drop bait to entice responses.  Newbies often bite, unaware of what's happening.  There hasn't been a termed coined for that yet either, because the identifier of "troll" is defined as an outsider joining to stir trouble.  When a well-known member does it, that really becomes a problem.  The sign to watch for is the "invitation" post, something that clearly isn't correct or constructive.  There's often a strong opinion included too.  But because that person has been around for years and typically have thousands of posts, no one calls them on it.  That became a huge problem on the big GM forum awhile back.  Finally, the moderators declared a clean-up campaign.  It was better to callout the activity of those well-known members rather than allow the reputation of the forum fall apart.  It was fruitful effort.  They watched their posts for intent.  The "provoke" is easy to spot when you're looking for it.  That worked well.  Some popular names quickly vanished, never to return.  Being constructive is the key.  Arguing for argument sake isn't productive.  What is the purpose of the discussion?  Do they simply contradict or is there actual substance to replies?  Will that information benefit other members or it is a desperate attempt to keep a thread active?  And of course, what does it have to do with Prius?


Where?  The final arguments from Volt owners antagonizing PHV are falling on deaf ears now.  The realization of not having anything for middle-market is beginning to provide the rebuttal for us.  Simply reading about experiences from new owners plugging in their Prius depicts a situation quite different from what they are familiar.  It doesn't resemble what you'd expect from an early adopter.  There's no sense of having something to prove.  As far as they're concerned, the technology is already established.  These are ordinary people just trying to figure out how to get the most out of having a plug.  I posted this as a synopsis of their last attempts:  Lowering expectations is exactly what the auto task-force warned about.  Remember the "too little, too slowly" concern?  Why should we just settle for something out of reach for mainstream consumers?  Remember back when we use to strive for ambitious goals?  Now there is trepidation about even just stating goals.  You know the recent backlash & downplay is due to the sales falling way short.  It wouldn't be so bad if the overlooking of PHV the belittling finally ended.  But those who speak out get catechized.  Where's the choice for the masses?


Recharged Twice.  Traveled so far 38.1 miles.  Displayed average 118 MPG.  Remaining EV distance 7.9 miles.  That made for a very interesting commute.  The slower, longer, more enjoyable route finally opened up again.  Construction season is causing lots of detours.  Prius makes dealing with the unexpected much easier.  I had no idea a return back to the usual would yield such great results, especially switching to A/C halfway through the return home.  The evening included some time to relax and do some blogging.  On my journey out, I didn't use EV much.  In fact, the use of HV mode bumped the EV range up to 8.2 miles.  At 47 miles total for the day, the average had only dropped to 99 MPG.  That made me especially curious what the outcome would be.  After traveling 55 miles for the day, it ended up coming to 117 MPG.  Easily staying above 100 is great.  That's the boost many supporters have promoted for years.  Of course, they envisioned a much larger and more expensive battery-pack.  I did that with a small one, just recharging twice instead.  But then again, my daily driving is further than the typical person.


Drawing Conclusions.  Just as we saw in the past with previous struggling new technologies, there were statements like this about the more successful competition: "Certainly the Prius PHV looks like it has a battery that has too small a capacity for the market, which makes the rumors that the battery capacity increases likely."  That's the rumor Volt supporters are trying really hard to spread.  It appears as though their attempts to belittle based about the top EV speed aren't drawing the attention they hoped.  They've discovered the EV-BOOST mode is remarkably efficient.  Arguments claiming sustained efficiency above 100 MPG aren't finding an audience.  So, they've switched to capacity... quickly, before proof emerges that the conclusion they are drawing doesn't have any actual merit.  According to who?  This is why I asked the market question for years.  How could typical mainstream consumers already be saying that?  Based on what?  As for the capacity increasing, that's a rather pointless thing to say.  Of course it will.  Generational improvements are a normal expectation.  Each gets progressively better.  That's the way battery technology has been for decades for portable devices.  Why would it be any different for those used in vehicles?  I find it amusing how after only 3 months on the road, with very little real-world data available yet, they can make a blanket statement about the market with complete disregard for cost.


Avalon Hybrid.  The future of this model of car offered by Toyota was always a bit uncertain.  Only here in America was there demand for such a large sedan.  Would that continue?  We'll find out.  The upcoming redesign later this year will include a hybrid system, the FULL type like Prius uses... but bigger.  Getting a major efficiency improvement, unlike the modest increase from a domestic automaker, will likely be the draw for consumers who still want the size but cannot tolerate guzzling anymore.  The expectation is 40 MPG.  That's quite a bump up from the current 25 MPG.  It's always exciting to see how well the system scales.  This is yet another example of the flexibility with engine, motor, and battery possible.  Variety is very important for business.  In fact, lack of diversity is what has crippled other efforts of the past.  One size does not fit all.  This newest offering takes Toyota another step further toward ending the production of traditional vehicles.  People will just naturally transition over to the hybrid options.


Reduced Again!  Here we go, again.  Prior to rollout, the Volt enthusiasts were appalled if you were to even just consider the possibility of not meeting the 60,000 sales goal here in the second-year.  They were quite adamant that there was no need to question the quantity.  It would happen, period.  Then came first-year sales well under the rate needed, so the goal here was revised to 45,000.  Of course, some spun that to say that was the goal all along, that the 15,000 for the market in Europe was always included in that amount.  Whatever.  Those having paid close attention all along knew that wasn't the case.  But no need to dwell.  The effort has been to move on, accepting the revision as-is.  Fine.  That didn't last long though.  Now, the expectation has been lowered to 20,000.  It's enough to make you crazy.  If you even just mention that change, you get catechized.  So, I won't bother.  The numbers will speak for themselves anyway.  By the way, the number for Europe has been reduced too; it's now 10,000.


No Politics.  That was today's declaration.  It is the formula prescribed for moving on.  That sounded really good, until asked the question of how tax-credits were still ok to discuss.  That obviously argued a few.  I found it quite hypocritical.  It was yet another example of cherry-picking.  That's frustrating considering the level of vague surrounding what the next steps should be.  I've stopped referring back to the past.  They totally disregarded that, jumping on me for asking what the "no politics" actually referred to.  Fortunately, these small attempts to reignite passion of the past, quick before month-end results are posted, don't seem to be accomplishing anything.  It's the harmonic nature of progress.  There will always be some residual resistance.  That's following the familiar pattern we've seen before.  So, this will likely work out fine.  Advancements include scuffles, but they fizzle out and are commonly forgotten afterward... which I'm really looking forward to.


Improvement.  You can see hints already.  The plug-in hybrid and EV are moving forward, people just beginning to become aware of differences from impressions of long ago.  I find it exciting, since I've been paying close attention.  It's intriguing how so many seem to overlook (or more likely don't even notice) just how many angles of attack Toyota is actually taking.  The process is slow, but the variety of choices to become available as a result will shift the entire product line.  The partnership with Tesla is an obvious example. It's a win-win situation for both.  It's not a "let's try this" approach. It's a "here's what we are going to do" strategy.  That makes it matter of when, not if.  That's why questioning the PHV model seems so pointless.  A diverse offering in the future means providing a low-cost plug-in option for the mainstream.  Toyota is already well on the way to doing that.  The design brilliantly enhances the existing hybrid system.  Consumer willingness to spend more means the choice of increased capacity & power.  It's not required for great efficiency & emissions though.  The start with PHV demonstrates heavy dependency on tax-credits isn't necessary either.  Replacement of traditional vehicle production shouldn't be taken lightly.  Viable solutions are needed soon.  That shouldn't be argued against.  We all know the risk attached to consumption & emissions.  A small quantity of token vehicles or just mild improvements are far from enough.


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