Personal Log  #580

July 27, 2012  -  August 4, 2012

Last Updated: Tues. 8/07/2012

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New Battery Cost.  It was quite normal for those considering the purchase of a hybrid to have considered cost to replace the battery-pack.  That doesn't happen much anymore, since the longevity is well proven now.  Most simply never encounter that situation.  The majority see it lasting as long as the vehicle itself.  Rollout of a plug-in model, though, has reintroduced that consideration.  It's quite reasonable for the cost to drop significantly by the time replacement would ever be an actual concern.  So, there's much to actually think about.  Much if it likely won't matter, since the tolerances & cycles of these plug-in batteries were carefully researched, just like those for the hybrids a decade ago.  The vehicle warranty alleviates most of the worry anyway.  These were my thoughts on the topic today:  This first plug-in Prius will become quite enticing for enhancement as the system, since the system was designed deliver EV anyway and already has a charger & port.  Just think what people will do when battery cost is a fraction of what it is now.  While driving, the battery-pack will draw up to 38 kW, then the engine will join in to provide some thrust and additional electricity.  A larger battery could provide that additional electricity, as well as additional capacity.  This could result in unusually high resale value, even with lots of miles.  The gas-engine is babied, not ever having to work hard.  And the brushless electric-motors can last a remarkably long time.


What Started It All.  It was the overwhelming amount of incorrect information being posted on the (back then) new daily blog for Volt.  After already having went through the very same nonsense with Two-Mode development, I wasn't about to just watch that happen again.  Two-Mode was a bit different though, it was portrayed as a direct competitor with the existing Toyota system.  Volt was intended to leapfrog it, which is how the "vastly superior" motto came about.  Anywho, the abundant posts with misleading statements about how Prius actually worked is what started it all.  Now, some simply label my comments as hate, even though the original message of "looking for an ally" still remains true.  It was always hybrids against the gigantic offering of traditional vehicles.  That meant vehicles with a plug would be facing an enormous challenge.  They simply didn't care.  That hopelessly unconstructive trophy-mentality dominated.  What I get a kick out of now is that it still does.  The Volt enthusiasts refuse to acknowledge the reality that a new generation of Prius is expected just 2 years from now, including improvements to the PHV model.  Some are even trying to spread the rumor that the plug-in doesn't have a TMS (Thermal Management System).  I find that amazing.  They're trying to spin the cooling-fan system as something which doesn't qualify.  That's both misleading & disingenuous.  In a way, I find it ironic that it reveals the over-engineering problem GM has frequently faced.  That trophy-mentality means always striving to deliver more, even if it isn't necessary and adds substantial cost.  Thankfully, the continued financial struggle is helping some change their attitude.  Of course, part of the change is likely due to PHV real-world data.  The plug-in system works better than the enthusiasts had anticipated... despite me repeatedly posting data to the contrary, based on my driving opportunities with one back in 2010.


New Expectations.  I'm not sure what adjective best describes the situation now.  Even the Volt enthusiasts turned antagonists are giving up.  They're realizing the shift to electricity is going to be met with far more resistance than they ever imagined.  The challenges Prius faced a decade were assumed to have paved the way, dispelled misconceptions to the point where acceptance of a plug would be as simple as pointing out the price of a gallon of gas.  The thought of a 50 MPG hybrid with a battery-pack only a quarter of the size of would even be considered as competitive choice was laughed at then dismissed.  The situation wasn't taken seriously, nor was acknowledgement of need.  Want blinded judgment.  The desire for a "leapfrog" jump in technology made seeing market realities very difficult.  Now, they do.  True, some will claim the drawn out advancement was actually the plan all along.  But that's still the same outlook nonetheless.  So, it's not even worth expressing the "too little, too slowly" concern anymore... since that is indeed what happened.  The requirement was not fulfilled.  New expectations are the result.  It's going to be more expensive and take much longer... hence the well deserved motto rearing it's ugly head one more time... over promise, under deliver.  This is very similar to what we saw in the past.  Reaction to challenges far greater than anticipated resulted in a "reset" scenario.  It's quite strange to witness the pattern repeat.


Slow & Steady Growth.  You'd hope that's what the focus would be on.  Nope.  A few had things like this to say: "Volt is crushing PIP" and "Also, this month the Volt outsold the Plug in Prius my nearly 3-1".  Knowing that model of Prius has only been available for a few months and is only available a 15 states doesn't matter.  It's all about being "better" than the assumed competition, hence this comment: "Plug Prius sales continue to drop month over month."  The cumulative effect of the pre-orders is simply ignored.  Reality is, there basically hasn't been anything from Toyota to promote PHV, on television or even online, doesn't matter either... quite unlike what GM has been doing.  If I had a nickel for every Volt commercial.  The heavy advertising makes you think too.  Will it continue?  Anywho, some simply don't care, especially with respect to coming up far short of the re-revised sales goal.  Of course, they won't address fleet sales either.  Fortunately, more are shifting expectations.  It's still frustrating though.  Now the story has been changed and the next few years are suppose to represent market establishment (proving the technology) rather than market penetration (becoming a mainstream vehicle).  That's quite different from the expectation back in late 2010.  It doesn't make good business sense for Volt, since it's a bet-the-farm approach.  Both Ford & Toyota are quite different, also offering no-plug models.  So, they'll be selling lots of hybrids in the meantime.  It wouldn't be so bad if there was some type of guarantee.  But the extreme between vehicles delivering MPG averages in the 30's and one with a 38-mile EV capacity represents a massive product gap.  That's means slow & steady growth has become essential.


0.1 Miles.  I'm getting better and better at estimating how much EV to use and when.  After all, the work-commute and running around town is quite repetitive.  You get familiar with the driving conditions.  That recognition of patterns makes the decision for HV/EV button use easier and easier.  A few times, I've driven up my driveway with only 0.1 miles having shown on the display since before turning the corner onto my street.  Is that considered hypermiling?  I'm not actually doing anything to change the driving itself, like pulse & glide.  It's just knowing when to use EV and when to use HV.  Switching to the appropriate mode is no big deal, especially since you only would do it once or twice during the entire drive anyway.  This is definitely a paradigm shift with the way with the way people drive.  Remember how the automatic transmission was a profound change to from having to manually shift yourself?  This is trivial in comparison.  Think about how many times the clutch-pedal would have to be pushed during a typical drive.  This is nothing... and the results are huge.  But then again, driving in EV mode all the time delivers remarkable results too.  But if you know you're going to do a bunch of suburb driving after having been on the highway, it's better to take advantage of the great HV efficiency while cruising at high-speed and saving the electricity for later.


Electric Assist.  Continued attempts to belittle PHV persist.  The latest is portraying the plug-in system as an electric assist.  I find that quite amusing.  Clearly, it isn't.  The traction motor is capable of delivering up to 80 horsepower.  51 of that comes directly from the battery-pack, drawing up to 38 kW.  When more power is needed, the gas engine joins in.  It delivers both thrust for the wheels directly as well as generating additional electricity for the traction motor to take advantage of.  How is that in anyway an assist design?  The engine is helping out.  Primary motivation is coming from the electric side.  The engine assists.  The intentional misrepresentation is frustrating.  But then again, it's easy to frustrate those making an effort to greenwash.  All you have to do is post detail.  They're always vague.  Providing values to quantify the design puts them in an uncomfortable position.  They were hoping people would just assume they were correct.  You reveal they were not.  And of course, you can then provide real-world data.  The incredible MPG numbers do a great job of reminding people of purpose.


Remembering Two-Mode.  Prior to the rollout of Volt, some enthusiasts were downright hostile when any mention of that past was brought up.  Others simply dismissed it as being far too different to discuss.  Now, no one wants address it... likely because that pattern is very easy to see at this point.  It too was a heavily anticipated new technology, inspired by a remarkable amount of hype without market need to actually support it... in other words, an ideal driven by want.  The key weakness was disregard for cost.  A dramatic drop would supposedly follow in the coming years, justifying the design.  That still hasn't happened.  In the meantime, sales would be strong enough to establish that new approach.  That didn't happen either.  Long story short, it was an over-engineered business nightmare.  Sure it worked, but there weren't many consumers interested.  Volt also works, but how in the world will it achieve on-going sales in a market simply wanting MPG improvement.  Mainstream consumers haven't been clamoring for a pure EV experience.  At such a premium for that, it's a hard sell.  The need is for a big boost in efficiency.  Toyota, Ford, Honda, and Hyundai are all activity pursuing affordable solutions.  Heck, even VW wants to join in.  GM knows their recovery will continue to be a challenge, so why not set the stage to diversify?  Why such a strong hold on specific capacities?  The size & power obsession with Two-Mode basically killed it.  Does that inflexibility make sense for Volt too?  Remember how sales just limped along after the initial rollout finished?


Being Affordable.  The return back to the basics sure is nice.  I didn't know how much more of the cost disdain I could tolerate.  It was amazing how there was no regard for middle-market.  Having ordinary consumers considering the purchase of a plug-in hybrids is what we were striving for.  Now that is becoming realistic.  It reminds me of the early days of Prius rollout.  The price-gap was just small enough to entice.  It was very close to being affordable.  Some real-world data and a test-drive pretty much finalized the decision.  We're at that point where you can see questions of consideration popping up from those who are not enthusiasts too.  They see the plug-in model as the next natural step in efficiency improvement.  You just recharge every night like you do with other rechargeable devices.  Being affordable is the key.  Sustaining profitable business isn't what an enthusiast cares about away.  We need a high-volume solution, not something only a few will have to brag about.


True Colors.  We saw this coming.  There was a group of Volt enthusiasts who only cared about bragging rights.  Their complete disregard for cost and battery-pack capacity made that obvious.  But it wasn't until Ford's recent Energi press release that confirmation of what I had been saying all along made their responses hypocritical; yet, they still didn't care.  It's intriguing to see their own concerns of the past are now being abandoned for the sake of putting Prius down.  The insults are truly amazing... to the point where some Volt owner are seeking disassociation with that group.  They want nothing to do with those enthusiasts.  It's an embarrassment to know principles aren't being followed.  In other words, a product for the masses isn't what they wanted from the very beginning.  The trophy mentality persists.  Sure glad that cannot be denied anymore.  It means on to the good stuff, finally.  Looking at what Ford has actually done, it sets an interesting stage.  Their plug-in hybrid will offer a 7.5 kWh capacity.  This was apparently accomplished by filling the entire false floor as well as raising it.  That's similar to what the test-model Prius PHV had done, which used a lower density 5.2 kWh battery-pack.  So based upon market acceptance, Toyota could do the same later.  It really depends upon consumer response.  Toyota has a nice system with the 4.4 kWh which could be utilized by Prius v or the Camry hybrid.  We'll see what happens with Ford's Fusion plug-in hybrid in the meantime.  Gotta start somewhere.  And increasing capacity is easier than decreasing it... especially with those showing their true colors now out of the way.


Plugless Drives.  Late this evening, I got one of those "please rescue me" calls.  In this case, it was a family member unexpectedly trapped at the airport.  I had already finished for the day.  The battery-pack was depleted, the display reset, and the plug-in timer set.  Now, there was the need for a spontaneous drive.  At a very comfortable 66°F degrees outside, I was looking forward to it and intrigued what that would bring in terms of efficiency.  This was my first drive with the PHV as an ordinary hybrid, but with a Li-Ion battery-pack instead of NiMH.  The 37.7 miles of driving was a delight.  The result was 64 MPG.  With an effort-free outcome like that, not using any plug-supplied electricity, I certainly am collecting some great real-world data to support this Prius with.


Missing The Point.  It still continues.  Fortunately, the audience is quite small now.  The hype & anticipation has been replaced by the practical & sensible aspects of the purchase decision.  It other words, when it's finally time to vote with wallet or purse, actions don't often match original comments.  This caught my attention on that old daily blog for Volt, which is now just another green newsfeed but with a clear comment bias for Volt: "GM needs more time to establish it’s green halo & it’s technology halo more, and when it does finally start to settle in to the mindset of those on the coasts, that is when you will see the tide turn."  They aren't hostile to outside posts anymore, but they still miss the point... and oddly, accuse you of that very thing.  Of course, what the heck does a "halo" have to do with selling a vehicle to middle-market consumers anyway?  Profit doesn't come from a showcase vehicle.  It comes from the ordinary vehicles we see parked in neighbors' driveways.  Regardless of their misguided purpose, I felt compelled to post this:  Think about what happens when Li-Ion density goes up and price goes down some more.  Most people focus on the high-end, overlooking an affordable choice for the masses in the near future.  Toyota already has a 4.4 kWh system that doesn’t require liquid cooling.  Transferring it into their smallest model Prius to offer that choice is fairly difficult to argue against.  It seems a very sensible business move.  Remember, the "killer app" is rarely the one which performs the absolute best.  It's whatever is adopted in such high volume that it becomes almost ubiquitous.  That means being affordable is essential.


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