Personal Log  #581

August 4, 2012  -  August 14, 2012

Last Updated: Mon. 10/08/2012

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2 Kayaks.  Today was the first day of true Summer recreation.  I loaded up both kayaks onto the roof, one 12 feet long and the other 14.  That experience was repeated many times with the Iconic Prius, a few with the 2010 as well.  This was an entirely different experience.  The paradigm shift had me wondering.  With 2 massive objects interfering with the aerodynamics of the vehicle, the loss of efficiency was looked upon as a worthwhile sacrifice.  After all, no vehicle could carrying that same load without also experiencing a similar penalty.  No vehicle without a plug, that is.  In this case, the 16-mile trip resulted in 83 MPG.  I easily can handle that drop.


One Size Fits All.  This quote speaks for itself: "I think that the winning strategy for automakers will be to offer different ranges as different models or levels within a model..."  In other words, pressure continues to push Volt supporters to acknowledge the need for more than a single configuration.  They had been working really hard to offset the current disappointment to the next generation design.  That didn't address offering more than just one choice though.  It focused entirely on cost reduction.  Diversity continues to be a serious problem.  This is why enthusiasts absolutely refused to acknowledge the Camry or Highlander hybrids.  That existence of multiple battery & motor options, especially with the plug having already added a new level of performance, was simply too much to deal with.  Demands of real-world production & sales require it though.  Automakers cannot expect to success with a one-size-fits-all approach.  Look at the expansion of Prius taken by Toyota this year.  Look at what Ford plans to do next year.  The slow pace from GM is really starting to show, which isn't good considering the financial situation and increased consumer interest in high-efficiency vehicles.  It's missed opportunity, handing over sales to the competition.  That's a loss they cannot afford.


Growing Anticipation, discussion.  Thoughts about the upcoming temperature drop is stirring new discussion threads.  This snippet within a response caught my eye: "this is where PiP shines".  How could I resist not responding to that?  So, I did:  The anticipation is growing.  We welcome winter's arrival.  There's a discovery process with each new Prius.  Our online community here makes unexpected observations... about things Toyota never mentioned.  The design speaks for itself through the firsthand experiences we share.  It's how the "under promise, over deliver" reputation came about... quite the opposite of a certain other automaker.  We discover things along the way.  But in this case, we have aftermarket gauges and lots of cumulative knowledge already.  Watching how the warm-up works with EV now provides hints of how it will work in the cold.  Warm-up is faster than with the regular model.  We can preheat the battery-pack simply by having the recharging conclude close to departure time.  ECO mode still provides heat until the coolant drops to 114°F.  The engine stays off for multi-minute intervals while driving in stop & slow winter traffic.  Having more electricity and more motor power available will deliver a nice improvement to winter efficiency.


Growing Anticipation, thoughts.  Thoughts of the cold season are beginning to emerge.  Posts asking about heater usage are gaining attention.  I was excited to jump in with:  Watch for our reports in a few months.  As the snow begins to fall, the role of EV-BOOST mode become the center of attention.  That's the mode which you get much more electricity from the battery-pack than in HV mode, but it's not EV since the engine is running.  The plug-in model is designed to take advantage of that situation, since the engine must run to provide heat during the winter anyway.  Currently, you can witness the +100 MPG that mode delivers while driving faster than 62 mph.  That resulting efficiency is very important, since the engine will run at slower speeds in the winter for heat.  So you won't get as many "EV" labeled miles, but you'll still get outstanding results.


999 MPG Day.  Sometimes, you just don't wander far from home.  Today, it was one of those days.  There was only a single errand to be run, nothing else.  So, I didn't use a drop of gas.  The drive was entirely using electricity.  I find it remarkably redeeming.  The route was the same as that one 2 years ago... that one where the Volt enthusiasts absolutely insisted it was impossible to drive a plug-in Prius anywhere without the engine ever started, especially climbing a hill out of the valley at 45 mph.  They absolutely refused to believe that I had indeed done exactly that.  Today, I did again.  They were wrong and very stubborn not to believe the firsthand report.  Now, other owners are sounding off saying the very same thing.  The hope was PHV would be underpowered and dependent upon the engine.  That's not the case.  It never was.  But their efforts to greenwash were difficult to counter.  Of course, they were also wrong about cold engine startup.  Again, they refused to believe the design would deliver such performance.  Yet, it does.  I'm thrilled.


47 MPG Rating.  That's the official word on C-Max.  It was revealed today.  The sticker will say: 47, 47, 47.  All three values (city, highway, combined) got the same MPG estimate.  That sure makes the situation easy to consider and no likelihood of confusion or misleading.  Gotta like that.  Of course, the plug-in model later will introduce a new dynamic.  But so far with Prius PHV, that hasn't actually been a problem.  Still being a hybrid after depletion keeps things simple.  Ford's approach to efficiency, following a very similar FULL hybrid implementation as Toyota, helps the entire industry.  Having a power-split device, the system is very flexible.  Many different combinations of engine, motor, and battery result.  To think that it took this long for genuine competition to emerge; it gives reason for pause.  Supporters of hybrids expected something similar to Prius ages ago.  True, the versions of Escape & Fusion were worthy advances.  But neither was intended to directly compete.  This is the first to take Prius on directly.  A good old fashion rivalry is long overdue.


Past & Future.  The vague & ambiguous statements were presented to stimulate excitement.  GM allowed hype to flourish.  Unfortunately, that left Volt wide open for the "over promise, under deliver" to play out.  Notice how no other automaker does that?  What I find intriguing is how different the opinions are from those who joined into discussion following rollout.  They have a perspective quite unlike the people who participated online prior to operational details being available.  Each reveal over time resulted in the disenchanted jumping ship.  We remember names of those who argued intensely in favor of the design, then changing their tune dramatically after finding out that info wasn't actually correct.  Now, those names are nothing but a memory from the past.  Some assumptions still continue.  There's strong belief battery cost will drop dramatically quickly and that people will consider EV a major purchase priority.  What are they basing that upon?  Owners of PHV will grow, each sharing stories of their experiences.  That's not hype.  That's real-world data from a design with affordability a high priority... the same success factor attributed with strong sales from previous generations.  And think what will happen for Prius when battery-cost finally does drop.  The PHV model will thrive.  The simplicity of +75 MPG from just plugging in each evening is a easy sell with a sticker-price at the mainstream level.  We could see the introduction of a high-capacity option as well.  How will Volt attract interest, especially if we see Ford's plug-in competing directly with Toyota's?


Remembering Insight.  I immediately dismissed that Honda as a mainstream contender, way back in 1999 with my first in-person encounter.  It was very small, manual transmission, and used an all-aluminum frame & body.  How could a 2-seater with such an expensive design compete?  Turns out, it was confirmed quickly that it could not.  Volt draws on similarities I hadn't noticed until just recently.  Thankfully, it is an automatic.  But compared to the seating both Prius PHV & Energi offer, there's no contest.  The cost of the battery-pack is a major challenge that will always hold it back too.  The Toyota & Ford systems allow for adding capacity.  Lack of flexibility is the same limitation Insight had.  More didn't do any good.  With Volt, less would cause a power penalty.  It's stuck with a one-size-fits-all dilemma.  Not being able to leverage efficiency from the engine is the same situation.  So even with disregard for business need, there are engineering barriers.  Of course, none of that will stir consumer excitement anyway.  Interest from middle-market will be stirred by the usual purchase factors... just like when Insight was first offered.  Some things just don't change, even with a plug.


C-Max Attention.  Ford stirred the pot and the internet has reacted.  Attention is fading away from a certain other vehicle that worked really hard to retain the spotlight.  It wasn't the goal of Prius to be a "halo" vehicle and that never actually happened, despite the claims otherwise.  The difference is sales.  If the vehicle itself sells well, the goal of achieving high-volume production and resulting cost-reduction as well as money to invest into further development is fulfilled.  Selling only a token few is totally different.  Doing it through a dependency on tax-credits makes the situation even worse.  Thank goodness Ford's upcoming offering doesn't resemble that at all.  C-Max is striving to achieve the same as Prius.  Being a dedicated hybrid (in this market anyway) and offering a model with a plug puts it on that same course to success, baring nothing is resemblance to the "halo" image.  I'm quite curious how the introduction will go.  Rollout can be complicated with so many factors at play, include efforts to undermine.  We'll find out in a few months.  The attention now seems promising.


Street Parking.  How do you argue with someone who has no idea what they're talking about?  A friend of mine tried yesterday.  The new parking system that's being installed downtown is quite different.  The guy saw terminals being installed, one on each street.  Not bothering to actually look at one up close, it would be reasonable to make a quick assumption that they could be plugs for plug-in vehicles.  But it only takes a moment to question where the electricity would come from.  Simply bolting down an object onto the sidewalk doesn't accomplish that.  There's no cord for a car to plug with either.  Yet, the guy absolutely insisted... even when my friend stated that was a replacement for the old coin-meters for parking.  People jumping to conclusions without any thought is a very real problem we have to deal with.  I suspect much of the misunderstandings about hybrids come about from instinctive reaction rather than taking a moment to consider the circumstances.  The guy was clearly wrong, but he didn't give my friend any opportunity to explain why.  That's really unfortunate.


Called Out.  My lack of online participation is starting to make the GM enthusiasts crazy.  They always felt vindicated having someone supporting a plug-in with a smaller battery-pack to taunt.  I didn't mind, since they were a great source of feedback... especially when it came to business need and affordability.  But now that Volt has proven not to fulfill those requirements, I've moved on.  So, now they are calling me out by name... hoping for relive the days of hype.  I read the posts on the big forum and the daily blog, seeing references to me by name.  A quick look at the other post activity explains why.  They've got nothing to discuss there anymore.  You'd think that big forum would have on-going threads about Volt.  That's not happening.  Same with the daily blog.  The participation has all migrated elsewhere and it's making them crazy.  Websites catering to the niche have their fans, but getting ordinary consumers involved doesn't happen.  Middle-Market always wins in the end.  It's easy to see that on the big Prius forum, where I have been posting frequently.  There, we get lots of ordinary consumers participating.  The difference is astounding.  That's my vindication.


$4 Gas Is Back.  Summer is travel season.  Yesterday's outing for me was a bike trip with friends.  That was 103 miles of driving with only a single charge.  The result was 68 MPG. Certainly nothing to complain about from that... especially even with $4 gas now making a repeat appearance.  After all, I did spend more on food & drink as a result of pedaling 51 miles.  Taking advantage of the warm (here in Minnesota) is rewarding.  When a beautiful days comes along, you don't squander the opportunity.  Anywho, I'm quite curious what the more expensive cost at the pump will do for sales.  Prius has always done well then.  What does that mean for others?  The days of guzzler promotion are long gone.  But the advertising for efficiency vehicles is really screwy.  The commercials for Volt don't really tell you anything; expectations are quite vague.  The one we see for traditional vehicles don't really have a specific MPG anymore.  The magic 40 has been obscured by the generic "hybrid" labeling.  That makes it really difficult to identify what people will flock to.  Affordability is still a major priority.  The price of gas influencing decisions about size & power make that clear.  The monster-size SUVs are gone!  Where did they go?  Now that we're seeing $4 again, what affect will that have?  I suspect the kick off of the auto shows late this year will really stir interest in hybrids & plug-ins.


It Continues.  The sales numbers are out and the news is wildly being spun.  My favorite is the claim that GM will come close to their 40,000 goal for Volt/Ampera production this year.  The 45,000 for the United States and 15,000 for Europe goal has mysteriously vanished.  See what I mean about new expectations?  Whatever.  Some of that spin is actually rather amusing.  Sales of PHV were 695 in June and 688 in July.  Supposedly, that indicates a falling demand trend... even though July was 3 business days shorter than June.  Geez!  And that's only a difference of 7, which is well within the margin of error (paperwork reporting delay).  It shows how desperate the situation has become.  I see quite a few Prius every time I drive.  They're all over the place, here in Minnesota.  So, it will be fascinating to see how PHV are once availability here begins.  Meanwhile, the other hybrids making slow headway.  The regular model Prius lead the pack with 9,954.  It was followed by Camry-Hybrid with 3,162.  Prius c came next at 3,197, then Prius v at 2,839.  The eAssist version of Malibu came in with 1,938.  That's rather interesting.  Sonata-Hybrid is another to ponder, at 1,888.  Lexus was next with 1,499 for CT200h and 1,171 for RX450h.  The final hybrid over 1,000 for the month was Fusion-Hybrid at 1,109.  It's an interesting mix afterward.  The trend basically continues.  Growth would be great, but that's asking quite a bit in this economy.  Volt's magic number was 1,849.  That wasn't much of a surprise considering there was such a large television advertisement campaign... plus $10,000 of tax-credits and HOV access for purchases in California obviously helped too.  Makes you wonder what will happen with PHV after it's been available for that long.  Toyota isn't doing any promotion yet.  You bump into an online banner if you've been searching for Toyota vehicles or Prius.  That's it.  Nothing else.  Like in the past, the word-of-month endorsement from owners is the primary method of stirring interest.  This is why it's not worth arguing.  The sales approach is so fundamentally different, the online debates would be endless if you didn't just eventually move on.  Anywho, the other worthwhile numbers to mention are those for diesel.  No surprise.  Same old story.  Jetta led the pack with 3,787 sold.  That was followed by Passat with 2,171.  We have no idea what the numbers for Japan are yet.  Those are always way better than here... the land where 30 MPG is still considered "fuel efficient".


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