Personal Log  #596

November 25, 2012  -  December 3, 2012

Last Updated: Tues. 1/08/2013

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Excuses, Incentives, Expectations.  What do I think there could be for penalties of heavy discounting in the extreme short term?  Since we heard every excuse imaginable by Volt supporters for year #1, the response could be the same... wait until year #2.  Of course, now some of those same people are saying the next generation.  I'd say there may not be any, since there really needs to be some extra effort to get the upfront people familiar with the differences between the regular and plug-in model.  It's not like Volt, where there's nothing direct to compare to or mix up with.  The differences are so easy to accept (the sign of a well planned out upgrade), it takes hands on experience from salespeople to understand & convey the benefit.  It's surprising easy to miss vitals of design, since attention is often focused on other aspects of the purchase.  After all, in the past people new to hybrids often didn't know what to ask.  Now that's the case with plug-in hybrids... and the education of sales staff often gets overlooked by critics.  Think about how easy it is for a salesperson to sell a regular model of Prius instead.  Selling more of the plug-in to customers specifically wanting to jump on the opportunity to own one will help change that.  Remember the initial success of Prius?  Toyota was able to seek out those buyers back then.  They targeted highly interested consumers, rather than doing a nationwide launch initially.  GM hoped to follow in those same footsteps too.  Trouble is, the market is profoundly different now.  For Prius, there's countless online references already, making detail about the plug-in model very difficult to fine.  For Volt, the opportunity to educate was instead used to flaunt awards and brag about performance.  Toyota isn't going to follow that path.  They are now seeking out those with strong interest in the plug-in.  Seeing a dozen 2012 models now quietly be delivered to one dealership in Minnesota seems to confirm that.  Watch closely.  As we get closer to Earth Day, the excitement will build.  Year #2 for the plug-in Prius, which starts then, will be one to capitalize upon... no hype about an expensive approach like Volt.  What Toyota offers is configured for the masses.  The incentive to increase sales as year #1 comes to a close should help confirm it... just by the simple matter of seeing who actually takes advantage of the chance to buy.  To be a penalty, purchases would be limited to enthusiasts.  To be a true gain, purchases will be dominated by those from middle-market who would have otherwise just bought a regular model instead.


Trophy Mentality.  It's all that seems to be left now.  Nothing else to draw interest to Volt, as it is currently configured, is a sign of the next stage approaching.  Ultimately, a model that’s actually competitive will need to be delivered.  Bragging rights about MPG don't attract middle-market consumers.  We know this well, as Prius owners.  The antagonists claimed the standout look of Prius was why people bought it, not the improvement to emissions & efficiency.  There mindset is having something compelling to flaunt will generate lots of sales.  That's the "trophy mentality".  Rather than something offerings a nice balance of priorities, as Prius does, it was a focus on desire.  Reality is, the shape of Prius is remarkably practical.  There was no other midsize hatchback available back when it debuted in 2003.  That's what it got noticed.  Combine that with the benefits of the hybrid system, you got yourself a winner… as long as it's affordable.  That's the catch.  High-Volume sales don’t come from a trophy.  The profit-makers have to be so common, they end up becoming part of the crowd… as Prius has.


76 MPH.  Concern about stress on the plug-in Prius battery-pack when accelerating onto a highway with a cold engine generated this from me:  Drop the pedal to the floor some time.  I was surprised to discover the "protect" mode had somewhat of an override.  The engine still won't redline, which in itself is rather low at 5500 RPM.  Instead, it shoots past the 1500 RPM ceiling and you end up getting around 2750 RPM.  I hadn't expected that to cause jump to 76 mph with a cold engine.  The speed limit is only 70 mph on that ramp just 3 blocks from my house.  It goes to show you how well thought out the design really is... and how infrequently you actually need maximum acceleration.  As for shortening your EV range, it won't happen if you're driving beyond a short distance.  The system is designed to restore that used during warm-up by taking advantage of the efficiency the power-split-device offers.  Remember, heat is required for maximum emission cleansing.  That extra engine load while warming up ends up being a win-win situation.


Endless Bashing.  We've seen it all before.  Only now, it's playing out in actual sales rather than rhetoric about what could be.  Today, it was: "You are now just bashing GM. The Volt is an excellent vehicle and if it had a Toyota badge you would probably be praising it."  My jumping was with this summary:  Keep in mind that there really is a production level that isn't profitable.  Schedules are setup with suppliers & workers for specific volumes.  Coming short of that results in a penalty.  True, the "I drove a Volt today" experience can be a very positive one.  After all, we know what EV delivers.  An expensive vehicle with impressive abilities will always score high reviews, but cost tradeoffs come with consequences.  GM campaigned fiercely against hybrids for years.  The only choice now, expressed in their very own words is to "leapfrog" the competition.  Unfortunately, that requires all the necessary ingredients all at the correct time... now!  In other words, battery cost must be low and consumer demand high.  That just plain is not the case.  Volt could be considered ahead of its time.  But as supporters wait, the competition advances, narrowing the gap.  Disregarding hype of the past and having fallen short of goals, what is there?  The approach GM took with Volt doesn't offer the flexibility Toyota took with Prius.  We have clear examples of how engine, motor, and battery can be varied.  That isn't feasible with Volt.  Reduction of battery results in a power & efficiency loss, both of which put it at a disadvantage.  In other words, GM top the top-down approach and Toyota took bottom-up.  That fundamental difference is now playing out, proving the one is not as effective as the other with middle-market consumers.  Ford will help to confirm this, since they also took bottom-up.  Say all you want about GM bashing.  In fact, the feedback can be quite informative.  But in the end, it boils down to achieving business-sustaining profit.


Buy Again.  Aren't surveys fun?  Blah!  Limited scope can give misleading impressions.  That's why when the claim is vague... like when a percent is used rather than stating that actual count... you should be cautious.  Don't accept claims at face value.  Always do some research yourself to confirm.  The recent example comes from a "buy again" ranking.  Seeing that raised many questions from those of us wondering about the data itself.  That's why I provide spreadsheets with raw numbers.  You can draw conclusions on your own, rather than just accept the summaries as is.  Anywho, this is how I responded to it on the big GM forum.  Greenwashing through the use of percentages is why supporters back away when detail is requested.  Volt sure as heck better score high.  With such an audience (smaller and quite specific), how could it not?  With a vehicle like the small model of Prius, it targets totally different consumers... those who spend far less, yet still have some high priorities... like emissions, efficiency, and high reliability.  There are far more of them too.  Also, I get a kick out of how the "buy again" question limits choice.  What if a number of small Prius owners choose to purchase a larger Prius instead?  That would count as a "no" even though all they did was decide upon a different model.


Now Available.  It was quite a delight today to discover a dozen plug-in Prius delivered to a local dealer here in Minnesota.  They're all 2012 models available for immediate purchase.  I wasn't expecting them so early with the inevitable on set of Winter... which likely won't be a mild one here like last year.  This being an area where Prius is quite popular year-round, endorsements from cold season driving go a long way too.  So, it makes sense offering some here sooner.  After all, some people have been waiting a very long time, not will to do an out-of-state then transport delivery as I did.  Being available in December means they'd be able to claim the tax-credit right away.  It provides a nice opportunity for a few lucky people to take advantage of.  When Spring finally arrives, much of the rest of the country will hopefully have local availability too.


Accord Plug-In Hybrid.  Details were released today.  This is Honda's first hybrid offering a second motor, making it more flexible than their ASSIST system with only one.  Of course, we still don't know if it is a FULL hybrid though.  That requires a power-split device, which allows a wide variety of energy flows that overcomes the limitation just a single motor/generator system can offer.  Price was obviously the biggest curiosity.  It will be available starting at $39,780.  Rollout will begin mid-January for 2 states, California and New York.  National availability will be sometime later in the Summer.  The EPA rating is 115 MPGe officially, which is the highest for any plug-in hybrid so far.  As for depleted operation, the MPG estimate values are 47 city, 46 highway, and 46 combined.  The EV range for the plug-in is rated at 13 miles, from the 6.7 kWh lithium battery-pack.  It will feature a 137 hp 2.0 liter gas-engine connected to a 124 kW electric-motor.  This will be the very first vehicle rated under the new LEV III standards too, earning a rating of SULEV20.  The numerical part of that emission label represents the NMOG+NOx level.  In this case, 0.020 gram/mile.  Needless to say, the world of Volt having the spotlight exclusively is rapidly fading away.


Colder Operation.  The temperature continues to drop around the country.  (It's actually been on the warm side here though.)  So, online discussions about Prius operation in the cold are quite popular.  With both owners of c and v experiencing Winter for the first time, there are quite a number of questions to address.  It's all the same stuff we've heard countless times over the years.  But to them, this is their first experience with a hybrid in the cold.  The engine off behavior changes.  Some is rather predicable.  Some needs information to understand.  All results in much improved MPG compared to what their previous vehicle would have delivered.


No Hybrids.  The endless debates continue.  This was the latest contribution to that:  There's a large product-gap between eAssist and Volt.  No amount of rhetoric will change that.  This thread is about GM's choice to not fill it.  As we've seen with the plug-in Prius, it's feasible to significantly boost MPG through the use of a modest-sized air-cooled battery-pack hybrid efficiency even after depletion.  That makes it a configuration capable of high-volume sales and business-sustaining profit.  Reading the article, there's nothing mentioned about how the 500,000 per year goal will be achieved or even any expectation of what the distribution will be.  With other automakers pursuing that gap, it seems quite a risk for GM to dismiss it.  As the cost of lithium batteries drops and the tax-credit expires, the choice of a small & simple system with a plug for the masses won't be argued anymore.  In the meantime, we still have to deal with those claiming the superiority of a system which didn't take the priority of being affordable seriously.  That's really unfortunate.


Discovery.  This morning's commute appears to have revealed a correlation between the heater setting and coolant threshold.  They seem to be tied directly, the lower the temperature on the heater, the lower the temperature on the coolant.  In other words, a setting of "HI" will trigger the engine to startup when it drops to about 145°F but "72" not until around 121°F.  I tested theory this by adjusting it to "65" and observed the engine staying off until 114°F.  The end result of my 16.7 mile commute (taking the 70 mph route) today was 137 MPG with 1.8 mile of EV remaining.  I'm looking forward to seeing what the commute will reveal when the heater is set to "65" for the entire drive.  Note that on the regular model of Prius (my 2010), I never observed this.  The threshold for engine startup was always 114°F in ECO mode and 145°F in Normal.  It tends to make sense with EV that there's a sliding scale to make the heating smoother, since the duration between engine running could significantly longer than with a Prius only offering HV.


25 MPG.  One strategy for dealing with the continued success of Prius is to force it into another perspective.  With the plug-in model, certain people (you know who they are) always compare it to an EV.  Why?  That doesn't even make sense, nor was that ever the intention.  The approach we've seen all along is to expand upon efficiency opportunities with an electric motor.  That ability to drive alone through the suburbs with the engine off has been available since the very beginning.  Back then, the distance & speed was limited.  Over the years, both have increased.  That wasn't the exclusive means of achieve high MPG results though.  Running the engine at a lower RPM by having the motor provide propulsion power too was always a fundamental aspect of the design.  Now that the engine RPM can be 0 more often, somehow that makes it a poor EV.  Since when was that ever a goal?  Never has an absolute of no gas ever been proclaimed.  Reduction has been the intention, not elimination.  This is especially important when you consider the means to which some electricity is derived.  That source can be rather dirty.  Continuing to improve upon engine efficiency as well as using renewable carbon-neutral low emission fuel makes sense.  Anywho, the goal for the first plug-in Prius was to significantly improve efficiency without clean compromises.  Seeing that achieved with the anticipated average of roughly 25 MPG better is quite vindicating... hence so much antagonistic response from those supporting other solutions... you know who they are.


Agonizing.  In the old days, if you said anything that didn't shed a positive light on a competitor, the "fanboy" label was used.  That's ancient history now.  Under the same conditions, at least when discussing GM, you are given a "hater" label.  It's quite disturbing how often that label gets used in forums and on article comments.  Then of course, if you favor an automaker like Toyota, they start waving the flag.  That's looked upon as "bashing America", even though the result is lots of employment here.  Sadly, a certain few have even begun accusations of communism.  It's all quite disturbing.  But with Volt about to begin its third year of sales and volume still under the profitable level, the situation is increasing pressure on supporters.  We all know numbers not meeting expectations results in losses.  We all know the clock is ticking on the tax-credit too.  To make matters worse, there's a wave of plug-in hybrids about to steal the spotlight.  Ford's rollout is well on its way.  Toyota will soon expand to nationwide availability.  Sometime in the first half of next year, Honda will makes its debut.  All hybrid sellers already, they really stir emotion when compared to what GM has to offer.  That ends up being agonizing for everyone.  You either get labeled or you have to deal with the pressure.


Greenwashing.  The madness will go on and on.  That's inevitable when it comes to being in a competitive market with much to be lost.  This is the latest:  "GM is moving beyond hybrid technology as they already have with the Voltec system in a bit of a that-was-then this-is-now maneuver."  That comment came from a staunch supporter who is well aware of the inability for GM to compete directly with hybrids from Ford & Toyota.  Their hybrid system is too expensive and neither as efficient nor as clean.  So, the decision was made to focus primarily on plug-in offerings instead.  That's an interesting business risk.  What do you sell to the many consumers who simply don't have access to a plug?  It's a very real problem the lack of diversity doesn't address.  I see the comment as effort to not tell the whole story, in other words, greenwashing.  Here's how I responded:  Having both an engine and at least one electric motor makes it a hybrid, period.  The reality of the situation is how much that electric motor is utilized in contrast to the engine, which is being used in an increasingly efficient matter.  It's not an absolute as marketing attempts to convey.


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