Personal Log #598
December 10, 2012 - December 16, 2012
Last Updated: Tues. 1/08/2013
page #597 page #599 BOOK INDEX
Blatant Greenwashing. How do you respond to an article that starts with this: "Ford introduced its two C-MAX hybrid models last December, and just one year later the U.S. car maker is already nudging out Toyota for sales of electric hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles." That's an outright lie. C-Max was introduced to this market in October, just 2 months ago. There's no possible way the writer could have made a mistake. The claim is blatant greenwashing. Sadly, the sentence that followed clarified motive: "Ford introduced its two C-MAX hybrid models last December, and just one year later the U.S. car maker is already nudging out Toyota for sales of electric hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles." People typically believe what they read. So, this was especially disturbing. The article later goes on to describe the two models as "EV hybrid" and "plug-in EV hybrid", both of which are obviously misleading since the industry been using "hybrid" and "plug-in hybrid" as identifiers for years. Then to make matters even worse: "...combined sales in November for the C-MAX Hybrid and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid totaled 4,848 in November, compared to a total of 4,456 for Toyota’s Prius plug-in and Prius V hybrids." How is drawing that conclusion by excluding the 8,925 sales of the regular model even the slightest bit honest? What about omitting 3,124 sales of the smaller model? Needless to say, some people aren't even trying to be constructive.
Blend Mode. I've been playing with it, wondering if there's a simple way of conveying intent & benefit. The plug-in Prius will run the engine from time to time for heating the interior. Heat is also needed for cleansing emissions. Winter can be cruel to efficiency for all vehicle. But taking advantage of the engine running isn't a big deal with the PHV. When accelerating from a stop, why not push the pedal hard or press the HV/EV button to startup the engine? If it has to run anyway, why not use it for providing power to the wheels at the same time? Turns out, that's a rather efficient approach when the temperature outside is well below freezing. It keeps coolant (the source of warmth for the heater) above the threshold, allowing more opportunity for driving in EV. That may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, running the engine for the sake of using it less, but the outcome speaks for itself. I've found that approach worthwhile. Accelerating briskly does the trick. That's the very same advice we give new owners of the regular Prius anyway. Giving it to those with a plug too makes matters of education easy. After all, not giving any advice tends to allow assumptions to take over. People end up fighting the system, thinking they are achieving higher efficiency, when really they are not. In other words, don't be afraid of letting the engine run. Of course, I still don't know what to call it. Blend mode is rather generic, but it does make it clear that engine use is expected.
Estimate Value Concern. This was my response to a concern new PHV owner: We saw this coming... the same questions getting asked over and over and over again. It becomes annoying quick, when there's nothing actually wrong and it stems from not being well versed in how the system works. But that's what happens when a new technology is so well designed and so unintimidating middle-market consumers embrace it. To best explain the situation, you have to first recognize that the value presented isn't an EV range expectation. Prius is a plug-in hybrid. Its purpose is to significantly reduce emissions consumption, not to offer a pure electric-only driving experience. The larger battery-pack and plug simply expand upon efficiency seeking opportunities the system has been taking advantage for 15 years now. True, you will have plenty of EV driving, but that value is only an estimate based upon your own personal driving data. Reset the computer, the original value you saw will immediately return. Mine progressively got lower due to more blend driving rather than electric-only. The resulting MPG should be outstanding, since the plug-supplied electricity is still being used. Seeing a value much lower now than when you first bought the car is an understandable sign of concern though. But then again, some of the best advocates for the technology over the years have come from owners with a first-post convinced something is wrong. They learn how the system actually works, then becomes very excited upon learning how well it copes with such a seemingly simple situation that is really quite complex. Long story short, it's working fine and welcome to the forum. There are quite a number of threads on this topic already. Do some searches. Then if you'd like to learn a lot more, consider purchasing an aftermarket gauge to allow you to observe aspects of operation not revealed via the dashboard displays.
$2.99 Per Gallon. A major argument point for Volt was the expectation of higher gas prices, much higher. Supporters hoped routinely paying over $4 per gallon would contribute heavily to sales. They didn't want to acknowledge that the fuel industry has resources & incentive to prevent that. The assumption was prices would remain $3 something. Seeing it now at $2.99 was quite unexpected. That's a very big problem for an expensive hybrid like Volt. For an affordable one like Prius, the story is quite different. Even without the tax-credit, it is still within reach of ordinary consumers. We know that simply by observing models purchased in the past. There was a steady stream of 4 & 5 packages, whose price was relatively close. They sold well even when gas was at $3. There was no dependency. Looking 2 years from now, no change in gas-price and the tax-credit expiration offset by the next generation improvements will be just fine for Prius. What happens with Volt, especially taking into consideration the pressure competition from Ford will create from both plug-in and regular hybrids. Other automakers will be joining the party too. Maybe 2013 will bring the long overdue acknowledgement of need. Thankfully, the blind hope of the past was finally abandoned.
Energi Report. When the founder of that daily blog for Volt returned to share his report on the new C-Max plug-in (called "Energi") he traded it for, the response was a civil as you could expect... the topic was quickly diverted to a tangent and attention was lost. Those still there simply didn't want to address Ford's plug-in offering. For that matter, they still only make references to the regular Prius and avoid the plug-in model. Fortunately, it was quite unlike that on the big GM forum. There, they are hostile and don't even try to be honest. Oddly though, that still remains the better source for argument points. You actually get some type of feedback. Anywho, we have witnessed the hopes of mainstream fade away to niche for Volt and are now seeing plug-in hybrids capable of high-volume sales from middle-market. They never wanted to be realistic about the situation. The reaction continues to be the "head in the sand" attitude. All they care about is not getting a "fail" stigma. Oh well. It's not like we didn't see that coming. Meanwhile, the reports on C-Max Energi are beginning to emerge.
Winter Roads. Commute traffic this evening... Ugh. I avoided the side roads, since they were still a mess despite the temperature climbing above freezing. That meant some pretty heavy congestion on the main highway. That also meant my first ever opportunity to drive EV entirely to depletion on the 70 mph route. 29 minutes of electric-only bliss. I was quite pleased how far I got, even climbing out of the river valley without the engine starting. The downfalls of Winter are turning out to be quite enjoyable having a plug. The screen that's display when you shut off the Prius is quite informative. Seeing 150 MPG for the drive was quite satisfying, certainly not what anyone else on that road was getting. It makes the cold season less stressful.
Heater Variance. I've observed that heater temperature is tied directly to coolant temperature. That's a new parameter for us driving Prius. No longer is there a specific temperature at which the engine starts back up for cabin warming. With the regular model, it was always 114°F when in ECO mode and 145°F when the other modes. With the plug-in, it varies. In other words, while driving EV with ECO, then engine will start up for the heater when the coolant is 125°F if set to "HI" but not if set to "65". While driving HV with ECO, that wouldn't happen. The engine would stay off. It sounds somewhat complicated, until you consider outside conditions and why you requested it to be warmer. More heat means running the engine longer. Taking extra time while sitting in the cold would be uncomfortable. So, it starts sooner and runs for a shorter duration instead. There's always a tradeoff when it comes to situations like that. With the regular Prius, electric-only driving doesn't last anywhere near as long as with the plug-in. Why sacrifice comfort when you can get great efficiency anyway? After all, even when the engine runs for heat, you still get a MPG boost.
Volt Discussions. Stepping back to look at activity on the big GM forum, it's easy to see there isn't any Volt discussion anymore. Unless Prius is mentioned, the thread dies almost immediately. The content of posts themselves are nothing but comparison information. You can't actually find anything stand-alone anymore. That's drastically different from the big Prius forum. Discussions are abundant. Thread activity is dramatically more frequent. Mention of Volt is actually quite rare. 2013 is going to be rough for GM. With Ford ramping up for a good showing from C-Max & Fusion plug-in hybrids and Honda preparing to do the same with Accord, the road for Toyota is quite the opposite. It all comes down to audience. Who are those plug-in hybrids attempting to appeal to? At some point, something from GM will be announced. I can't imagine rollout of the Cadillac version of Volt being the only activity the entire third year of production. But then again, the past is loaded with unfulfilled goals. Remaining silent would be the lesser of two evils.
Plug-In Spotted. It's very exciting when you get greeted in the parking lot by someone happily yelling out to you: "We have 9 Prius in our family." Then without a moment to determine intent, she's starts asking about the plug-in model. That was my first true PHV recognition, a random encounter totally unexpected but very welcome. That level of excitement is quite enthralling. I can't wait to do that when there isn’t a snowy mess to deal with. Anywho, her determination to glean as much information from me as quickly as possible is something you have to witness to believe… which my sister did. We were out shopping, minding our own business. She got a kick out of the experience. Not having the plug-in available on most dealer's lots around here until Spring lowers expectations. That's also the case with the lack of charging-stations. I'm just collecting real-world data in the meantime. But it sure is nice responding to inquiries before that.
Still Avoiding PHV. You know progress isn't being made when the discussions don't change. If it's the same old rhetoric of the past, then there's no realistic way to claim advancement. How else can that be put? You read a new discussion thread about Volt, the comparisons continue to be about the regular model Prius. It's quite clear. After all this time, the supporters are still avoiding PHV. I find that so redeeming. To think that they finally recognize market Prius worked so hard to draw. The answer to my "who" question is mainstream consumers… those who couldn't care less about the reasons they state for purchasing a Volt instead. They are beginning to see that now. I wonder why. Is it sales? Is it real-world data? Is it a better understanding of the market? How come they don't mention the plug-in model when comparing Volt to Prius? Why hasn't that change?
Blah. Driving was even worse today. The snow transformed into heavy dry
masses mixed with stretches of chunky ice. It was an awful recipe for
commuting. Traffic was nasty. Needless to say, I was able to test out my
theory right away.
On my morning commute, the slowdown area was after getting the interior
nicely warmed up. I shut off the heater and fired up my tiny USB-powered
fan. Sure enough, it kept the windshield clear, allowing me to drive from
there on in EV without getting cold. On the way home, I simply turned on the
heater and let it warm up the interior. Traffic was nasty from the start.
Turns out though, there was plenty of EV anyway, even when the need to turn
back on the heater came.
Thankfully, we don't get storms that often and most aren't anywhere near
that bad. This just happened to be an ideal opportunity to observe and
interact with the extremes firsthand. The final results for those 35.6
miles of driving was 6 kWh of electricity (2 full recharges), 0.367 gallons
of gas (97 MPG average), 17 miles of EV displayed, and 17 miles of HV
displayed. I documented the results with my camera...
photo album 180
Different Perspectives. Those new to hybrids are often oblivious to what happened a decade ago, to the point where they get frustrated. It often results in a reply which claims you are altering or distorting history... when in reality, they simply don't have all the facts. That's why I find the blogs so helpful. All you have to do is search for what was being thought & said back then, documented as it actually happened. Anywho, you get seemingly constructive comments like this without that knowledge of the past: "Unfortunately cars like the Volt highlight that hybrids simply require a rethink, and a change in driving patterns if one is to truly expect notable fuel economy." I replied with: The actual problem was that automakers failed to inform owners. They were kept in the dark. All you'd get was a crude analog speedometer. Then came Prius, with multi-information screen standard. It was a rude awakening. Factors like speed, acceleration, fuel-formula, air-temperature, tire-pressure, and oil-level all quickly surfaced as efficiency influences affecting all vehicles, but assumed to be Prius only. The rethink was long overdue. It stirred a movement which ultimately got the EPA to revise the way MPG estimates were measured. The fact that attention has now become so widespread is simply proof that concerns have penetrated into the mainstream. Plug-In hybrids introduce an additional variance. But since the complaints are engine efficiency (primarily MPG following depletion), the EV capacity really doesn't play a role in solving the problem at hand. It just helps to raise awareness about the complexity of estimates.
The commute home was a slow one. The temperature had dropped. The road to
the highway was covered with an inch thick of ice. The city has a machine to
cut notches in it to accelerate melting. That short-term result is a nasty
washboard to drive over, riddled with large indentures. Everyone was going
slow as a result. Of course, the slick spots on the highway were good reason
to avoid speed as well.
With the outside only at 5°F, use of the
heater was constant the entire drive home. To my surprise, the climb
out of the valley from the river was almost entirely with electricity.
The coolant had warmed up enough for EV, but I had no idea how long it would
last or if the battery was fully warmed up yet. Very close to the top,
the engine started back up. It shut off fairly quick and traffic was
only moving along at about 50 mph. So, I just let it stay that way
until depletion. 90 MPG was the overall result of my 34 mile
round-trip commute, with a recharge at work. That's truly remarkable
for the those extreme conditions. Heck, that's considerably better any
vehicle without a plug could deliver. Winter has taken on a whole new
outlook. I'm quite happy, as you can see...
photo album 180