Personal Log  #60

April 20, 2003  -  May 1, 2003

Last Updated: Fri. 5/09/2003

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Back in the GREEN !!  No, I don't mean emissions.  Prius is always clean.  It's the improved efficiency now that Winter here in Minnesota is finally over.  Seeing temperatures finally near 70 F degrees all this last week allowed me to drive the entire time without ever dropping below a 50 MPG average on the Multi-Display.  And when I filled up, the value calculated to 52.5 MPG.  I love seeing that.  Today's commute went really well too, it now shows a 53.4 MPG average.  So this new tank of gas is also off to a great start.  Yeah!  By the way, I'm seeing another green too.  The green & leaves are coming back.  That's always a pleasant return.  The colorlessness of Winter sure is monotonous at times.


Amazing.  Isn't it amazing how Toyota continues to tweak every little detail about their hybrid design?  They keep investing in R&D despite already having a huge edge on the competition.  The more I learn about the new Prius, the more impressed I become.  And with the knowledge spreading about how well it performs in real-world conditions rapidly spreading, I'll have to start calling the traditional vehicles "legacy transportation".


Leaf Logo.  Some people are just now discovering that Ford also has a leaf logo too, since they are now using it for their hybrid promotion.  I've seen it for years.  Here in the land of E85 (farmer grown "gasoline" in Minnesota), that logo has been plastered on quite a few of the E85 vehicles.  And there are enough of them on the road now that sightings can occur spotted several times per day if you have good enough eyes to see that small logo.  Unfortunately, many of the drivers of those vehicles don't even know what that logo means.  They just endlessly fill their tanks with gasoline rather than using the less expensive E85 alternative (85% ethanol created from corn, 15% gasoline).  I get some really weird looks sometimes when I mention to an owner of one of those vehicles that they can actually put something other than gasoline in their tank.  Needless to say, even with those vehicles on the road, there's no guarantee that the new technology or fuel will actually gain general acceptance.  It's kind of sad.  Thank goodness Prius doesn't have that type of acceptance problem.


Negative Press.  Some reporters have now turned to slamming the current Prius, using words like "cramped", "underpowered", and "ugly", to make the upcoming Prius sound better.  That's very frustrating.  The interior size offers the same legroom and taller headroom compared to sedans from just a few years ago.  (I can easily prove this too, just take a look at my grandfather's 1999 Taurus.)  The power is enough to merge onto highways even during the difficult high-traffic hours.  And the styling is an obvious departure from the straight-edged, flat-panel exteriors common among many large vehicles of today, so ugly is only a time-specific term and very much a personal opinion.  And to make matters worse, some reporters are pushing the idea that Toyota is still losing money on each Prius.  That just plain isn't true.  Granted the profit isn't much.  But at least Prius is being sold for more than it costs to build it now.  And the production increase alone will help reduce costs.  So the road to high volume sales, just like most traditional vehicles, is extremely close now.  The fact that reporters feel the need to say negative things about the current Prius now, even though they said good things about it just last year, makes me dismiss the little credibility they had in the first place.  I'm going to focus more attention on what actual owners have to say, not what reporters unfamiliar with or simply not interested in Prius write in their articles.


Is it really a problem?  Prius raises awareness.  It begins with a misunderstanding based on incomplete information.  It amplifies by not knowing how rare that particular circumstance really is.  It thrives because those responding to inquiries don't have a solid frame-of-reference (detailed real-world data) to make comparisons to.  Thank goodness we don't actually have much to worry about.  The first step in problem solving is to gather as much information as you can.  The next step is to find out if it ever occurs again.  If it doesn't, save resources by not spending any additional time on it.  If it does, then begin pattern recognition.  With enough occurrences, you'll identify the what the actual cause it.  At that point, the solution is much easier to find.  Prius hasn't had any problem we haven't been able to easily overcome.  Now many owners are comfortable with the technology.  They've read about the success others have had with their own Prius.  We've dealt with all kinds of concerns over the past few years.  Many were just misunderstandings, some were actually genuine problems, none were show-stoppers.  Prius is now ready to become mainstream.  Are you ready?


No Trunk.  The fact that the new Prius is a hatchback has raised questions by some about how secure your valuables will be in it.  But quick check shows that the vast majority of people don't share that concern, since they are owners of minivans, SUVs, wagons, crossovers, and pickups which don't have trunks.  The option to conceal & lock simply isn't available to them.  There are also a number of cars that have non-locking fold-down seats, so they can't be counted either.  That puts the "secure" vehicles in the minority.  Are they really more secure though?  How hard is it to break a lock on a trunk?  The hatchback on the new Prius offers a rollout cover.  So the dishonest hoping to steal from you won't be able to see what you have.  Will they really smash the window gambling that you'll have something valuable hidden in there?


"New Prius", "Classic Prius".  Why are some people still insisting on assigning a generational number to the redesigned Prius coming this fall?  Based on what component you favor the most, it could technically be either second or third.  But what benefit does it serve choosing a label of that nature?  Microsoft learned firsthand that the majority of people can't remember version numbers well when people began mixing up the 95, 97, 98, and 2000 versions of Office.  That's why they now offer "ME" and "XP" versions of Windows and the "XP" version of Office.  A text is easier to associate differences with.  So why not just call the 2001, 2002, and 2003 versions of Prius "classic" and the +2004 versions "new"?  There's no misunderstanding in any respect what the difference is between "classic" & "new", so that's the terminology I'm going to endorse.


2004 Prius Photos & Screen-Saver.  We have brand new, never seen before, high-resolution (1600x1200) photos of the 2004 Prius now!  Timothy K provided them.  He deserves a HUGE thank you for adding to the excitement.  He also let me assemble them into a screen-saver for your viewing pleasure.  Check out all this new stuff his webpage:   owner:  Timothy K


15 new Spring Prius Photos.  Up in Northern Minnesota, after a very enjoyable and strange (it was 93 F degrees at times, yet there was still ice on the lake which provided a pleasant cool breeze) day of biking, I stopped along drive back to take Prius photos with my new 5-megapixel digital camera.  They came out great!  The background filled with green pine and leafless white birch trees, a base of dry yellow grass, a beautiful blue sky, and some glimpses of water made taking those photos easy.  The 15 best are now available for your viewing pleasure here:  photo album 49


New Misconception.  Now some people just beginning to research hybrids are wondering about battery-pack drain.  Since the new A/C (for creating cold air and humidity removal) will run exclusively on electricity, they have concerns about consuming all the power available and either roasting in the Summer heat or just getting stranded somewhere.  They don't realize how the hybrid system creates and uses electricity.  There is absolutely no need to be concerned.  The A/C won't run exclusively from the battery-pack.  It will try to run as much as it possibly can for maximum efficiency.  But if the demand exceeds the supply, the engine will simply startup and begin providing electricity on-the-fly.  It's no different from driving in "stealth".  When the state-of-charge drops to a depleted level, the engine runs.  I've experienced that countless times already.  It's no big deal.


Excellent MPG Recovery.  The first 100 miles of the most recent tank of gas was highway driving through that nasty freezing rain in winter temperatures while carrying a bike with a very thick layer of ice on the back.  In other words, it doesn't get much worse.  The result was an average of only 39 MPG.  But despite that, the overall result for the whole tank was 47.5 MPG.  Those following 300 miles provided an excellent recovery.  My Prius must have been averaging around 50 MPG to be able to cause an increase like that.  Today, I got the proof that it was.  My drive to work and back on this new tank yielded a 51.8 MPG average on the Multi-Display.  That's just plain sweet!  And temperature still hasn't climbed above 70 F degrees for any of my routine driving yet.  When it does, I'll see the MPG climb up a little tiny bit more.  Cool!


Nice Brakes.  Two big pigeons swooped down in front of the Prius.  The lead one just barely cleared the hood, so it was blatantly obvious the trailing one didn't stand a chance.  I hit the brakes.  The Prius slowed down in time.  The pigeon flew by as if it wasn't a big deal.  And you know what, it wasn't really that big of a deal.  The brakes delivered nicely.  No harm done and I got a bit of excitement out of it.


CARB Drops Electric Car Requirement.  The mandate created over 10 years ago with intentions for compliance in 2003 is now dead.  Its purpose was to help solve the terrible pollution problem in California by requiring a modest amount of vehicle sales (100,000, roughly 10 percent of sales) to be pure electric rather than using some type of combustion engine.  Automakers fought this from day 1.  It was really sad.  There were very real technology problems, but automakers didn't sincerely even try to make it work.  They simply claimed there was no market for a vehicle like that after just preliminary tryouts.  GM produced some electric cars for leasing, but only 1000.  This created a massive waiting list for the opportunity to get one.  Demand was strong because the car delivered.  Acceleration & Handling were incredible.  The limited battery-range wasn't even an issue.  People were using them for heavy commute needs, and just simply switching to their vehicle with a combustion engine for long-distant travel.  So their claim that there was a market doesn't even make sense.  Reduced population really did result.  And very recently Ford dropped their plans to make an electric car available before any of them even made it to the open market.  So their claim doesn't make sense either.  How could they know what demand is before the first sale even occurred?  Toyota was far more successful with their attempt.  They offered a very limited amount of electric SUVs and sold every one of them.  But with the next Prius so much more cost effective, it simply wasn't a good long-term plan continuing with their electric-only effort.  So that actually did make sense.  The California Air officials agreed with that decision too.  And the new mandate reflects it.  The rule now states that 420,000 vehicles must now be hybrids by 2011, 250 fuel-cell by 2008 (2,500 by 2011, then 25,000 by 2014), and 3.4 million must be emission-rated at the extremely clean level of PZEV by 2010.  Realistically, this is a huge improvement... but I think it's a bit obscure.  They are still identifying specific technologies, rather than just requiring certain emissions levels to be met.  And of course, the terms "hybrid" and "fuel-cell" are a bit vague.  So automakers will likely take advantage of that the same way they did with "utility" to exempt SUVs from certain emission regulations.  Now I'll be frustrated just waiting for that other shoe to drop.  Oh well.  At least Toyota has already provide proof that hybrid technology is quite realistic.  Maybe the other automakers (now I'm dreaming) will actually stop fighting progress.


Speed Perception.  In the past, it was understandable when a reviewer made a comment about Prius being slow.  From inside the hybrid, it initially sounds like the engine is struggling to provide speed.  So by instinct, the reviewer would let up on the pedal, which of course causes the acceleration-rate to decrease.  In reality, the shortness of the hood and the unusual placement of the engine only gives you the impression of struggle.  That revving sound is perfectly normal and does not strain the engine.  The other key point that reviewers completely misunderstand is the smoooooothness of the transmission.  Because they can't feel anything, they assume nothing is happening.  So when they punch the pedal to the floor, the absence of a transmission shifting gives the illusion that the system is passive & unresponsive.  In reality, the numbers on the speedometer are quickly spinning higher.  I sure which they'd actually look to see that rather than basing the entire perception on feel.  Anywho, those aspects really bothered me.  Now it's even worse.  Some reviewers don't even take a test-drive.  They just look at the specifications and place judgment solely on the numbers themselves in comparison to other vehicles.  They don't bother to actually try the hybrid to find out how the numbers perform.  On paper decision making frustrates me.  The "more is better" attitude interferes with common sense, some people don't consider what is really needed anymore.  Faster is unconditionally thought of as better, even if it sacrifices other aspects of performance like reduced emissions & consumption.  (Have I gotten the point across yet so I can now climb down off my soapbox?)


Like a Wagon.  Have you ever noticed that an SUV is actually a wagon with high-ground clearance, heavy tires & suspension, 4-wheel drive, and a fierce look?  Now that automakers have begun toning down the SUV image by reducing those aspects of the design, that wagon similarity is beginning to show.  Wagons used to be like minivans, some people wouldn't be caught dead in one.  But just like with minivans, the practical need emerges and the better design ends up winning.  So welcome back the wagon.  Then take a close look at the new Prius.  If the back roof were to be lifted some more, it would become a wagon too.


Prius Merchandise.  This fall, Toyota will begin their large promotion efforts for Prius.  Have you ever thought about just how much they want to stimulate interest?  What if they decide to unleash a marketing frenzy?  They could go all out like Chrysler did for the PT Cruiser and Volkswagen did for the Beetle.  We could end up with a whole bunch of Prius merchandise to choose from.  Wouldn't it be great seeing people wearing hats, shirts, and jackets with "Prius" on it?  There could be "Prius" posters for us to proudly display.  We could purchase "Prius" scale models (and have our own personal "Prius" gatherings with them!).  There are lots of opportunities available.  How about a keychain?  I wonder what Toyota will end up doing.  Hmm?  (I hope it's all of the above!)


Conspiracy Theories.  Here we go.  Now that Toyota has a very strong hybrid design, one that will provide large volume sales much more than a niche group, people are making up stories about how their "green" image will allow them to push gas-guzzlers without being noticed.  Toyota didn't offer massive & powerful vehicles just a few years ago (hence the domestic success of those vehicles, since there wasn't any competition).  So statistically, Toyota has shown large growth percentages.  In reality, they've simply leveled the playing field for that type of vehicle.  Except of course, they also offer a great hybrid.  So there really can't be a conspiracy brewing, since they can't simply replace the gas-guzzling engine in those massive & powerful vehicles with a clean & efficient hybrid system.  That sounds like a good long-term strategy to me.


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