Personal Log  #601

December 29, 2012  -  January 3, 2013

Last Updated: Tues. 1/08/2013

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The Discovery.  This is pleasant to read: "Oh wow. I was wondering if the cold could be killing my MPG."  It's nice when a new owner figures out on their own why their efficiency has dropped.  I replied to his discovery:  Remember the days before having a display on your dashboard, when you were blissfully oblivious to the affects of Winter?  Engine warm-up, winter-formula fuel, reduced combustion, increased rolling-resistance, heavier traffic... factors of efficiency influence for all vehicles that new owners of Prius become painfully aware of as the temperature plummets.  With a hybrid, you also get the influence from heater use and a decrease of available battery capacity.  Every year, it's the same discoveries made by newbies.  They eventually figure out, then give thanks when the warmth of spring arrives.  The emotion they experience is actually a building-block for the passion often associated with Prius ownership.  You feel empowered after learning so much about what had always been affecting vehicle efficiency.  Those who have firsthand experience with multiple Winters behind the wheel of a Prius appreciate when you experiment and share your finding.  Eventually, you will become the teachers of new owners with the very same concerns about suddenly MPG dropping, informing them of the circumstances.  It would be nice to set expectations sooner.  But often, new owners join forum discussions as a result of Winter discoveries... then continue to participate later.  So, it works out nice anyway.


Downplay Backlash.  The enthusiasts of Volt continue to label the current sales as the "early adopter" phase.  It seems to be a realistic reason for the lagging tallies, falling well short of what had been expected.  They sight the rollout of Prius as an appropriate comparison, even though back then Toyota had no experience with motors or batteries and there was no particular rush since gas was so cheap back then.  With GM, that most definitely is the situation.  They already have extensive experience.  And with gas hitting $4 from time to time, fuel efficiency has become a purchase priority.  Remember back when Prius had to compete directly with Hummer?  We no longer have consumers in favor of guzzling.  The SUV craze provided substantial barriers for hybrids.  The situation is profoundly different now.  Each automaker is trying to deliver worthwhile hybrids & plug-in vehicles.  There's also a very serious awareness of climate-change growing.  The drought & storms of 2012 make that painfully clear.  So claims that Volt is experiencing the same circumstances as the rollout Prius did is just plain not true.  That's rather blatant greenwashing, in fact.  There's no reason to even bother pointing that out though.  The conflict from within is growing.  All those warnings about GM competing with itself fell on deaf ears.  They didn't want to hear it.  Now, evidence is becoming difficult to ignore.  There appears to be an unintended consequence of all their downplay.  GM is requiring dealers to purchase a special tool (cost is $5,000) to discharge battery-pack sections before sending them away for repair.  First, that's a little odd that they'd have to send anything away at all.  Repairs should be so rare, they just replace instead.  Isn't that what you'd expect in an "early adopter" phase?  Second, some dealers are just choosing not to sell Volt as a result.  If this is just an "early adopter" phase, what difference would that make anyway?  They'll just start selling them later when Volt becomes mainstream.  It's been problem after problem with pressure from traditional sales continuing to grow.  Think about inventory on the dealer's lot.  What is the consumer more likely to purchase?  What is the salesperson more likely to make a decent commission from?  The enthusiasts thought the third year of sales would be no big deal.  They're finding out the hard way that most definitely isn't the case.


No Audience.  It's fascinating to watch efforts to continue battles of the past in 2013.  The most intense exchanges have been continued attempts to downplay.  Turns out, there simply is no audience anymore.  That old rhetoric isn't stirring interest.  This is a new year.  We all know what happened and what didn't happen.  It's time to move on.  Remember greenwashing long ago?  There was a tremendous amount of resources expended just for the sake of preventing conclusions from being drawn.  The hope has been to repeat that now.  It isn't working.  I asked: "What are expectations for 2013?"  An answer was provided.  The antagonists must have been quite frustrated.  No one is showing interest in his bait, despite those very same arguments having result in quite a bit of nonsense previously.  It's not worth wasting time on that now.  When sales for the year are announcement, that chapter of the book comes to a close.  The new year reigns in a very different market, one quite unlike before.  It's very exciting to think about.  Change is happening right before our eyes.


Hypermiling.  I was amused how one of the final attacks from a Volt antagonist came in the form of trying to discredit my real-world data.  He said I was "hypermiling" to get those results, careful to not state what that actually meant.  It was the usual greenwashing technique, being vague with the hope people will assume an extreme.  He knew I didn't do any of the nonsense associated with the stereotype.  He knew I was a strong supporter of "Just Drive It".  From watching my videos, he knew my approach was simply following the flow of traffic.  In fact, that's the very reason I can so heavily endorse.  I'm not doing anything special.  But how would a casual reader know that?  The term itself becomes quite confusing when you look into it too.  With the plug-in Prius, you have the option of specifying when not to draw heavily from the battery-pack.  The act of pushing that button could be considered hypermiling, since it is an effort to increase efficiency.  But now that Volt also offers that feature, he cannot point it out anymore.  It is yet another example of being vague.  Watch for that.  Those desperate to retain relevance will avoid providing detail.


Looking Forward.  The usual technique for avoiding discussion of a current situation is to focus on the future instead.  That daily blog for Volt doesn't have much activity related to Volt anymore.  There is much less participation and most of the topics are just about the industry in general.  Even so, they topic today reflects an effort to prevent a major eruption due to annual sales coming up way short of the estimate from the beginning of the year.  Needless to say, it closely resembled hype of the past.  I sounded off with:  The target mentioned often by GM initially, now frequently by other automakers, is delivering a profitable plug-in for $30,000.  The tax-credit difference must be offset before it expires.  That will only be enough to maintain status-quo… which is far from business-sustaining profit, a necessity to continue the investment.  To complicate matters, the competition will not be standing still.  They too will benefit from battery advancements and technology refinements.  I see the growing variety of plug-in choices as a mixed blessing.  Some will be helped.  Some will be harmed.  The winner will be decided by middle-market consumers, of which Volt currently does not target.  What aspects of Volt will be modified to appeal more to buyers who’s priorities for speed/power & efficiency aren’t at the top of the list?  Replacing high-volume traditional sellers is the ultimate goal.  The next generation of plug-in vehicles must directly address that.  They will be competing on the same dealer lots for the same group of people.  No longer will their be just competition from outside.  It will come from inside and with increasing pressure.  GM will be competing with itself.  Long story short, painting a rosy picture for 2015 without ways of supporting it brings about haunting memories of 2010 with added complications.  Intent must be very clear.  The opportunity for delay will be gone.  Remember the previous goals?


Financial Obligations.  The federal government "fiscal cliff" is the big news now.  The tax-cuts that were suppose to have been temporary were instead extended.  Tomorrow, those extensions will expire.  Allowing them to continue is a terrible idea.  We'll never get out of debt if we don't find ways to pay for our financial obligations.  After several attempts, it comes to outright ending.  Some argue this is a bad time.  When is it ever good?  In the automotive industry, we watched GM go through a modern bankruptcy... a lesson not learned from errors of the past.  Do we allow it to happen again?  Hoping for the best and just implementing modest change hasn't been successful.  We continue to see executive choices being made that are not competitive.  The final day of sales for the year is today.  The end of this week, we should have annual sales counts.  Volt became a lightening-rod political choices and a textbook example of over-engineering.  It was promoted as an upcoming solution, but then rolled out as a long-term product.  What will profit come from in the meantime?  How will GM payback debt and continue daily business?  When will a competitive (affordable & high-volume) hybrid be available?  At some point, a significant decision must be made.  As with the tax related cliff, there's one with GM too... which year-end results will provoke.  Something new needs to happen.


Garage Sweep.  My garage is attached to the house.  It's not heated, but the insulted door does help prevent things from getting too cold.  That's enough to retain ground-heat enough to prevent the ground-freeze which happens directly outside those doors.  The result is lots of standing water from the snow & ice carried in on the Prius.  Radiant melting from the sun allows water to pool at the base of the black door and dribble in too.  Sweeping that out was always a pain.  I really didn't want to pull the Prius out onto the driveway and let it run without benefit while I pushed that water out.  What would you do for a procedure that took 30 to 45 seconds on a regular basis?  It was a routine I tried to avoid or delayed until coming home, since the Prius could sit in the driveway with the engine off due to being all warmed up.  That isn't necessary anymore.  First thing in the morning, I can just back the Prius out and let it sit there... still on, but not consuming any gas.  It's a benefit of having the plug I didn't anticipate... especially with the morning sun shining in, a pleasant experience compared to doing that in the dark late in the evening.  That allows it to dry during the day too.  It would pretty always remain wet otherwise.  The choice of using electricity when you want sure is nice.


First Impressions.  With the interest in Ford's plug-in offerings rapidly stealing away the last bits of attention for Volt, we also get some of the rhetoric.  It started with downvoting of real-world data.  Volt enthusiasts use to do that with fact posting.  That was easier to get away with back then, since there was nothing else to provide.  That's not the case now though.  Results from actual owners are difficult to ignore.  In fact, that's what contributed to the recent panic by GM supporters.  The numbers speak for themselves, rather loudly too.  There's not even any need for any explanation anymore.  The idea of adding a plug to a hybrid is proving quite easy to convey.  People readily embrace the idea.  So, I suspect the fears of "shilling and bashing", as the reply so eloquently labeled it, won't last long.  When has attacking the messenger ever actually worked?  You stop posting data, someone else just does it instead.  That kind of information is too compelling to resist.  Nothing stirs interest quite like first impressions either.  It sure is nice witnessing this change.  There's lots to look forward to in 2013.  We can see it beginning to nicely unfold already.


Leaving GM Behind.  Countless warnings about this coming fell on deaf ears.  The supporters of GM just plain did not want anything to do with the thought that Ford & Toyota could be establishing an intense rivalry.  This is the good type, the kind of battles both sides enjoy engaging in.  There's nothing hostile or anything with ill intent, just good old-fashion one-upping each other.  We've been looking forward to this for many, many years.  Now is has begun.  GM will be left behind, simply due to not having a product available for middle-market.  This comment from a Ford executive summarized the situation: "The Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid is the exclamation point for Ford’s transformed lineup of fuel-efficiency leaders that now beats Toyota across the board."  They are proud of having achieved higher MPGe ratings for both C-Max Energi (100) & Fusion Energi (100) than Prius PHV (95) in addition to directly comparing Camry-hybrid and Prius v.  It's the first compelling evidence that GM simply isn't going to get attention anymore.  Lack of a spotlight is a serious problem.  Consumers had so little interest in Two-Mode, there wasn't really anything GM could do to draw sales.  So many mixed messages left the mainstream wondering when GM would finally settle down and seriously invest in a particular technology.  In other words, all the "early adopter" labeling backfired... which is exactly what we are seeing with Volt now too.  The enthusiasts kept saying "wait for the next generation".  They contributed to their own demise.  They didn't listen to the advice.  They didn't learn from the past.  Now, they are being left behind.  Oh well.  Their loss.


Fusion Energi.  That's the plug-in model of Ford's hybrid Fusion.  Reading comments on the big GM forum about the 100 MPGe rated it earned certainly is interesting.  That particular group is becoming quite vocal about the need for Volt to diversify.  Better late than never?  Some of us have been saying that for years.  In fact, my references in the past to GM's current "one size fits all" approach really upset some Volt enthusiasts... who now think a variety of models is a good idea.  All they heard in the past was "Prius".  Now that Ford is becoming competitive too, their attitude is more receptive.  However, some of it is still just a matter of pride: "In case you haven't noticed, C-max is starting to kick Prius in the butt big time, and it's only been two months."  That's a good example of cherry-picking, giving a impression of all Prius when in reality it is only the larger v model.  The actual counts are 6,627 for C-Max, 5,459 for Prius v, and 6,452 for Prius c.  Notice how misleading that is knowing the detail?  Then when you consider the 17,713 also purchased during those same 2 months, it's easy to declare that a greenwashing statement.  Anywho, the particular comment I liked was: "MPGe means nothing to the average person. People buying plug-ins are more concerned with pure electric range, than anything else. If they wanted a repeatable mpg average, the get a regular hybrid."  Some are still attempting to conceal the MPG boost benefit the plug offers.  I'm not concerned with pure electric range.  I'm getting a repeatable mpg average.  That's why they got extremely frustrated with my posts there.  They knew I had lots of evidence available to disprove their claims.  Of course, what I found most amusing was the re-emergence of the plug-in Cruze, especially since 2014 models of GM vehicles are being announced without eAssist as many had expected.  With Cruze offering a smaller motor & battery configuration, it will preserve the name of Volt.  They like that idea... especially now that Ford is racing past GM by offering 2 different hybrids with plugs, both targeting middle-market and both delivering a higher MPGe rating.


Test-Drives.  A new thread was recently started on the big Prius forum.  The person wanted information to make a purchase decision with, having a very open mind to a variety of different cars and understanding potential bias a source like the forum could provide.  We went through the usual definitions of what people find fun & rewarding.  If you've owned the same vehicle for a decade, you tend to overlook new pleasures technology improvements offer.  Think about the driving experience without a multi-display or digital readout.  That's all most people know.  So, they have no idea what having them offers.  It's even more difficult describing the experience of having the engine shut off while driving.  That's why we encourage taking a test-drive.  I put it this way: "The test-drive experience was what captured interest of those sitting on the fence in the past."  Many concur.  They are intrigued by the idea of a hybrid, but really have no idea what to actually expect.  Most of what they've heard focuses on old-school measure, like 0-60 times... of which we exceeded the ceiling on ages ago.  Notice how computer buyers are no longer placing heavy priority on processor-speed anymore?  That diversification of preferences in the computer industry was a painful transition.  We're seeing something similar playing out in the automotive industry now.  The test-drive proves it.  Comments following one from the prospective person are often that of surprise & excitement.


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