Personal Log  #602

January 4, 2013  -  January 10, 2013

Last Updated: Sat. 1/19/2013

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Missing Data.  The newsfeeds about hybrids sometimes pop up unexpected content.  That was certainly the case today.  There was a link to a blog and guess what I found...  It was the same Volt owner getting remarkably similar comments.  The snippet that caught my eye also had a confrontational type stance, though less caring and lacking any examples: "you give me nothing of substance".  The follow-up is what really got me.  It was the same link for more info, which got a similar response too: "doesn't give us enough data".  The point was made.  You can't just make a comparison, then draw a conclusion without also providing detail.  Summaries only aren't acceptable.  Greenwashing attempts of the past give reason to ask for missing data.  Knowing how numbers were collected & calculated is very important.  Long story short, if you don't, expect people to question your intent.  Sincere efforts will be self-undermined otherwise.  People are learning not to accept what they read without confirming it.


Heater Threshold.  I had noticed enough of a difference with coolant temperatures and heater threshold to want to research further.  I hoped to detect a pattern.  Could I uncover & confirm reactions to specific settings and reliably repeat those results?  The answer is, yes!  The catch to performing all that testing was to not allow the engine to heat up the coolant too much.  That's what has been preventing us from noticing detail in the past.  Everything really needed to be measured within a small window of time, not spread out over weeks like we've been doing.  We already knew with the heater set at 65°F, the coolant temperature would drop well below 100°F before starting the engine to warm it back up again.  What I wanted to know what happened when it was set higher.  Check this out: 68 = 118; 72 = 118; 74 = 118; 76 = 123; 78 = 127.  The heater setting on the left corresponded to the coolant temperature on the right, several times at each level.  I was even able to confirm results while driving and while stopped.  In other words, if you set the heater at 74°F, the engine will remain off until the coolant temperature drops to 118°F.  At 76°F, it's 123°F. At 78°F, it's 127°F.  No longer is there a single cutoff point like the regular Prius.  The plug-in model takes a tapered approach.


More Data.  Today's was especially interesting.  I had to run several errands before leaving for work.  That rarely ever happens.  My running around is almost always in the evening instead.  It was 34°F outside, warmer than usual too.  I still had the heater on, of course.  But it was only minimally needed.  Anywho, after 29.1 miles of driving, I arrived at work.  The end result was 80 MPG.  That's well above what the 2010 Prius would have delivered under the same circumstances.  Who cares if the engine runs from time to time.  The goal of significantly reducing emissions & consumption was clearly achieved, even in cold season.  True, I yearn for the return of the warm season, when MPG is higher.  But the data collected this morning certainly is worthy of writing to home about.


Lack of Data.  That had been the underlying problem with all the hype surrounding Volt.  Now that real-world data is beginning to accumulate, there are owner reports.  It's a big improvement, but missing detail and vague references contribute to assumptions & misconceptions.  Stopping them in this increasingly complex market is a good idea.  Getting help with that is questionable though.  There's no way to request it without being explicit.  Unfortunately, doing that makes you confrontational.  Instead of just accepting was posted as is, your effort to clarify get perceived as an attack.  To make matters worse, certain members provoke to make you appear to be an antagonist rather than someone attempting to prevent.  Fortunately, there is just barely enough data now to get us beyond that.  You can leverage off of owner experiences to stir a constructive discussion.  It's what happened yesterday.  The thread topic and the intent itself clashed.  In the end, that didn't matter.  We could focus on the bits of detail that were provided.  In other words, the hype addressed an unrealistic market expectation and the outcome of unachieved goals is to no longer addressed… we just deal with other issues instead, simple things like recharging.


Proof of Change.  Today we had a new thread started by a new member on the big Prius forum.  It featured a cost & comparison report for Volt from an owner's perspective.  It had some obvious holes, incomplete information which could easily lead to incorrect assumptions.  I jumped on it right away, but only addressed the poster as the author who could make updates accordingly.  No big deal, leaving plenty of opportunity to fill in the blanks.  Good thing too.  The thread had quickly got a post describing Prius as an "eco box" and added the adjective "sucks" for good measure, then there was a "blows" included in a follow up.  Those were from a well known troublemaker, a Volt owner who didn't care about being smug.  His attitude had been pretty bad for months and I didn't want the new member to begin reflecting it.  Too late, he did.  So, I decided to push my luck.  The author had replied with a comment about when a Prius owner gets a real electric-gas that doesn't use gas when on the highway, climbing hills, or accelerating... which we all know quite well at this point isn't true.  That only happens if you push the pedal down hard.  Ordinary driving is in EV with the plug-in Prius.  Sure enough, he retracted that statement just minutes after I gave him a LIKE and a THANKS for making an effort to be constructive.  The result of me stirring the pot, perhaps a bit too much, resulted in someone willing to reassess.  That's pretty sweet!  It's proof of change.


Effective Analogies, part 2.  Turns out, that was really effective.  The analogy wasn't challenged at all.  The discussion instead moved on to this: "Yes, it took time for the Prius sales to jump so why not grant the Volt the same courtesy?"  Seeing an abrupt shift to something different is a good sign, especially when it's on topic.  And in this particular case, it also set the stage for me using the analogy.  Who knew the same one would apply again so quickly?  I was delighted to use it too.  Referring back to the past with total disregard for what happened in between is bad enough.  Pretending the past simply didn't happen as all is even worse.  I replied with:  That's because that same courtesy was already given.  TWO-MODE and BAS were the recipients.  Volt built upon that experience gained from those previous battery & motor technologies.  Again, this is like comparing Blu-Ray to VHS.  It makes no sense disregarding DVD, referring back further as if no advancements were made in the meantime.


Effective Analogies, part 1.  We still get echoes of the past, people comparing the efficiency of a traditional car to that of a SUV and being proud of the progress is represents.  That embarrassing.  Thankfully, my feeling is shared.  This quote from an thread doing exactly that summed up the situation: "That’s exactly the kind of half-logic that causes the rest of the world to laugh at Volt buyers. You’d be saving money, compared to an SUV, with any of a whole host of cars."  Needless to say, it was on that daily blog discussing 2012 sales of plug-in vehicles.  Discussions there are getting better, now that the rhetoric is gone and we have began a new year.  I was still a bit flustered though.  We still didn't have an approach for those absurd comparisons.  Then it hit me, an analogy everyone could easily understand & accept.  That's what you need, something so simple there's no debate.  Here's what I came up with:  It's really unfortunate GM chose to market Volt that way.  Comparisons to a 50 MPG hybrid, something that actually strives to deliver high efficiency, would be far more constructive.  Then they would be able to point out the benefits of having a plug.  Comparing to our domestic average of less than 30 MPG says a lot about how low our priority actually is toward reducing consumption.  When would it ever make any sense to do something like that in the technology industry?  It's like comparing Blu-Ray to VHS rather than DVD.


EV Observations.  I took advantage of the warm spell today.  The temperature got a bit above freezing.  So after recharging at work, I moved the Prius into an enclosed ramp and let it sit there for 6 hours.  In there, it was 40°F.  The outside temperature dropped to 30°F.  That made me quite curious, since I wouldn't need the heater.  Could I drive the entire capacity without the engine starting?  I hadn't ever actually tried that, since climbing out of the river valley at 56 mph isn't the best use of it on a 17-mile drive.  But I was wanted to push the limits in cool conditions.  Sure enough, it was an effortless drive... all EV until depleted, including the climb.  That should provide an interesting basis of comparison for when the temperature drops again.  With it considerable colder last week, I wasn't able to identify a pattern.  Smaller increments may be revealing.  I'll keep watching.  We know is the engine starts even without the heater on when the temperature outside is below freezing.  The circumstances which trigger it are still elusive though.


$2.89 Per Gallon.  With the price of a barrel of oil staying in the low 90's, seeing that for the price of gas makes you wonder.  Is that where it will settle?  You'd expect it to be higher.  Some wonder there may have been an oversupply during the holidays, resulting in the low we see now.  Some wonder if the price should have been that way all along but was higher due to fiscal uncertainty.  Some see the price of diesel at entire dollar higher as a clue that the current situation is only temporary.  Whatever the case, it means a challenge for hybrid sales.  As people grow accustom to paying more, the incentive to keep efficiency as a high priority falls.  That does equate to a short opportunity for the new & affordable plug-in models to establish themselves though.  They would then be able to capitalize on rising gas prices, even if they were only modest.  For the more expensive plug-in hybrids and the electric-only vehicles, that's much harder sell.  Once a model has been around for awhile, it raises the question of interest.  How will it grow?  Traditionally, there would be a large advertising campaign to introduce a next generation.  That requires a massive budget and lots of inventory at dealers, which isn't realistic for vehicle like Volt.  What does that mean then?  It become a big issue.  Fortunately, there's the Prius family from Toyota.  That variety of choices and market penetration should really help with growth, even when the price of gas is low.


Short Trips.  With the temperature only 16°F outside, the battery-pack doesn't stand a chance of delivering full potential on its own.  Lithium batteries are restrained when used below freezing.  It's a better tradeoff to start the engine rather than putting high demand on them.  The perfect example was this evening, after having left the Prius sit in my unheated garage for over day.  The drive was only 6 minutes long.  The distance was just 2.6 miles.  That's a MPG killer for the regular Prius.  The warm-up for short trips isn't normally efficient.  In fact, it's only a small amount better than a traditional vehicle for those first few minutes in the dead of Winter.  That's not the case for the plug-in model though.  PHV takes advantage of the battery-pack... not with pure EV travel, but the use of the engine is much more efficient.  On that one-way drive, the outcome was 81 MPG.  That's pretty darn good no matter how you look at it.  One the return trip, the engine never started.  Warmth within the battery-pack from the drive there 1 hour 40 minutes earlier was apparently enough to prevent the need.  As a result, it brought the overall average up to 162 MPG.  That's amazing!  I do still miss Summer though.


Electric Passing.  For some unknown reason, the car I was following on the 3-lane highway at 55 mph slowed down to 50 mph when the lanes reduced to 2.  Traffic started to build up behind me.  I could see there was a truck about to merge in on the right from the ramp.  There was no one in the left lane.  I pushed the pedal and drove around.  It seemed like no big deal.  Then it hit me.  That was a scenario I hadn't ever encountered with the Prius PHV.  I effortless passed using only electricity.  Sweet!  That wasn't something I had ever considered before.  What would happen if you were cruising along in EV at a top suburb speed and required a medium increase in power?  The assumption would be that the engine would simply start to assist.  The fact that it didn't without any effort to prevent it was nice.  It was a genuine performance substantiation check.  Cool.


Closure, part 2.  Everyone except him acknowledges the 2015 tax-credit expiration, the upcoming CARB & EPA standards increase, the upcoming CAFE efficiency mandate, and the need to sell more hybrids and less traditional vehicles, not to mention competition from other automakers.  Each ending in long fought series of battles always has a final few who continue to fight even when everyone else has already conceded and begun discussing what comes next.  I find that particular stage very reassuring.  You can see the desperation, yet know the next chapter will begin without fallout.  It's simply that some accept change less willingly than others.  Those few need to convince themselves this outcome was really what had been intended all along... despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  The internet really makes that difficult, since all it takes is a quick search of blogs & forums to reveal thoughts people had back then.  They try to dismiss, wondering how certain things could have ever been claimed.  To them, the result should have been obvious, that it would have happened without any reason to question.  For me, I feel vindicated.  Reading my own comments confirmed concerns.  Much of it boils down to not understanding the market, focusing entirely on the engineering alone.  Those of us who helped with the rollout of Prius a decade ago are well aware.  We know the pressures which come from aspects of technology that have nothing to do with the technology itself... so many players involved... so little recognition of the part they actually play.  Needless to say, the die-hard enthusiasts now see the big picture... and are slowly learning to accept it.


Closure, part 1.  It's all over.  The end of 2012 brought the end of Volt spin.  I only had a single rebut to post, and that was only because this particular owner is still quite defensive about the results... doing everything he can to prevent conclusions from being drawn.  I find it redeeming, especially with others wondering why he's still arguing and not moving on like everyone else.  Anywho, his recent offensive maneuver was a great one to fortify closure with started with: "Wrong... Where do you off saying that is the goal?"  Implying meaning rather than just answering the question is one of many greenwashing techniques... most of which are very easy to detect now.  My post to that was as follows:  I asked this question "The goal of Volt technology is to replace their traditional propulsion system, right?" and got that as a response.  Then you went on about me somehow wanting overnight success, despite the fact that I've stated "by the time the tax-credit expires" countless times.  Whatever.  I'm not wasting effort on pointless discussions.  We all know traditional propulsion systems must be replaced.  2,082,504 was the grand total for Toyota sales in the United States for 2012.  Of those, there were 327,413 hybrid purchases.  That's 15.7% now being hybrid, undeniable evidence that Toyota is striving to replace.  We see Ford aiming in the same direction, introducing C-Max, C-Max Energi, and Fusion Energi.  By the time the tax-credit expires, the market for Volt must be well established and cost reduced significantly.  Otherwise, it will lose sales to GM's own inventory of traditional vehicles or lose customers entirely.  That's market reality.  There's nothing to question.  The clock is ticking.


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