Personal Log  #610

February 24, 2013  -  March 2, 2013

Last Updated: Weds. 4/03/2013

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Big Picture.  It may seem harsh being so critical of Volt, but that's because 2013 is decision time.  The third year is when choices about the current generation become critical.  Sales somehow must be increased.  To be able to sustain at least a mainstream minimum (that's 5,000 per month) when the tax-credit is no longer available, the purchases we see leading to that should be much stronger than they are now.  How will that growth be achieved?  It's bad enough having plug-in competition from other automakers.  But when you step back to look at the big picture, you'll see the same old still exists.  GM is competing with itself.  February counts make that overwhelmingly clear.  Looking at the middle-market cars offered, it's ugly: Cruze 17,947; Impala 15,424; Malibu 14,817; Sonic 6,025; Spark 2,836; Volt 1,626.  Even Camaro's volume is higher, mainstream level in fact: 6,171.  That's not what was suppose to happen.  It didn't take the market by storm.  How is the next generation model going to compete?  For that matter, how it further research & development being funded?  How much capital are those other cars taking?  After all, heavy focus on them is what's generating profit.  Those references to "too little, too slowly" appear to have been in vain.  That mistake was made despite the warning.


Consequences.  There are some.  That's the lesson being learned now.  We're watching history unfold.  It's not playing out as planned.  Sales results for February were released today.  As the rest of us figured, Volt fell we short of what had been hoped for.  1,626 were sold here.  Assuming the upcoming Cadillac ELR purchases account for 6,000... which would be amazing having it rollout begin close to the end of this year... the rest would have Volt at a minimum rate of 2,500 per month.  Less in the Spring means more per month must be sold later.  That kind of growth rate, with so much competition ramping up, likely makes this the biggest gamble yet.  It's progressively getting harder, not easier.  That should have been expected.  As enthusiast purchases are all fulfilled and choices increase, sales become a greater challenge.  They've always assumed acceptance would come naturally, so little was done to reach out to middle-market when the opportunity was still ideal.  Now, it's a scramble.  Appealing to mainstream consumers is turning out to be a heck of a lot more difficult than they imagined... even though that reality had been pointed out so many times, it began to make some of them crazy.  They laughed & jeered.  That's typical.  The accounting aspect of business often gets accused of bean-counting and stifling innovation, even though that is what actually funds next generation design.  Will they see that irony now?  Who knows.  Whether or not the consequences are acknowledged doesn't matter.  The spooky silence online means something happened.  That's a dramatic change from what we saw late last year.  It indicates this year is already different.


Smug.  A new owner asked about that label.  Most encounter a friend or family member who states the attitude of Prius drivers that way... generalizing, without ever having given the matter any actual thought.  I jumped onto that new thread he started and contributed:  We've been dealing with that false stance for over a decade.  The greenwashers attempt to create a stereotype to prevent the idea of doing something better for our children & environment from becoming the norm.  Realistically, it's as effective as labeling someone who used PDA years ago... since devices now are far more geeky and far more common.  How many smart-phone users have you seen today?  The idea has been embraced by the masses and is in no way whatsoever identified as a "geek" tool like it was in the past.  It's a complete non-issue.  Ironically, the new smug emerging is helping to remove the prior stigma from the greenwashing.  There is a very small number of Volt supporters who are still flaunting "vastly superior" claims.  It's hard to believe they can still have such an attitude.  Thankfully, they represent only a tiny fraction of actual owners... much like the circumstance with Prius in the past.  In other words, remember what we were taught in kindergarten?  Name calling isn't a good thing.


Serious Question?  I've been complaining about GM's product gap for years.  No one on the big GM forum took me seriously though.  I was attacked relentlessly, accused of trying to promote the competition.  Some were downright hostile.  Others simply made up lies.  It got very ugly.  Thankfully, not posting there anymore was all it took to get them to finally hear the words.  Now, the very same questions are being asked by those who had previously been the barrier.  For example: "Why has GM not released a direct competitor to the C-Max and the Prius V to truly take it to Ford and Toyota in this segment?"  The answer should be obvious.  The way Volt was promoted, GM self-deprecated their own sales opportunities.  There was a very clear message of purity, endlessly conveying the idea of blending being bad.  Now, they cannot sell anything that blends.  This is why the thought of offering a Volt with smaller battery-capacity to make an affordable model is such a problem.  Supporters don't want it and consumers have been greenwashed to believe blending is a shortcoming.  Meanwhile, the C-Max and Prius hybrids are taking advantage of that ability with both plug & no-plug models.  It never ceases to amaze me how some paint themselves into a corner, simply unwilling to consider the big picture and instead of hopelessly clinging onto an ideal... then suddenly discovering they're in trouble... or it may just be sarcasm.


2013 Goal.  GM is quite ambiguous when it comes to goals.  They are rarely ever official.  More often than not, a statement will come in the form of hearsay instead.  That's all the internet needs to thrive on.  After all, much promotion of the past was based on unsupported hype.  Remember early last year?  Denial about those goals from then, despite the fact that they were portrayed as solid & reliable, became abundant... which led to a fury of backlash problems the end of 2012.  Needless to say, all involved have been squeamish about saying anything related to 2013 expectations.  Today though, that changed. An article was published, stating this: "General Motors Co. is planning this year to build as many as 36,000 Chevrolet Volt and other plug-in hybrids, 20 percent more than it sold in 2012, two people familiar with the effort said.  GM is planning to build 1,500 to 3,000 of the plug-in vehicles a month, said the people, who didn't want to be identified because the target isn't public."  Notice how accountability is carefully avoided? That's typical.  What's also typical is the response.  In a thread about that article on the big GM forum, a Volt owner jumped on and immediately attempted to change the topic.  When a thread emerges stating something they don't like, the reaction is to undermine by diverting focus.  We've seen it countless times in the past.  That's how we know they aren't pleased.  That number is well shy of the mainstream minimum of 60,000 and far from what had been hoped.  The other GM vehicles will easily eclipse Volt sales, holding it firmly in the niche category... especially since the difference may actually be nothing but the new Cadillac model.  That's not what had been intended for the technology.  That's not what is needed either.  It's a bad situation getting worse.


Not Knowing.  New owners being unaware of a feature or how it works is something we've seen on the big Prius forum countless times now.  Today, it was: "Now that I've gone thru Dec, Jan and Feb with the PIP - I'd rate its cabin heat as poor."  How do you point out that they've overlooked something?  Pointing out a feature can sometimes be misunderstood or taken as condescending.  You don't want to embarrass the person either, especially since they were so willing to speak out.  I tried to delicately respond to that with:  That's what the HV/EV button is for.  Using EV-BOOST mode (in EV, but the engine running for heat) will limit the amount of heat available.  It's easy to confirm too.  Push the button and watch what happens to the engine RPM.  It switches from low to high, resulting in coolant temperature rise.  Unfortunately, spreading the word about difference that makes has been a challenge... since it took us awhile to make the observations in the first place.  We also discovered that the temperature setting for the heater itself directly affects when the engine runs.  The higher the setting, the higher the coolant threshold.  That's different from the way the regular Prius operates, which uses a non-changing threshold instead.


Pondering Rollout.  We'll never know all the criteria taken into consideration with respect to PHV rollout.  After all, this is the foreign market and the home market is given a higher priority.  Anywho, there is some pondering taking place now.  For example: "I am not sure why it takes so long to go nationwide, but training and car supply are two factors."  Other thoughts are being bounced around too.  It really doesn't matter though.  With so many variables at play, all you can do is make sure the approach is flexible.  I jumped into the discussion with:  Reaction to rollout of other plug-in vehicles has become a decision factor.  The most likely, the focus now is to penetrate deeper into the initial states instead of rolling out to the others.  It's part of that "wait until the second year" mindset... especially seeing how slow and how much negative press the others have received.  Knowing that Prius is well established and that the plug-in model is really just a package upgrade will help it reach mainstream buyers.  So, taking advantage of that opportunity to do exactly that rather than spreading thin to other states does make sense.


Strangely Quiet.  Not hearing anything about Volt anymore is really strange.  On the big GM forum, not a peep.  Without anything new to discuss, sales well below what's needed for continued interest, previous attention focused so heavily on the next generation, the reality of this one remaining a niche isn't up for debate.  The hope for growth to mainstream minimum is postponed.  This is exactly what happened with Two-Mode.  The enthusiasts got quite angry when I requested they study its history, to help avoid falling into the very same trap...  They know monthly sales announcements are rapidly approaching.  They know gas prices are stabilizing at a level not conducive to market expansion.  They know that recent negative press about Tesla did more harm than good for Volt.  They know that GM's financial situation and product gap means little hope of change this year.  They know that the other automakers are in a much better position to respond to the growing pressure to offer a variety of affordable high-efficiency choices.  They know there is nothing else to be said.  This new year is presenting a very different situation than they had anticipated.  The next step isn't clear.  What should they hope for now?


Understanding EV.  I had much to say after reading a post with: "Not only are ice drivers not interested in mpg, many don't know how to figure it out." and "These drivers can only look at the bottom line when buying a car."  Those particular comments say a lot... and are quite familiar.  It reminds me of when Prius first rolled out.  Since new owners had no idea what their previous vehicle was actually getting for MPG, their complaints about Prius efficiency didn't have any merit.  They were comparing to an expectation, not real-world data.  It was eye-opening when they finally discovered all those years of thinking MPG was higher really weren't.  Then of course, there were the discussions of maintenance.  We liked to point out that the EV experience offered more than just smooth & silent driving.  Since they had no idea how an automatic transmission worked in the first place, detail about the simplicity and the lack of gears in the PSD fell on deaf ears.  For that matter, they didn't even know how much they had spent on repairs in the past.  In other words, not being interested is an important reality for us to be aware of.  I hear that frequently.  The person simply wants a vehicle that's reliable and cheap to operate.  That's it.  Enthusiasts go on endlessly, praising aspects of operation & performance that the mainstream couldn't care less about.  They get really angry too, when you point out how middle-market buyers don't share their priorities.  Stealth, that mode in Prius when the engine shuts while still driving in HV, has proven to be a rare trait that actually does appeal to the masses.  That's why EV, the mode in Prius that automatically supersedes Stealth, is so important.  It's simply an extension of an already well proven approach... something an ordinary person still won't be able to figure out, but they will understand how it affects their bottom line.


Single-Camera Video.  I got really lucky the other day, leaving work at exactly the right time.  The sun was just setting on that overcast day, which had delivered about 6 inches of fluffy new snow.  It made for a great opportunity to film my commute home without any special video setup.  Lighting was perfect.  Scenery was compelling.  Traffic would allow driving EV the entire capacity.  I'd be able to deplete completely without needing a hard acceleration or having to turn on the heater.  That particular drive requires a climb out of the river valley at 55 mph, something I've been yearning to show others.  The video turned out well.  Now I have something to share with others.  Maybe it will inspire a few owners to try that themselves.  Watching it, you'll see me leave the ramp from work.  I pull out of my usual spot where I plug in to recharge.  It's a few miles of driving at suburb speeds, with the occasional stoplight.  From there, I jump onto the highway starting at 55, then speeding up to 70 mph.  Watch the exterior lighting.  You can see it getting darker as I go.  The snow begins to fall again too.  On the vehicle gauges, what I normally see is what's on the video.  I didn't reset.  That way you can see the results of the entire commute, instead of just that drive.  The 34.5 mile round-trip with two full recharges resulted in a 94 MPG average.  Even though the temperature was just under freezing on the way to work and only 21°F on the way home, that's still quite good.  The cold isn't so bad when you have a plug... Winter Commute (dashcam)


Spring.  We're getting a taste of it now.  The daytime high temperature has climbed to just above freezing.  That feels good.  It's so much warmer than it had been just a few weeks ago, I cannot begin to explain the differences.  Thank goodness I scrambled to document as much as I could.  Experiencing stuff for yourself for the first time is a lot in itself to absorb.  Doing it with a notepad & camera adds to the moment, but it also quite draining.  Fortunately, it does make the arrival of Spring even more of a welcome change.  The feeling of that was quite obvious today too.  I felt it.  The Prius did too.  You end up forgetting just how nice EV is when dealing with snow, ice, and the heater.  When those elements disappear, you are left with the smooth & silence.  MPG shots up as well.  A month from now, most of Winter will just be a memory.  In the meantime, there's lots of potential for heavy accumulations of the white stuff still.  Thankfully, it melts off the road rather quickly.  Keeping the car clean becomes a challenge then.  The true arrival of Spring is when you discover what color your Prius actually is.  Seeing the shiny clearcoat finish is quite a change from the sand & salt crusted layer of the cold season.  Fortunately, you still benefit from the plug year-round... even when the temperature is way, way below freezing... just not as much when it finally gets warm.


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