Personal Log  #611

March 3, 2013  -  March 10, 2013

Last Updated: Weds. 4/03/2013

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Quizzed.  I filled up with gas this evening.  It was the final tank of the year.  Tomorrow starts year number two.  To think that the second is about to begin already.  I so clearly remember taking delivery.  That vivid memory was an entire year ago already.  Anywho, evidence of so much time having passed was quite evident when paying for the gas.  I mentioned it being my anniversary to the cashier.  He began quizzing me with questions.  One after another, he kept shooting them off.  I was impressed.  For anyone to fire so many sensible inquiries at me, I couldn't help but to be impressed.  That was sweet!  He had clearly been paying attention.  To who though?  There are only a handful of Prius PHV in Minnesota still.  Perhaps working at a gas station raises your awareness.  There's a lot to notice if you are attentive to the media.  After all, with the price of gas having stabilized just below $4 per gallon, the cost to fill up is a common discussion topic nowadays.  Needless to say, I look forward to the upcoming days when seeing plug-in hybrids on the road isn't so rare.  Soon.  Pressure from tax-credits expiring and CAFE requirements rising will help, even if gas prices don't change at all.  Battery costs should slowly drop, which will obviously help too.


Dizzying Array.  Notice the struggle Microsoft is currently having with its newest operating system?  If so, you've fallen for the same trap countless others have.  They blame the most obvious player, since that's what the media tends to focus on.  In reality, Microsoft became flexible and offered a platform that could accommodate the new world of touch-interface as well as support the legacy needs.  The software is fine.  The actual problem is the dizzying array of hardware choices.  Consumers assume without trying, drawing conclusions based on impression rather than firsthand experience.  Can you really make a purchase decision from a quick test at the store?  How could you possibly about ultra-portable ownership from a model chained to a display table?  Think about plug-in ownership.  Same problem?  There's no possible way you could learn about what it has to offer with just a brief encounter at a dealer.  That's why analysis & survey papers being published now about plug-in vehicle future expectations don't reflect what could happen.  Heck, just ask a person what the operating system in a computer does.  They likely won't have anything beyond just the most basic understanding.  It's even worse for a plug-in hybrid.  Most people don't even know what an automatic-transmission does in a traditional vehicle.  So comparing it to a hybrid is pointless.  Adding a plug only confuses matters.  Then when you consider that each automaker will take their own unique approach, the situation leaves you wondering how the heck we are going to take the next step.  In other words, the hype of the past claiming an obvious winner was just a dream.  Reality is quite complex.  There will be many choices.  Don't look at only what articles point out, also consider the other factors.


Speaks For Itself.  We've been watching the demise of Volt.  It's certainly not a failure from the technical perspective.  Enthusiasts always feared that judgment.  Their focus was exclusively on engineering though.  Downfall on the business side was something few ever wanted to acknowledge.  You got the impression none of them ever took an economics or accounting or management class.  And now that the very situation concerned & warned about has emerged as an undeniable reality, silence.  They simply don't want to talk about lost sales.  Fortunately, I don't have to point out the real competition anymore.  This post in its entirely from just a random member on the big GM forum speaks for itself:  "The Volt as it sits today meets my commuting range needs, and that's true for most people.  I hope they aren't developing a high-cost vehicle for a small slice of the population.  They ought to be figuring out how to make a pure electric or Voltec at a lower price point and with PROFIT.  That would drive the company forward - volume and profit.  The Volt is a halo car, and I love it, but it's just beyond what I would pay for a commuter car (3rd family car) and thus we bought a Cruze a week ago."


Coffee Run Video.  I managed to capture one more drive with snow still on the ground.  Just like the other suburb drives I've filmed, this one takes me to that distant coffeeshop.  The run back & forth is a good basis for demonstrating what happens as the EV capacity is utilized, then what happens after it's gone... which is why I filmed that same route prior to getting the plug-in model.  You can clearly see the benefit.  This footage featuring that rare lighting circumstance when a single camera can be used.  Too early or too late, there will be over & under exposure.  The refresh of the screen will become an annoying flicker as well.  In this case, I took advantage of the sun setting with the horizon obscured by clouds.  It provided a nice balance between dashboard and scenery, as well as show a nice pink in the final moments before the sun disappeared.  As for the drive itself, shown at 5X normal speed, you can see me pull out into traffic driving in just EV.  But with a route longer the total capacity available, I fired up the engine right away.  That resulted in a boosted MPG until warm-up is complete, then the engine shuts off.  Watch the estimated EV distance value. I suddenly drops from 9.6 to 8.5 when I turn on the heater to blow air on the windshield to keep it clear for the filming.  Capacity itself is unchanged.  That's simply how you are informed of the potential EV loss the heater could cause.  Driving was uneventful, the usual stoplights & stop-signs you'd encounter driving through the suburbs.  When accelerating hard, the engine will come on to help provide power.  Watching the MPG, you can see that doesn't actually lower MPG much and it shuts off relatively quick afterward.  In the summer, it shuts off even faster.  But at 28°F outside, it runs longer.  Halfway through my drive back, you can see me approach a long hill.  Climbing that with only 1.8 miles of EV remaining wouldn't be the best use for that electricity.  So, I switched over to HV mode by pushing the button for that on the dashboard.  When at the top, I pushed it again to switch back to EV mode.  That feature comes in handy when you want to preserve electricity for use later.  At the conclusion of the drive, the overall result was 135 MPG for the 15.7 mile round-trip.  The entire EV capacity was consumed; that's roughly 3 kWh of electricity including charging losses.  That was a great drive for winter, but I sure miss summer.  In warmer temperatures, resistance with the battery itself is lower.  That more efficient transfer of electricity allows you to drive further EV from each recharge.  So whether you use gas or electricity, cold weather reduces efficiency.  Here it is... Coffee Run (dashcam)


Power EV.  I gave it a try.  ECO mode is pretty much always what I use.  This changes the behavior of the throttle, allowing for more play.  POWER mode changes the throttle to touchy, making your press on the pedal an amplified effect.  It doesn't really change the amount of actual power, though it does feel that way and there has been questions raised online if there is a momentary burst of higher amps.  Whatever the case, it raises the coolant threshold, causing the engine to run more often in the Winter.  So, I tend to avoid using it... except when driving through heavy snow.  I wanted to know what it was like while in both POWER mode and EV at the same time.  Turns out, it's pretty much like I expected.  The behavior is just like in HV.  That thought had crossed my mind as to whether or not it would be harder to keep the engine from starting, since that is something I spend very little effort doing.  My guess was that ECO mode made it easier.  Turns out, that doesn't actually matter.  Ordinary driving even with POWER worked just fine.  In other words, drive in whatever mode you like.


Reduced Range.  Volt has fallen so far out of favor, even the talk of reduced range from the CEO of GM doesn't stir much attention.  Enthusiasts are so dead-set on the "40 mile" range being best choice, offering another simply doesn't make sense and they stanchly defend the one-size-fits-all approach.  That lack of diversity should raise red flags.  Owners themselves are remaining indifferent... since they aren't concerned about future sales.  Those of who are concerned see a niche without a path to mainstream.  I posted:  Same question as always: WHO?  Who are the consumers they want to sell to?  We are all well aware of how price has been a major purchase factor for middle-market.  Not pursuing an affordable option means being stuck with a niche.  The price has to be considerably lower to appeal to the masses.  The hope of a cost plummeting quickly isn't realistic.  Batteries will continue to advance, but the "miracle" people are hoping for will take a few generations.  After all, the computer & hardware industries have been continuously advancing rechargeable batteries for decades.


Greenwashing Attempts.  We've seen many of the years.  As hybrids became more common, they died down.  It's difficult to argue with false information as disproving becomes easier.  And with so many on the road now, that's very easy.  Misleading about history is different though.  It isn't as simple as looking up real-world data.  When it comes to perspective & belief, the matter is that of opinion instead.  You can come up with a consensus too, assembling a collection of sources who all considered the same hearsay as credible.  That's the type of greenwashing attempts we are seeing now.  For example: "Well, Toyota never really wanted to build this car anyway.  They were dragged kicking and screaming into this world of plug ins."  Few people are actually going to research the engineering itself.  For that matter, even finding the needed information would be a challenge.  Those of us who followed Toyota's design from the beginning saw the potential.  It was quite clear the setback was battery cost.  The system was already setup to deliver.  It was a matter of waiting for the technology to become affordable.  They want to portray PHV as a last-minute after-thought.  They fear the idea of it being a solution for the masses already well established.


Rollout.  Talk of availability has taken center stage lately.  I joined in with:  The market is quite finicky right now.  We all hear comments that price should be lower and capacity higher, but that isn't realistic.  It makes promoting plug-in vehicles a challenge, especially now that consumers have already been led down the greenwashing path… lots of hype that wasn't delivered.  We now find ourselves in the want verses need situation.  It's a good place to be, though uncomfortable at first.  Following the traditional path of advertising based on desire doesn't cut it as we change focus to emissions & efficiency being more important, though there is definitely a niche opportunity for some.  As for the masses, which is the point of the shift over to electricity, won't share those priorities.  Their purchases are far more practical.  We would all like to basically eliminate the importing of oil.  That's not going to happen though.  It's another unrealistic wish.  The large capacity batteries we want are simply too expensive.  What we actually need are those big enough to significantly reduce consumption but still small enough to remain competitive.  After all, the market for traditional vehicles is well established.  Replacing them is a monumental effort.  Toyota worked hard to strike a balance, directly addressing need while well aware of the consumer wanting more for less.  You get a plug upgrade without any loss of the upper cargo area or lower HV efficiency following depletion.  Over time, price & capacity will improve.  But currently, we're still dealing with a market that doesn't understand plugging and place little priority on super high-efficiency vehicles.  That can change rather rapidly though and Toyota is already well positioned to respond.  Long story short, there are many consumers who simply dismiss the plug-in Prius without actually knowing how it works.  They just make a basic assumption, then judge without actually having facts available.  That means sales will fluctuate from month to month initially.  Entrenching deeper into those markets with some presence established already rather than rolling out to new ones makes sense in that case.  Let's also remember how many consumers simply never buy a car that hasn't even been available for a whole year.


Oh Well.  Not much I can do about it, but I still regret having missed a great filming opportunity.  I had my video-camera with me, but didn't realize what I was about to face.  The lighting was actually too bright and there were times when the windshield got messy.  But the experience was well worth telling.  We just got a few inches of snow and the traffic was really back up, some of the worst I've ever seen on the 70 mph highway.  So, I took the back way instead.  It was 25°F, which meant no need for warmth from the engine.  The heated seat works well and I'm from Minnesota, after all.  That slower route allowed me to drive 11.6 miles in EV before running out of electricity.  With some travel at 55 mph and several stoplights, that's pretty good for the winter.  In fact, the estimate when I started was only 10.7 miles.  When the engine started, I was quite curious how long it would take to warm up.  Though, it really didn't matter.  Once warm, it shuts off almost immediately after a hard acceleration.  And indeed, it did just that when when leaving the suburb route to get onto the highway then immediately getting off on the other side of the river.  That on & off of the engine is a usual part of hybrid driving.  That works out especially nice when dealing with heavy traffic like today, even without plug-supplied electricity.  Anywho, when I finally made it to my usual parking spot, the end result was 160 MPG.  It was a sight for sore eyes.  The cold temperatures usually prevent the super-high efficiency.  Today was an exception.  It's the norm come Spring, but we're a way off from that still.  Of course, then, it's not as impressive to see since all the snow is gone.


Something Else.  You know times are changing when this is asked by a Volt enthusiast: "So what is GM supposed to do about the big hole in their product line?"  Well aware that mentions of Two-Mode, "too little, too slowly" and "one size fits all" really irritate certain individuals, I posted this in response:  The "product gap" question has been asked ever since Volt was first announced.  In fact, that's how those with both a business & engineering background knew it faced far more of a challenge than the engineering alone revealed.  GM simply cannot compete with nothing but a large-capacity plug-in.  Something else is needed.  The obvious choice was offering a system without at plug that uses a much smaller battery.  Toyota abandoned their design like that many years ago.  Honda did just recently.  Ford never bothered.  Nissan didn't either.  Newer hybrids like that from Hyundai and VW both strive hard to be a careful balance of price & performance, well aware of the history of others.  GM decided to upgrade their BAS system, which had a variety of issues to addressed.  That next generation was rolled out as eAssist.  It also has a variety of issues... most notably, not delivering enough of an efficiency improvement to generate many sales.  Mention of Prius causes quite a stir with some supporters.  Their reaction and the obvious effort to avoid addressing it confirms that "hole" is a lot bigger than they care to admit.  Something else is needed.  Volt all by itself is not enough.


Heater Dance.  9°F outside this morning meant an opportunity to try out single-camera filming again.  The sun was rising quickly; that meant I'd be pushing exposure limits with the contrast between dashboard scenery.  I really wanted another example showing what happens while you "Just Drive It".  The battery had finished recharging 6 hours earlier.  The engine hadn’t been used for about 10 hours.  The garage temperature was around freezing. I pulled out, adjusted the camera, hit record, then drove away.  After traveling about a block, I turned on the heater.  It was set to 70°F with the blower on 2 bars.  The request for heat caused the engine to start.  Still being in EV mode (the default), I was looked forward to it shutting back off as soon as the warm-up cycle completed.  That happens when the coolant reaches at least 145°F and there isn't demand for high power.  The engine will then remain off until the coolant drops to 136°F.  Note that lower the heater temperature also lowers the coolant threshold.  As I drove, the engine starts up, runs shortly, then automatically shuts back off.  That's why I call that a "heater dance".  That same cycle repeats over and over again, until the battery is finally deplete of EV capacity.  Following that, the same things happens in HV mode but with less electric-only power.  The purpose of the plug is to boost MPG.  So even when the engine runs, the system is still taking advantage of plug-supplied electricity.  EV driving is not necessary for great efficiency.  This video clearly demonstrates that.  17.9 miles was the total distance traveled.  85 MPG was the result, with 1.3 miles of EV capacity still remaining.  See... Heater Dance (dashcam)


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