Personal Log  #616

April 3, 2013  -  April 10, 2013

Last Updated: Sun. 5/05/2013

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Charging Stations.  By the end of the month, there will be roughly 6,000 of them available to the public nationwide.  How many would be beneficial this year?  How many more next year?  How much should it cost to use one?  How long is appropriate time for usage?  How will goals be measured?  How are we going to get answers to these questions?  Needless to say, there's no way of knowing.  The situation will change over time too.  Right now, using them is for the most part a pleasant experience.  There are some instances where a non-plug vehicle will park in a spot.  There have been a few reports of EV owners being quite rude to plug-in hybrid owners too.  Overall, it's been nice though.  Even the conflicts online about Volt don't carry over to real-world encounters, since there's a huge difference between actual purchases and automaker intent.  Charging stations are an uncertain topic, coming from a third-party with interest in gaining patronize by offering a plug.  More seems to be a good idea.


When?  Also having hybrid counterparts, the plug-in hybrids offered by Ford & Toyota don't really include a question of when... since the choice is a package selection, a feature rather than exclusive vehicle.  There is far less at stake and far more opportunity.  That's only the case for them though, due to the push for high-volume production & sales.  It's different with other automakers.  When is being asked.  There was a lot of attention on GM in the past.  That was due to so much over promising of Volt.  It ended up under delivered... based on their own self-imposed measure.  Those events are history now, labeling the first generation rollout not achieving "game changer" status.  Had it been presented as a niche right from the very start, a top offering rather than something that would "leapfrog" the success of Prius, things could have been different.  We see that from the approach Tesla took.  Model S has become a very popular choice outside of the mainstream.  Fisker attempted the same.  Results were different.  Intent was the same though.  Nissan is unique among the EV offerings.  The hope really is to make it a car for middle-market.  But unlike the others, pricing was given a very high priority and when was immediate.  With Fisker about to file bankruptcy, when with it is clear.  Tesla is doing fine as is, despite the high price.  So, it has a "when" that really doesn't come into question either.  That's what sets Volt apart.  It's quite a shift to go from unrealistic promises with a firm rollout date to not saying anything anymore.  The uncertainty could, if carefully considered, provide a path of less resistance for the next generation.  When though?


Photos & Video.  There's a collection of them I haven't had a chance to sort & organize yet.  Slowly, I'm getting a change to go through them and pick out favorites.  A highlight from Winter was a drive home after a pretty nasty snow storm.  Travel was starting to resume again, after basically everything shutting down entirely, but the going was slow.  That allowed the opportunity to take a few photos, capturing what some people never see and we here in the north try to forget during the warm season.  There's also two sets of display screen photos.  I use those to show detail of the drives captured on video.  The filming has become somewhat easier too.  Catching the sun when it's low allows dashcam (single camera) footage, rather than needing the complicated setup required when it's really bright out.  Anywho, here's those webpages showing what I now have available to share... photo album 182  and video - winter phv


That Button.  Mid 50's for MPG on the highway make using that HV/EV button a no-brainer for me, since I routinely drive well beyond battery-capacity.  Saving electricity for when it can be better used is a nice option.  The fact that the engine consumes electricity during warm-up to make it both cleaner and more efficient makes the replenishment of it later using gas is pretty much a wash.  Adding a plug to an already well thought out system is what gives Toyota the edge over competitors.  Makes you wonder when everyone will figure out why that was such a sensible approach.  And memories of naysayers claiming there was no advantage of the hybrid components while cruising on the highway are still so vivid.  We'll never know if they didn't have a clue of what they were talking about or were just lying to impede progress.  Only now, as we start the second year and still only have rollout to 15 states, are we seeing some interest building.  There's always first-year jitters anyway.  Assumptions make it worse.  There have been efforts to misrepresent too.  Watching that change is reassuring... especially since we've seen other technologies stumble as time progresses.  Long story short (guess I climbed up on the soapbox there) is that you can't go wrong just giving it a try.  Not pressing that button, you'll still get great MPG.  Pressing it, there's a chance of squeezing out even higher overall efficiency.


Consequences.  It's intriguing to watch Volt enthusiasts coming to grips with the situation.  Snippets like this were so vague, no one is even bothering to respond anymore: "delivers what GM promised".  We all know those supporting Volt prior to rollout were so horribly vague about goals anything could have been delivered and they would have praised it.  The rest of us are well aware of what really happened.  That's why a consequence we're seeing now is silence from the outside world.  From the inside, on the big forum exclusively for enthusiasts, it's a different story.  Reading responses to this there tells an interesting story: "He called me a Bald Faced Liar."  That vague nature of replies is now coming back to haunt them.  How many times do you have to warning them to include detail?  Enthusiasts became so smug with all those "vastly superior" claims they simply didn't bother with anything else.  When an owner said he'd be saving about $2,000 per year on gas, the name-calling could have easily been avoided.  They didn't learn though, the advice was disregarded.  That's happening now, finally.  The person hearing that automatically thought it was in comparison to other choices available at the time of purchase... not his old Isuzu Trooper which only delivered 15 MPG.  Well, duh!  Any new vehicle is better than that.  But having excluded such a vital bit of information, it was to surprise to get such a harsh emotional response in return.  It's the same thing GM is still doing.  Their $1,300 claim wasn't explained at all.  There was nothing whatsoever stating what the comparison was to.  Intentionally, that's considered greenwashing.  Unintentionally, there are still consequences.


Now That It's Over.  Resources spent documenting the transition were well worth it.  Many people find reading a relaxing pastime.  So, it's not too far of a stretch to find out some write for pleasure.  Getting back to the "good old days" of writing about daily Prius observations instead will be nice.  The absurd nature of Volt craze was a unique moment in history, a time we won't ever see again.  How often does a new offering ever stand alone like that?  It was the only plug-in hybrid available and hype outweighed the hype well beyond anyone's imagination.  Rollout turned into a disaster with new spin all the time.  Keeping track of what happened when and how the claim was actually stated could have been easily lost.  Looking back, situations quickly get confusing.  Having noted those details as they were all unfolding was great.  Witnessing plans & hopes fall apart made you very curious what would happen next.  It was a real-life drama... with a predictable ending.  We all knew Volt didn't match the needs of mainstream consumers.  The effort to make it different from Prius meant compromising purpose.  Purchase priorities for middle-market are quite particular.  Convincing us that they would change so much, especially without evidence to support it, was unreasonable.  Adaptation on that scale is painfully slow.  There's decades of history clearly showing that.  We can now look forward to automakers rolling out more realistic offerings.  Heck, maybe even GM will join in.  After all, there is a shared goal of increased efficiency and reduced emissions, with the need to continue to be competitive and make profit.


Balance.  That's what makes a vehicle mainstream.  Common needs of the masses are identified by high-volume purchases.  If you need more that average power, you buy a truck.  If you want more than average performance, you buy a sports car.  If smooth & quiet is your thing, you buy a luxury car.  It's not rocket science.  The difference between mainstream & enthusiast should be obvious.  Of course, the concept of an online forum not being a venue for die-hard supporters is a bit of a oxymoron.  Somehow though, Prius was able to overcome that.  Offering balance of power, performance, smooth & quiet while also delivering MPG well above average and emissions well below average frustrates the competition.  Reading posts on the big Prius forum for only a few minutes is all it takes to confirm many of the participants there are not enthusiasts.  They're just ordinary people with an interest in something better than the traditional choice.  Look at buyers of other offerings.  Is that true for them too?  The imbalance is pretty obvious.  Being part of a niche is fun & rewarding, but misrepresenting others to conceal that fact is harmful.  Rather than pushing automakers to configure choices to match priorities, they just endorse a one-size-fits-all solution that doesn't actually match need.  Ugh.


Recognizing Change.  With such strong trophy-mentality clouding judgment, seeing what's happening on the larger scale can be difficult.  You get the impression of overwhelming success.  Focus on engineering alone will do that.  They believe more is better, regardless of cost.  The idea of balance is a joke.  Enthusiasts laugh at thoughts of offering less, so more people will be able to afford it.  That's an unacceptable tradeoff.  Strangely, they are adamantly opposed to the well-proven approach of improving capacities over time, to keep the cost-prohibitive nature of newer technology from becoming an issue.  In other words, they just plain don't care about middle-market.  In their mind, any well designed vehicle will become mainstream... despite the reality of that not being true and the fact that many ubiquitous products require a very, very long time to take hold... even those with short service lives.  Vehicle replacement will take much longer than they care to admit, we're talking decades.  Long story short, it's easy to recognize change when goals aren't clear.  Simply ask questions like "who" and "when" and "how many".  We witnessed the much hype Two-Mode fade into just a terrible memory of misguided priorities... because the answers to those questions didn't address ordinary consumers.  The very same thing is happening with Volt.  Its obsession with the highest possible MPG closely resembles Two-Mode's obsession with power.  More was better, regardless of cost.  Sacrifices made to achieve that soured its appeal.  People ended up buying other vehicles instead.  Sound familiar?  What happened to the "game changer" we were promised?


The Announcement, part 3.  It sure would be nice to hear from the other automakers more.  Tesla is getting a lot of attention, but that's because it's the little company that proved successful.  GM thrives on the spotlight, so there will always be something from them.  But doing a quick check, news from them is mostly about their new next-gen full-size trucks and the Camaro Z/28.  Their ability for them to stir interest with efficiency cars is almost non-existent now.  Volt is too expensive.  People clearly aren't interested.  Ford runs the same old C-Max television commercial endlessly, but sales of the Fusion hybrid are actually just a little bit higher.  So, that situation is a bit odd.  We haven't heard anything from Hyundai or Honda lately.  Nissan does make a peep from time to time.  But ultimately, you've got the quiet giant called Toyota leading the pack by a very wide margin... hence so much ill sentiment by others.  Just finding out that Prius c is now officially the top-selling vehicle in Japan and the regular model holding the second position, there really isn't much to say.  The hybrid technology is most definitely mainstream and a primary part of the business now.  That's poses a massive amount of pressure on the other automakers.  They cannot argue hypotheticals with such a solid example success.  That's why no matter what I post, they always twist it to somehow apply to Prius.


The Announcement, part 2.  The reaction on that daily blog was quite predictable.  On the big GM forum, I was rather curious.  Since my focus there was always automaker success... sustainable high-volume profitable sales... they never liked me.  The MPG trophy was of no interest.  Their fanboi taunting fell on deaf ears.  I simply didn't care.  That's why they always tried to divert discussion to Prius, hoping to stir an emotional outburst.  That never happened, which frustrated them.  Talking about accounting matters and choices for everyday consumers had no place there.  It just stirred anger.  So, this opportunity to gloat & taunt about MPG was too much for them to resist.  Sure enough, I personally got called out too.  Fortunately, I don't play that game.  It's a waste of time, though reading the posts themselves can be constructive.  These are my favorites quotes from that particular thread: "Volt is pure awesomeness.  I'd buy one, but they are out of my price range."  That's a common theme, much like autoshow desire where a person likes the showcase vehicle but ends up buying the mainstream choice.  This was especially telling: "Volt is a great idea that was total blown in execution."  Not much else can be said about that.  GM really messed up.  Sales prove it.  And this one summed the situation up nicely, coming directly from an owner: "I love the Volt, but after a year I'd say a Cruze Eco or Cruze Diesel would be a better fit for how I drive and the overall cost ratio.


The Announcement, part 1.  That inevitable distraction from disappointing sales results arrived yesterday.  GM had a press-release stating: "The typical Volt owner who regularly charges the vehicle is going 900 miles between fill-ups of the gasoline engine that powers the Volt's on-board generator.  That avoids about $1,300 a year at the pump."  Not a single enthusiast or owner remembered GM's promotion from 2 years ago claiming 1,000 miles.  None questioned how the $1,300 was determined either.  What was Volt compared to?  How many miles per year?  What was the price per gallon of gas?  GM basically just threw a number out there and they all accepted it at face value.  That's scary.  I drove 18,477 miles last year.  My entire gas expense for that was $840.  So, it certainly wasn't a comparison to another plug-in hybrid.  With a regular hybrid, at 50 MPG and $3.59 per gallon, that same distance would have been $1,327.  But that doesn't make sense, since that distance would have meant the Volt drove roughly 5,000 miles using gas.  At 37 MPG and $3.59 per gallon, that would have been $485.  Needless to say, there are countless of scenarios which could have been explored.  They didn't bother though.  It was all about bragging rights.


Topic Change.  Reaction to the sales counts was neither spin nor disregard.  Instead, a topic change was attempted.  When all else fails for Volt, they fallback to enthusiast appeal.  The belief is the speed & handling will convince people the extra cost is well worth it.  That's obviously not the case.  GM numbers for March clearly show preference for traditional vehicles instead.  Why can't they see that?  Acknowledgement of fact shouldn't be so difficult.  It boggles the mind how deep the denial runs.  Oh well.  I just abandoned the effort with this:  So rather than address the issue, the choice is to change the topic.  That's constructive.  No one has asked the question about MPG itself... How much will result in high-volume sales?  There is a point of diminishing returns.  More isn't necessarily better.  Striking a balance between MPG and cost is required.  Is the plan really to just wait it out and hope for the best?  What if cost isn't cut enough, for the sake of keeping MPG higher than people are interested in paying for?  Where is there any proof that 200 MPG is better than 150 MPG?  125?  100?  75?  Think about how people have settled for vehicles that deliver MPG in the 30's, despite the fact that gas is sometimes $4 per gallon.


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