Personal Log  #617

April 13, 2013  -  April 23, 2013

Last Updated: Sun. 5/12/2013

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Buick Riviera.  We got a strange concept vehicle from GM yesterday.  The reveal was so vague, it didn't actually tell us anything.  The whole day I scratched my head wondering why the supporters didn't ask questions.  Supposedly, it's just the plug-in version of Two-Mode again.  That didn’t make any sense… since some supporters now contradict their own original statements about Volt, saying it evolved from Two-Mode after all.  Claims of starting fresh have vanished.  But with that being the case, what the heck was this?  It was a confusing mess.  Of course, mixed messages is nothing new.  No clear path is what we've been dealing with for years.  Anywho, I thought I'd make mention of the concept here.  It reminded me of the original announcements for Saturn hybrids.  The story changed so often, I had to refer back to my logs to figure out what was said and when.


First Owner.  The big Earth Day news for Volt ended up being an article which started with: "In December 2010, retired airline pilot *** become the first Chevy Volt owner in the world.  Since then, *** has racked up a decent amount of miles.  But it’s not the mileage on his Volt’s odometer that’s the story here.  Rather, it's that ***'s Volt is averaging over 450 miles per gallon of gas consumed."  I was in dismay by how blatantly such vital information was just summarily omitted like that.  Turns out, over the 2.5 years of ownership, he only drove a total of 13,700 miles.  That's quite the opposite of decent.  That's so far under the norm, it skews results heavily.  Just think if I only drove 5,500 per year like that.  My resulting MPG would be amazing too.  It's frustrating to see misrepresentation.  People cannot expect the same outcome.  They get the impression that it could happen for them though.  Ugh.


Freaky Old PHV.  Think about the condition of the plug-in model gas-engine many years from now.  It will still have quite a bit of life remaining!  We could see some freaky old PHV, especially if the owner decides to replace the battery-pack after the warranty is long past expired.  Imagine how cheap 4.4 kWh would cost then.  It would be a simple effort.  The brushless electric-motors continue to operate just like they were new.  Aging doesn't happen with those components.  Only the combustion side suffers from reduced performance from excessive use.  The gas-engine isn't used hard or much.  It has an easy job and should be able to deliver for a very, very long time.  Heck, there's no belts in the system and the timing is controlled by a metal chain.  The 0W-20 synthetic oil as a lubricant will help minimize wear.  It's a design that traditional vehicles simply cannot compete with.  Having a plug makes it an even better hybrid.


Diesel Deception.  It's so annoying to read an article with a title like this: "Diesel Chevrolet Cruze to get 46 mpg, matching Toyota Prius C".  As you would expect, it came from a Detroit publication.  Only disclosing the highway estimate is greenwashing.  No amount of spin will cover up such a blatant attempt to mislead.  To make matters worse, the combined value is only 33 MPG.  That's so low, what's the point?  In fact, that may have been way the gas model of Cruze wasn't mentioned.  With the price of diesel so much more expensive, it's difficult to imagine the car selling well.  But the opportunity to spite the competition was too much to resist.  The article itself seemed desperate.  You got the impression of being equal on all measures.  Clearly, that's not the case. MPG for Prius is far better.  Prius emissions are cleaner too.  It's really unfortunate.  But on Earth Day, that type of deception was to be expected.


EV Estimate.  Those posts continue to emerge. For example: "I, too, bought a PIP several months ago and every time we plug it in and then get in to drive, the "total miles charged" is less and less; starting at 11 and now down to 8.4.  After reading all posts I still don't get it???  WHY??????"  We try to be constructive.  This was my response:  The value starts at a default value.  As you drive and conditions change (like outside temperature), the value will become an estimate based upon your own particular circumstances instead.  It will adjust accordingly as time progresses.  It will still only be an estimate though.  Primary purpose remains the same.  That value simply gives you a rough idea of how much electricity is available.  Whether or not it is consumed for EV or to boost HV remains an unknown and continuously different variable.  MPG is still improved nonetheless.  New owners tend to obsess with the estimate, which is great... since that is actually a secondary purpose.  It draws you into the ownership experience, stimulating a heightened awareness of how the system actually works.  That's something no manual or pamphlet could achieve.  Heck, even the online exchange of "how it operates" isn't as effective as firsthand observation.  Enjoy your plug-in Prius.  If you want to learn even more, purchase an aftermarket gauge.  Using it, you'll be able to see capacity as a percentage rather than miles.  That really adds to the understanding.


Redemption.  When you argue with someone over and over again, stating their estimates are missing vital points, it's reasonable to finally give up… hoping for the best.  Well, sure enough.  It happened.  Though, the situation is still a bit frustrating.  A very stubborn Volt enthusiast continuously posted his calculations, excluding important factors.  But whenever I called him on it, stating without the numbers were an ideal, he'd attack.  His assumption was that my intent was really a covert way of promoting Prius.  Today, he posted this: "Now that I own a Volt, I believe 55 EPA miles of AER would be more appropriate, for many reasons: 1) Many trips are longer than I realized. 2) Cold weather significantly lowers range. 3) My driving style also lowers range."  How many times should I have tried to make it clear that he wasn’t taking them into account?  He kept stating 40 miles of All-Electric-Range would be delivered under all circumstances.  Now he knows how wrong that actually was.  But rather than post an "I told you so", I refrained… even though I was quite entitled.  There were plenty of links and quotes I could have used to.  Why bother.  I simply replied with:  Sounds familiar.


Road Trip.  Yesterday was my longest no-charge (HV only) trip ever.  The temperature averaged 40°F.  The driving was almost entirely highway (55 - 70 mph).  I was thrilled with the results... 291 miles, 59 MPG.  That heavily supports the "Solid 50" goal following depletion Toyota set to deliver.  It proves Prius is very much still a remarkable hybrid even when there isn't any plug-supplied electricity available.  You can imagine just how uncomfortable that makes the competition, especially when you consider the affordability of a system with only a 4.4 kWh capacity.  The plug-in feature can easily become a simple as a package option.


EV Importance.  The sensible is often not the voice of the internet.  More likely than not, you will hear from an enthusiast instead.  They deem different things of importance, most notably EV.  Keeping in mind they aren't representative of the masses, there's nothing wrong with that.  It is frustrating though when they don't realize their own statements don’t match the mainstream.  For example: "What Toyota doesn't seem to get is that a lot of people like me are interested in the experience of driving EV mode, not so much the efficiency.  They should follow Ford's example with the C-Max and give an EV mode that locks out the ICE for those who want it."  Had he qualified what "like me" actually meant, fine.  After all, we do know that specialized configurations will be offered later.  Prius doesn’t seek out that audience though.  So the "Toyota" reference is misrepresentative.  Toyota does in fact know that; just look at what they reveal at auto shows.  None of those plug-in vehicles carry the "Prius" label, but they do indeed entice the enthusiast.  Anywho, I replied with:  Don't overlook the reality of capacity tradeoff.  Toyota's effort to reach an extremely wide base of consumers by sticking to a size that is both affordable and doesn't intrude on storage is a very big deal.  Appealing to the mainstream is far more difficult than pleasing a niche.  And with the price of gas is down to $3.39 per gallon, demand for EV isn't going to be very low.  There is of course the reality of battery life too.  Taking advantage of the engine during times of high demand doesn't please the enthusiast, but it does ensure longevity.


Trust.  It pleasing to read posts from newbies on the big Prius forum. In the past, we've read about people going to a Toyota dealer with the intent of purchasing one of their traditional cars, then coming home with a Prius.  Turns out, that’s their first encounter with hybrids.  Some simply never have the opportunity to see one up close.  Now, the reach has expanded.  We are getting reports of people going to look at a regular Prius and ending up with a plug-in.  That's good news.  It shows trust has been established.  That's really important in a world where there's lots of greenwashing & assumptions.  The worst is still the portrayal/belief that Prius PHV is a short-range EV.  The large emblem on the car itself stating that it’s a "PLUG-IN HYBRID" along with the information on the window-sticker doesn’t get through to some people.  Thankfully, the rest see the plug as an enhancement to the regular Prius experience.  The larger battery offers increased electric power & range compared to the model without a plug.  And since that results in lower emissions and higher efficiency, mission accomplished… since that's what middle-market has wanted all along.  They trust that is what has been delivered.  I trusted their sensible purchase decision-making would triumph in the end, over the rhetoric claiming EV was of paramount importance.


291 miles.  Watching that trip from Northern Minnesota back to south of the cities result in an average of 59 MPG was great.  We had to take the long way around too, since we were picking up a car along the way.  It was a cold Spring day, having just got lots of snow 2 days before.  Most people would still call that Winter, but it did make a scenic day for travel.  I hadn't anticipated efficiency to be so good.  It sure was nice though.  That was my farthest single-day drive with this Prius, without having plugged in.  The drive was entirely engine-only.  Of course, electricity from the wall really wouldn't provide a big boost coming from only a 4.4 kWh battery-pack.  So, it sure is nice having such an efficient engine.  Long story short, I enjoyed the trip.


$3.39 Per Gallon.  We do anticipate the switch from Winter to Summer formula gas to result in lower prices.  But watching the price of a barrel of oil drop below $90 was quite unexpected.  Why that happened is a bit of a mystery.  You can imagine what that does for interest in hybrids.  People now perceive that $3.39 as an improvement, better than before.  They become accustom to it, settling for the purchase of a smaller traditional vehicle as a replacement for their guzzler instead of seeking out a hybrid.  Perhaps that shift is what's influencing oil.  Slowness of change does bring stability.  Sharp demand pushes up prices.  Seeing people settle for an adequate solution rather than embracing change certainly won't stir up the market.


5 Million Sold.  That's a lot of Prius.  Toyota's goal to make it a mainstream vehicle, to the extent of replacing sales of traditional vehicles is difficult to deny now.  I'm so glad to see this particular milestone being reached. Having to point out that purpose was maddening.  All those claims of Prius only being a "halo" vehicle and losing money on each one were absurd, blatant denial that an automaker would ever take such a risk.  Long term, it hardly seemed a risk.  That was simply the natural advancement of propulsion systems for vehicles, when done proactively… prior to need.  Waiting until gas prices get ugly to begin is an entirely different matter.  That reactionary approach is trouble… which is exactly what we've been dealing with.  Perspective & Timing making a huge difference, as did the approach.  Now, it should be obvious.


Engine size.  Reading a thread on the dedicated Volt forum about engine size has been intriguing.  The majority of participants think smaller is better… despite the proof from Prius that larger can actually be more efficiency.  It's strange hearing some of the debate points.  Most fall apart due to a single fact, the reality of cost.  How do you justify the expense of development?  Sharing a block & piston size with a traditional vehicle only takes you so far and requires lots of time to optimize for hybrid use.  The components within, the valves, the timing.  It gets complicated.  The concern of "too little, too slowly" are finally being seen.  The lust for EV allowed HV to be neglected.  Consequences no longer need to be pointed out, they are quite obvious.  Thankfully, the discussion was fairly constructive.  That's progress.


Energi Sighting.  The C-Max emblem caught my eye.  There was something different about it.  Logic supports the belief that it was the plug-in model.  Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to confirm.  We were both turning corners in opposing directions.  All I got was just a quick glance, enough to notice and hope Ford is making some progress in these parts.  Rollout has been slow.  Acceptance is expected to be mild initially anyway, so no big deal.  Near the end of this year, things should heat up.  Until then, new market penetration takes place.  I look forward to that… especially since the choice of sacrificing cargo area for the sake of increased capacity presents quite a bit of uncertainty.


Tax Day.  Like many others, I filed my federal income tax and waited the credit return from having purchased a plug-in vehicle.  For Prius PHV, the maximum amount you can collect is $2,500.  Not everyone qualifies for the full amount though.  Some are denied it entirely… many by mistake... since the process is still new and there has been confusion with expired credits.  Some owners were finding out the money wasn't allowed for any particular reason.  That's why I waited.  They ended up spending many hours on the phone trying to get the error corrected.  So, there may be a delay, if claims are flagged for review to avoid mistakes.  My e-file went just fine, but I may have caught the process on a good day.  A delay certainty is a test of patience… like many things related to Prius.  Fortunately, those waits are well worth it.


52 MPG.  No complaint about that.  176 miles of almost all highway driving and still having 70% of the EV miles left, with 52 MPG as the result, is great.  I wondered what that weekend escape would bring, especially with it still very much Winter here still.  Tomorrow, a snow storm arrives.  Today was a pleasant trip that confirmed the plug-in Prius delivers outstanding efficiency even when you don't plug it in.  What else can be said?  The naysayers claiming the extra weight of an unused battery (or in this case, barely used) would result in a large penalty were wrong, very wrong.  It feels good having confirmation that the engineering we studied carefully delivers well in real-world implementation.  The greenwashing assumption attempts are dead.  Yeah!


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