Personal Log  #621

May 13, 2013  -  May 20, 2013

Last Updated: Sun. 6/09/2013

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Lithium Batteries.  The other big news today, this morning before the stock-market opened, was a reassertion that Toyota will be expanding their use of lithium based batteries.  That's a big deal.  In my Prius PHV, even without plugging it in, efficiency is higher compared to the regular model... despite the additional 123 pounds.  That primarily comes from the Li-Ion pack being able to capture & deliver more power.  That means the regular model will see an improvement by simply switching from the current NiMH pack.  The report today was that the production will soon be increased six-fold.  That translates to 200,000 units per year.  It's hard to know exactly what that means in terms of usage & availability, but any type of expansion is good.  Currently, only the plug-in model and the 7-seat model use lithium.  What else will.  Perhaps there will be a big PHV push later.  After all, economy-of-scale often results in cost reduction.  Having a design which doesn't compromise cargo area sets Prius apart from the other plug-in choices.  A drop in price would stir more interest.  That's a good thing when reaching the mainstream is a major priority. 


Finally.  Remember the IPO of GM way back in 2010?  The government selling back those remaining 300 millions shares of stock helped to push the market over that original $33 price today.  The news made headlines on quite a number of publications.  Investors liked hearing that.  Good thing too.  The uncertainty left people hesitant.  There had been much disappointment along the way too.  That concern of "too little, too slowly" came true.  The money lost was officially considered a bailout.  The automaker can finally move on now though.  We're all better off with it being over.  Of course, there is still the mess of what step to take next, but financial recovery is done.  The struggle to remain competitive will get proper attention now... at least we hope.  This year will be pivotal.  With other automakers already leading the way, their "game changer" plan will obviously need to be revised.  It took far longer than many expected.  We're glad some type of resolution happened.  Let's take a constructive look at 2014 now.


Drawing Conclusions.  Now being 2.5 years into rollout, it is appropriate to draw some conclusions.  Too bad if it angers a few individuals.  That next step won't be successful unless you look back at the previous thoroughly.  Buy patterns is the topic today.  A constructive look at the numbers isn't encouraging.  Hopefully, we'll actually get some decent discussion.  Wanting to see the next step taken is a good reason to allow the past be analyzed.  No more pointless resistance would be great.  I stated the situation this way:  Autotrader has 293 USED and 7,808 NEW listed.  Cars has 259 USED and 9,294 NEW listed.  That's roughly a 5-month inventory of new and a reason for concern as used leases begin to expire.  Volt enthusiasts tell us to continue to be patient, wait for the next generation... which should be offer system improvements and much lower cost.  Doesn't that tell us that new sales will be flat in the meantime and resale values will later plummet?  It's quite obvious that GM needs to diversify.  The thought that power & speed would stimulate strong sales clearly didn't work.  Those traits didn't appeal to the mainstream enough to justify the purchase.  We hear from countless scores all saying price must be lower.  The best-case scenario has been stated as $10,000 less.  Taking into account the $7,500 tax-credit won't be available then, that isn't promising.  Knowing history, expecting best-case isn't realistic.  Also, let's not forget the climbing price of gas and the upcoming efficiency & emissions regulations.  As automakers add more hybrid & plug-in choices and pressure from traditional continues to grow, what should we expect?


Arguments.  Reading quotes like this fascinates: "There are two die-hard Prius owners who frequent the home page main article section that will argue with anyone they can that the Prius and the PiP are far better than the Volt.  The rest of the world simply does not agree with them."  Knowing that isn't true, what is the appropriate response?  They just plain don't care.  The actual arguments have been that GM must alter Volt to become attract sales from ordinary people.  Even when Prius is never mentioned, that's what they hear anyway.  The idea of offering a model of Volt with a smaller battery-pack and a more efficient engine for blending horrifies them.  It's the typical enthusiast reaction.  They fear what they cherish will vanish.  The idea of diversification scares them.  So, they argue against those who appear to be fighting them... basically, lashing out at anything they can to prevent change.  Their perspective actually makes sense too.  From their point-of-view, engineering is all that matters.  They have no idea how big of a role economic or accounting factors actually play.


Desperate.  A long article from a Texas publication concluded with this paragraph: "What did we buy to replace the 2003 Prius?  A new Honda Fit, Sport model.  It doesn't get the 40-plus miles per gallon of a hybrid, but at $20,000 it cost about $10,000 less than most hybrids.  It's also fun to drive, has great visibility and very flexible seating/storage.  We figure the $10,000 difference will buy a lot of gasoline."  Withholding vital information is just plain wrong.  I don't know how else to describe such blatant misleading.  That type of greenwashing is shameful.  The base price of c model of Prius is $19,080.  That's less than his $20,000 choice and delivers better efficiency.  The disturbing part though is it was presented in a misleading way.  This was the title: "Hybrid went the distance, and then some".  From that, you get the impression it was the sharing of a positive ownership experience with along with an endorsement.  Instead, it ended up being a recommendation not to purchase a hybrid.  Sadly, we're likely to see more of that type of desperation to keep traditional owners from switching to hybrids.  The price of gas is influencing what people say and do.


$4.39 Per Gallon.  Seeing the price of gas continue to rise was quite unexpected.  Fortunately, I'm focusing more on plug-in observations.  Actual EV is holding up well. 14.6 miles yesterday and 14.7 miles today.  Estimate EV has climbed to 12.6 miles.  So far with this tank, I'm at 532 miles with an average of 115 MPG.  The driving-ratio is 53% EV and 47% HV.  That's good stuff.  It excites me to see such great results from a small battery-pack.  Being able to squeeze out efficiency like that with 4.4 kWh from just ordinary driving is very encouraging.  It's easy to scale a system up.  Adding more capacity doesn't take much effort.  The other way around doesn't work the same way.  A system like Volt is heavily dependent upon the battery being that much larger.  That's because it wasn't designed to blend well.  Using its engine is much less efficient than with Prius.  That means reaching mainstream consumers is a much greater challenge.  With an abundance of time available, no big deal.  With the price of gas already at $4.39 in an area of the country where is it normally much less, that's a big problem.  Think about how much a gallon costs on the West Coast.  Solutions that are both high-volume & profitable are needed today, not years from now.


Much Ado.  For awhile there, the most common response to addressing business need was asking a rhetorical question.  That's when you know they do actually see the problem but simply don't what to acknowledge it.  Studying the market worldwide, it becomes easier to see.  For example, Toyota won't release the plug-in model of Prius until 2016 in Australia.  That information to easy spin.  Rather than point out how the market there has always experienced a delay or pointing out that they are just waiting to rollout with the next generation model, those hoping to mislead & undermine claim the wait is due to sales elsewhere.  Another example is looking at what purchase priorities are in other countries.  Here in the United States, there is still an obsession with speed & power.  That allows focus to dwell on average price, rather than middle-market price.  There's a big difference.  They draw you into arguments.  They claim all the huff is much ado about nothing, that we just need to be patient and things will just naturally work out.  Preventing conclusions from being drawn is a big concern when things aren't going well.  It's an effort to stall.  They know a business decisions must be made.  The next step cannot be based on just hope.


$4.19 Per Gallon.  One rather thought-provoking sign of the economy recovering is the price of gas shooting up.  That reason typically is stronger demand.  Knowing that the DOW has exceeded an all-time record high and continues to climb tends to support that as well.  I certainly wasn't expecting a spike like $4.19 though.  It may very well be the highest I've ever actually seen it.  Since our oil comes from Canada and the ethanol is produced local, prices are usually lower than just about everywhere else in the country.  Despite that, we still have a surprising number of Prius on the roads around here.  Seeing gas expensive now will add to it.  I get people driving by giving me the thumbs-up sign already.  I can't imagine when more discover the plug-in model.  It will be like back in the good-old-days, when I'd get stopped in the parking lot to answer a fluffy of questions from someone who was curious about Prius.  PHV could end up proving to be timed perfectly.  Summer usually keeps the price of gas high.  Building up demand for the national rollout would be great.


Chaos.  It's like watching a train wreck.  You cannot help but to be fascinated with the disaster GM created for itself.  We already knew Volt was a mess, a collection of misplaced priorities.  Enthusiasts love it.  Mainstream consumers aren't interested.  The next plug-in hybrid to be rolled out by GM will be the Cadillac ELR.  Turns out though, it won't be identified "Voltec" technology.  In fact, there's already a marketing effort underway to make it clear that ELR is not a variant of Volt.  Talking about mixed messages.  What the heck is it then?  Of course, with the CEO of GM having recently confirmed that Volt is not profitable, what difference does it make?  Knowing money is lost on each one, it's a good bet that GM production won't grow.  It was a declaration of niche, a clear statement that the next generation will be quite different.  Think about how much will have to change for that $7,000 to $10,000 price drop to be achieved.  The change will actually have to be more, to rework cost from being a loss to profit.  Accomplishing so much, in so little time, without the expectation of the design or configuration or operation being fundamentally altered would truly be a miracle.  That's not realistic... and the enthusiasts can no longer deny it... hence the chaos.  That have no clue what to endorse anymore.  Today's daily blog was an amazing array of uncertainty.  This is why I lurk now.  There's no need to post.  Their failure to state goals has left without a clear purpose.  Conflicts from within is a big problem, exactly as they had been warned about... but chose to dismiss.


What's Next, part 5?  Basically, we see both GM and Volt enthusiasts stepping away from the spotlight.  Tesla is shining brighter than ever.  It's quite remarkable how sales & stock are so strong now.  Heck, I have even seen the Model S twice recently.  I see Nissan Leaf on a regular basis too.  To my surprise, even two C-Max Energi have caught my eye already.  When Prius PHV joins the mix, it will be a joyous occasion.  It's been quite lonely.  But I certainly have enjoyed gathering so much real-world data in the meantime.  We'll see both the variety & quantity grow.  Eventually, the Honda Accord plug-in should make an appearance around here too.  That's not expected until after the hybrid model gets rolled out in early Summer.  The outlook is definitely changing.  With Volt having reeked so much havoc, this new stage certainly is a welcome one.  There was much worry that the rhetoric would damage the market.  Thankfully, not much harm seems to have been done.


What's Next, part 4?  Having to wait very long times for Prius advances is always worth it, but what happens in the meantime certainly is a test of patience.  This Fall, rollout of Prius PHV will proceed to the other states.  That's what is next for Toyota.  That's what so many have been waiting for.  Of course, those interested have also been waiting for data.  Getting that takes time.  We all knew it would require an entire year of collecting.  Each season must be experienced... and posted about in great detail online.  Only now are we seeing the results of that.  First anniversaries are being celebrated.  Of course, even those owners must wait until Spring concludes.  You cannot judge midseason either.  All 4 must be consecutively observed in full.  Then, proper conclusions can be made and stories compared with others.  There are so many variables involved, the 12-month minimum is a necessity... which is why so much emphasis was placed on the second year for Volt.  Now being halfway through the third, results speak for themselves. 


What's Next, part 3?  Watching Prius prevail yet another rollout cycle was obviously rough for those who genuinely thought there was a chance of catching up.  Unfortunately, rather than wanting to participate as partners, they became combative competitors.  We knew that wouldn't end up well.  Since the very beginning, it was made quite clear that the actual competition was traditional vehicles.  They didn't want to hear that though.  Finding out firsthand that was indeed the case turned out to be quite a painful lesson to be learned.  The Volt enthusiasts simply did not want to listen.  The idea of GM competing from within seemed too absurd.  The advice was dismissed as attempts to promote Prius... even though Prius was clearly at the forefront of the battle against traditional vehicles.  Now, they know.  GM's own product-line, cars like Malibu, Impala, and Cruze, are attracting consumers away from Volt.  The evidence is overwhelming.  The numbers easily confirm it.  Loyal buyers aren't interested in such an expensive plug-in hybrid.


What's Next, part 2?  Despite today's topic asking the question of what's next, no one brought up Volt's own past.  Having come short on so many goals, validating the vaporware predication, learning from the past is pretty much taboo.  It's simply not talked about.  They go to great lengths to avoid discussing it.  We know that Volt came about from Two-Mode having many shortcomings of its own.  Ironically, the heavily promoted "in transmission" design simplicity (intended to make adaptation into other vehicles easy) ended up far more complex than ever imagined.  So, GM decided to abandon the approach.  Rather than redesign, start fresh.  It was a sensible move.  Too bad cost wasn't a priority.  They ended up with an expensive system that was still inefficient.  Needless to say, GM is choosing to abandon again.  That's great; however, enthusiasts are unwilling to acknowledge the steps actually needed to achieve that.  The reality that Volt will become quite different isn't welcome news.


What's Next, part 1?  Reading that daily blog for Volt as a lurker now, rather than an active participant, is interesting.  Like on the big GM forum, discussion depends heavily on enthusiast spin, due to lack of new content.  They'd provoke those who supported something other than the status quo to keep threads from dying out entirely.  When that begins to fail, they speculate about the future.  Attempts in the past ended up stirring unfounded hope, a sense of triumph without actually having accomplished anything there even being support detail.  That's what got me blogging about Volt so much in the first place.  Enthusiasts would bet the farm on a long-shot.  Despite terrible odds, they'd pounce on anyone who questioned their judgment.  Needless to say, I certainly don't want to get involved with that again... especially now, with so much real-world data available.  Though, I am curious what they have to say.  Watching mistakes repeat is quite educational.


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