Personal Log  #622

May 21, 2013  -  June 1, 2013

Last Updated: Mon. 6/10/2013

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Intentional Distraction.  Sales of Volt falling well below the mainstream minimum of 5,000 per month has been making the path to profitability an extreme challenge.  When the tax-credit expires, then what?  The efforts to reduce cost aren't expected to even cover that difference.  Without a hybrid counterpart, how will volume be achieved?  Short production runs make sales even more difficult.  Needless to say, the situation is a mess.  To make matters worse, GM now faces a similar situation to what Toyota did years ago… and they are well aware of grossly blown out of proportion that got.  The dashboard layout was setup with cosmetic appeal more of a factor than practicality.  That resulted in the placement of the power & mode buttons very close to each other.  Pushing the power button twice shuts off the vehicle.  Guess what owners have inadvertently been doing while attempting to change modes… shutting off while driving.  That's dangerous.  GM's response has been to not acknowledge it and focus (intentionally distract) on their other offerings instead.  Hopefully, that means a fix will rapidly be deployed.  We'll see.  The last thing they need is a stream of bad press from not addressing the issue.  Knowing a solution can be just a software change (and well aware that this suggestion is to make it work like Prius does), I posted the following: Improving it shouldn't be a big deal either.  To force the power off on a computer, you hold the power button for a few seconds.  Why not update Volt to do the same thing?


Tomorrow.  Toyota has already pre-released sales information about Prius for May.  No specific quantity was actually disclosed, since there's still one day remaining for the month.  But it they did state was that results would be better than May last year, which supports the strong demand we've been observing.  That makes tomorrow a day of great anticipation.  Of course, we won't know details until the start of next week.  But with the inventory of Volt such a hot topic now, everyone is well aware that this is a turning point.  In fact, even GM's monthly distraction from sales confirms it.  Today, their big news was the first Cadillac ELR coming off the production line.  Volt has vanished from the spotlight; sales results have been well under expectation.  Additional proof of that came from the Spark EV price announcement.  Honda immediately responded with a very enticing lease offer for their Fit EV.  Toyota's approach of heavy emphasis on cost is clearly paying off. GM's decision to delay cost-reduction until the second generation is not working out to be a wise choice.


Climate Change.  Witnessing the outcome of that monstrous tornado in Oklahoma has brought out the worst in some people.  They still use "global warming" as greenwashing proof, claiming that doesn't make any sense considering how cold Winter is still.  They'll even go as far as admitting Summer storms are more powerful and more frequent.  All they need is that "not warmer" information to dismiss everything.  In reality, we know that misnomer must be acknowledged.  They don't want to though.  Fear of change is powerful.   And now with the sales of Volt really becoming a struggle, there's yet another excuse to not bother trying.  It's amazing.  It's like we've been transported back to a time when people absolutely insisted the world was flat.  Without 100% of the population agreeing, they fell they can claim it's all just a shame.  We're back to the "raising doubt" situation.  Reading recent comments online, it's easy to see the same old "environmental hazard" rhetoric.  But what's different this time is the number of Prius owners sounding off about how many years of clean, efficient, trouble-free driving they've experienced.


Each Month.  The results of plug-in sales show how the market is taking shape.  Dedicated electric vehicles, like Tesla's Model S and Nissan's Leaf are doing well.  Ford's Focus and Honda's Fit are almost completely unheard of.  That begs the question of how GM's Spark EV will be accepted, especially knowing how small it is and how competitively priced it will be.  Both Ford's C-Max & Fusion plug-in hybrids (the "Energi" models) seem to be off to a good start.  But then again, there's always that initial surge prevents determining actual demand accurately.  We have Toyota's Prius PHV too (obviously), but that is still only available in 15 states.  The intentional rollout delay that seems more and more sensible as time progresses.  Rather than deal with all the mixed messages being set now, continue to refine sales & support first.  That should help avoid some of the confusion currently taking place in the market.  Understanding the 9-month is easier.  Each month brings increased clarity about market perception & reaction.


Battery Longevity, CHARGE LEVEL is an aspect of battery-life you don't have to be concerned about. 100% (the "FULL" level) is what most owners won't ever encounter.  Recharging automatically stops at 85% and that's all the higher the indicator shows.  That 15% buffer at the top protects the battery.  23.5% (the "EMPTY" level) is when the plug-supplied electricity is fully depleted.  That protect the battery at the bottom, preventing deep-discharge from ever happening.  So unless you routinely drive down mountains after plugging or drive after having run out of gas, there's no reason for concern.


Battery Longevity, COLD SOAK is something you can do to prolong battery-life as well.  A battery ages from stress of use, that includes the charging process, not just usage.  Toyota made this easy by providing a recharge timer.  Many owners don't realize the benefit the delay provides though.  Allowing the chemicals within to cool & rest after use is what "cold soak" refers to.  If you will be plugging in immediately after use, use EV upfront and finish off your driving in HV mode.  That way, the battery is only used lightly prior to recharging.


Battery Longevity, DRAW RATE is another very helpful longevity suggestion pointed out.  That's good advice that's easy to overlook.  You should keep the draw from the battery low.  Seeing the bar on the Eco-Meter higher means you're putting greater demand on the battery.  Speed doesn't matter either.  60 mph is no big deal if you're only using a small amount of power.  Acceleration from a stop is the heavy-hitter.  Avoid that by taking advantage of the engine.  Don't be afraid to press the pedal hard.  The engine will shut back off surprisingly after it's been warmed up.


Battery Longevity, HEAT is the biggest enemy, as many have already sounded off about.  Obviously, parking in a situation that will cook the car should be avoided.  I face the windshield toward the sun and place a reflective insulated shade in the window.  Cracking the windows is also a sensible idea.  While driving, take advantage of the A/C.  It's remarkably efficient.  When you're comfortable, the battery will be too.  Remember, it uses cabin air to cool itself. Heat contributes to aging.


Battery Longevity.  The topic came up today.  It's different with Prius PHV than electric-only vehicles.  With them, there's no engine to protect the system and you want to utilize maximum capacity.  You won't see that from a plug-in hybrid.  They have a design capable of protecting & prolonging.  It gets confusing those.  Operation of electric-only vehicles isn't well understood by most people.  They make assumptions.  That in itself is difficult to deal with.  Translating how that differs in a plug-in hybrid becomes quite a challenge, especially when they aren't aware of what to look for.  Highlighting the basics is what we're attempting to do now.


2014 Outlook.  With the 2014 Car & Truck guide from GM now available and the size of unsold 2013 Volt inventory roughly 5-months in quantity, the outlook isn't good.  We know the design isn't profitable and there are no changes coming for next year.  Adding to that the reality of leases expiring, causing a used inventory of low-mileage Volts to enter the market without tax-credit assistance, there's nothing supporters can say anymore.  Enthusiasts still belittle & insult, but they aren't constructive and disagreement with supporters is rather obvious.  It's quite a mess… the very thing we had concerned about.  That "too little, too slowly" is overwhelmingly confirmed at this point.  Just like with Two-Mode, sales proved to be the ultimate decider of how success or failure.  On the Volt forum, the situation is described as a "fizzle".  Rather than being a game-changer and leading the industry, it is struggling to survive.  On the big GM forum, the sentiment is marketing made a terrible mistake with its push of Volt as an EV with a backup generator.  Publicity should have called it a "reinvented hybrid" instead.  After all, having an engine and blending at times very much makes Volt a hybrid.  Needless to say, sales are expected to remain well below the mainstream minimum of 5,000 per month.


Receiver Hitch.  The strap-on bike-rack has worked great on my Iconic, 2010, and PHV model Prius.  Each functioned flawlessly on many long vacation trips with 3 bikes on that high-adjustable plastic rack on back.  There was never any concern about stability or spoiler contact.  The ability to easily disassemble it for in-car storage/transport could be handy at some point too, especially since my group of biking friends is growing and we'll need a second car.  That being said, I just bought a 4-bike hitch-rack on Friday, to go with the hitch I ordered on Thursday.  Having that larger capacity with the ability to lock was a nice upgrade.  Back with my Classic Prius, I had a hitch rack.  It was convenient, but the rack itself was quite primitive compared to what's available nowadays, if willing to pay... which should be a no-brainer for exercise/recreation equipment I'll have for the next decade or two... especially with early-season discounts.  It will be nice being able to easily load the bikes & cargo at the same time, since the hatch can open & close with the hitch.  That's obviously not the case when it's physically resting on the bumper and pulled up against the glass with the strap-on type.  Transporting 4 people means lots of cargo to carry inside.  So, that's handy.  I'm really excited about the increased opportunity a receiver hitch offers.


Too Small.  Another Volt owner gave into the reality that the seating room in back is too small.  This one wouldn't be caught dead in a Prius, so naturally the switch was to a C-Max instead.  Oddly, it was just the regular model rather than the plug-in.  But then again, we do know that Volt leases will begin to expire later this year.  Most of them were for just $199 per month.  Finding another deal that low isn't at all realistic.  There is a growing chorus of those considering the rear legroom and the lack of a middle seat a problem for Volt.  That's a very good sign.  It shows a sense of acknowledgement that consumer priorities are different from what GM delivered.  Realigning to better match is a win for everyone.  It's really unfortunate it took so long.  But then again, it should have been obvious that a compact couldn't compete directly with midsize cars.


Next-Gen Prius.  A spy photo surfaced on the internet today.  It was just current model with camouflage, but that didn't stop people from speculating what it concealed.  Realistically, testing out new design, operation, and features this early is to be expected.  That's not a big deal.  All automakers take their prototypes out into real-world conditions for detailed verification.  Testing the major revisions is complete and they are now in the tweaking stage.  That sure exciting some people.  Needless to say, on the big GM forum, it provided an opportunity to slander Toyota.  Nothing constructive whatsoever came out of that.  It was just a sad stream of insults.  But now with Volt rarely being discussed there anymore, that type of reaction was to be expected.  Comments posted about this mule sighting were quite sensible on the general automotive blogs, sprinkled with ugly comments, of course.  There's no getting around the "judging a book by its cover" problem.  Realistically, it doesn't matter.  We still have another year before any information will actually be revealed.  The thought is the next generation Prius will be a 2015 model.  So, waiting is still involved.


Range Anxiety.  Nothing is being said about it anymore.  At one point, GM was about to bet the farm on "range anxiety", to the point of protecting the slogan with a trademark.  It was the fundamental selling-point for Volt.  That's why there was no intention of selling an EV in the United States.  The idea of an electric-only vehicle was preposterous.  Nissan was laughed at.  Since then, reality has set it.  Not only has Volt lost the spotlight for GM, it's to the point where pricing is competitive right from the start.  Chevy Spark EV is getting all the attention now.  It will roughly $2,000 less than Leaf.  Of course, it's a smaller car.  But at $28,305 before the $7,500 federal tax-credit, that's definitely going to fall into the affordable category.  Long story short, the philosophy & approach GM took in the past has completely fallen apart.  It's an effort to diversify and pave the way for a realistic model of Volt later, not the trophy vehicle we currently have.  Change is difficult.  But steps are now being taken.


Coffee Talk.  Once a year, I met with a friend from the West Coast.  With his extensive automotive background and my interest in Prius, we usually talk about that as the coffeeshop.  In the past, lots of it involved the drama known as GM.  It was like watching a train wreck.  You're horrified that anything could be so bad.  But now that the disaster has long passed and there is no hope for current efforts, we simply talked about other stuff instead.  2.5 years into Volt sales, it's quite clear executive decisions made a mess of what could have been a contender.  Consumers certainly haven't endorsed it as a "game changer" and just 3 weeks ago the CEO stated each was losing money.  Not being profitable means not much will happen until the next-generation rollout.  In the meantime, I'm having a blast with my plug-in Prius and we're looking forward to availability in the other 35 states coming this Fall.


Best Tank.  I've been watching the MPG climb.  It's been around 120 for several days now.  That's fantastic!  Of course, this morning's commute was somewhat unpleasant.  The temperature went from the upper-50's and lower-60's we had been enjoying lately to just 46°F.  Fortunately, that didn't affect the average MPG much.  With nearly 800 miles on this current tank, I'm still going to see a jump in lifetime MPG anyway.  Watching the value drop over Winter was unpleasant.  I know, complaining about efficiency at 75 MPG is a bit on the absurd side.  But then again, this could have been my best tank ever.  Seeing the efficiency that high without doing anything special is really exciting.  I'm just driving it.  I even let the battery cold-soak before plugging in again.  At work, that's minimum of 4 hours.  At home, it's a wait of at least 1.5 hours.  That allows the chemicals to rest, which contributing to longevity.  Anywho, I'll be filling up the end of the week.  I'm looking forward to it.


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