Personal Log  #624

June 12, 2013  -  June 22, 2013

Last Updated: Weds. 8/28/2013

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Still Trying.  When you read this, what are your thoughts: "'Volt combined economy of 37, Prius Plug in 50 .'  Very misleading journalism. The PIP is using electricity blended in to achieve this rating.  If the Volt blended in the electricity it would be 65 mpg."  That's greenwashing, twisting information to make it seem like misleading so it will be disregarded.  Without plug-supplied electricity (regular HV mode), the plug-in Prius does indeed deliver 50 MPG.  With electricity and the engine running (we call that EV-BOOST mode), the MPG is well over 100.  As for Volt, where the heck did that 65 come from?  The reference is literally the first I've ever seen.  Of course, we have absolutely no clue what was actually meant by "blending" in this case.  That's how greenwashing works.  They are excessively vague, hoping you'll make an incorrect assumption.  Long story short, certain Volt enthusiasts & owners are still trying.


Super Hybrid.  I liked reading that description of PHV.  It derived from this: "Avoid much more than 40 mph during this stage, because then fuel consumption will spike for relatively little gain in speed."  The discussion was about modes & efficiency.  I posted:  In most cases, that is indeed the case.  However, there is the exception of a well-timed switch from EV to HV mode.  As already pointed out, the system strives to maximum use of the battery-pack during cold engine warm-up.  With the regular Prius, this is difficult to quantify without having a tachometer available.  With the plug-in Prius, the behavior is quite pronounced.  It's obvious.  I've been taking advantage of this, waiting to push that button until just prior to the approach a steep hill climb or highway entrance ramp.  That way, the engine speed is restricted to 1500 RPM, rather than exceeding the usual 3000 RPM that type of power demand would require.  It's been working well.  I can get up to speed without the engine straining (high emissions & consumption) and still have reserve power, just in case.  I have dropped the pedal to the floor in those scenarios, to confirm the system will override that green behavior.  It does.  Calling Prius PHV a "super hybrid" seems a very effective way of conveying the design objective.  You have a larger battery and a plug, but the intent of the system is still very much one of delivering significant improvement at an affordable price rather than calling it a short-range EV.


Thoughtless Responses.  There's nothing like hearing this at the gas station:  "Hey, I didn't think that car took gas."  It was an experience a Prius owner recently had.  Encounters like that are sticky situations.  You aren't sure how the person saying it will actually react.  More often than not, they'll blow off whatever you have to say.  That can be good if the message is still conveyed.  All you need to do is just leave them with something to think about, something they hadn't ever considered.  Change is slow.  You have to start somewhere.  I joined in the discussion with:  Quotes like that come from those who never bother to take even a moment to consider how Prius actually works.  They typically dismiss it as small & weak without any other thought.  That's a huge improvement over responses of the past.  Back in the early days, over a decade ago, I encountered some people who absolutely freaked out.  They honestly believed the government was going to force them to give up their monster-size SUV.  It was a genuine fear that resulted in anger and unwilling to listen.  Of course, still to this day, detail isn't being addressed.  But at least the general message is getting through.  That parting comment of "it takes me 5 gallons to start this Tahoe up" may have made him laugh, but the upset of his wife was confirmation that the choice to guzzle isn't acceptable as it was in the past.


Celebrate?  I've made it overwhelmingly clear that I won't endorse any vehicle offering improved efficiency. Improved emissions has always been the higher priority. That's why I was against diesel from the very beginning.  Lack of potential is another.  That's why I was against ASSIST hybrid from the very beginning.  Both proved to be wise choices too.  The FULL hybrid has been cleaner and offers plug augmentation.  It's been a winning solution.  Anywho, this comment was made today about the plug-in Accord hybrid: "In my view, any car with fuel economy 2x above the national average should be celebrated."  Obviously, I couldn't resist interjecting some comment:  With a base price over $4oK, we should hold off on the celebrating.  A certain other plug-in taught us how critical being affordable is as a priority for the masses.  Mainstream acceptance requires a business-sustaining cost.  It cannot have a dependency on tax-credits either.  The new approach to hybrid design & efficiency obviously shows promise though.


Hype.  It's what Volt thrived on.  That daily blog depended upon vague & exceptional claims.  The essential component of survival depended on people believing in the unbelievable with no way of actually checking information… a situation doomed from the start.  The facts simply didn't match the hope.  Disregard for need made those bad circumstances even worse.  How could so much be achieved in so little time at so little cost with so little actual real-world experience to support it?  Enthusiasts truly thought a miracle would be delivered, an answer to their prayers.  After all, the engineering itself was sound.  But with so little business backing to make the desire feasible, the expectation of high-volume sales made no sense.  It was mismatch of want & need to an extreme that would require a true miracle to succeed.  Risk was too great.  That risk was taken away.  It turned into a disaster.  What a mess.  Now the price of used Volts is dropping.  There was a Detroit article today pointing out how quickly value has been lost.  Depreciation at a rate much faster than both traditional vehicles and hybrids is not what you want when attempting to build a reputation for a new standard.


EV Estimate.  That value continues to climb as the temperature climbs.  It is now up to 13.3 miles.  That hasn't affected actual EV miles of travel though.  That seems to have leveled off at 14.6 miles for my morning commute.  As for the drive home, I have no idea.  The afternoon high finally feels like Summer now.  Temperatures in upper 80's to low 90's is becoming routine.  It's about time.  I've been looking forward to using the kayaks.  Anywho, that heat means using the A/C, which consumes electricity.  It's important to keep the battery-pack comfortable the same way you'd like to feel.  They are cooled by circulating cabin air through the case.  So, I use the A/C when cruising out on the open road.  It's remarkably efficient too.  Even when in HV mode, efficiency on the highway still averages about 55 MPG.  When using EV-BOOST mode at high-speeds, the MPG is well over 100.  That makes tracking the actual efficiency a challenge… not that detail matters.  The point of delivering a significant increase is clearly fulfilled.  Long story short, complaints from Winter have overwhelming been confirmed as unnecessary concern.  There really wasn't anything wrong.  That truly is what's expected to happen with each seasonal cycle.


Downtown Commute.  I work in St. Paul, the smaller of the Twin Cities.  I'm able to sneak in from the south, avoiding most of the metro area traffic.  That's really, really nice. I'd despise having to deal with the nightmare conditions countless thousands of others have to face routinely… which pales in comparison to other areas of the country.  I couldn't imagine long, frustrating drives like that.  Anywho, today my girlfriend had a concert performance clear on the other side.  That meant punching straight through the Minneapolis commute during the peak of rush-hour.  I decided to delay my departure a little.  Turns out, that was a wise move.  It took here and extra 30 minutes by leaving earlier.  Nonetheless, I had 2.5 miles of crawling through painfully slow, dense traffic.  It sure was nice doing that with only electricity.  Funny part was, the relief of having cleared the mess, I forgot to turn the engine back on (switch to HV mode).  That left me cruising along at 60 mph in smooooooth silence.  It sure was a happy ending to a nasty experience.  The craziness of the constantly changing speeds and all the people coming & going through lanes would be maddening on a regular basis.


Silent Schooling.  I got out of work early today and to take advantage by stopping to get a haircut.  The barbershop is located in a strip-mall, next to an off-campus classroom for local high school students.  When done getting my hair cut, the Prius was surrounded.  None of the kids were paying close attention though.  They simply stepped aside as they saw me approach.  I didn't say anything.  I just got in the Prius and silently backed away.  Suddenly, one of them looked up with a bewildered look on his face.  The lack of engine sound replaced by the pedestrian warning had him captivated to the degree that others stopped and looked too.  Since I had the window open, I smiled and yelled out: "Yes, it's electric!"  They replied back with smiles.  That was cool, an educational experience they hadn't anticipated… which was ironic, since the class taught there was driver's education.


Looking Back.  Put blatantly, Volt was a disaster.  Sure, it worked.  But sales fell far short of expectations.  Remember the assurances from GM that production capacity was able to deliver up to 120,000 per year.  That was assurance to keep people from worrying about fallout from supply not being able to keep up with demand.  Instead, quite the opposite happened.  Inventory piled up with any interest from mainstream consumers.  That hope of being a top-selling vehicle didn't materialize.  It was a bad situation that continued to get worse.  There was an intense desire to appeal to middle-market without any support to actually make it match priorities.  In other words, the expectation was change on a very unrealistic scale.  The idea of taking smaller steps, rather than just one large one, didn't have any backing.  After all, being able to flaunt awards is much more rewarding than seeing the parking lot at the grocery store filled with their vehicle... so common, it wouldn't stir any praise or even recognition.  They wanted the success of Prius but not the standpoint being ubiquitous carries.  That conflict of interest prevented progress.  There was no agreement upon goals.  It was a situation with no next step available.  Looking back, that's easy to see now... so much so, few will admit to ever having contributed to the problem.  It's difficult to acknowledge you were actually the barrier to success.  Of course, it's not like they weren't warned.  Those who don't understand history are doomed to repeat it.  You cannot overcome without addressing directly.  Think that will finally happen?


Few Sales.  The failure of Two-Mode to take the market by storm, despite years of hype, was something that Volt enthusiasts staunchly evaded.  That just plain did not want to acknowledge their favored efficiency technology could have the same outcome... even though it was clearly following the same path.  The similarities were blatant.  The biggest match was the complete disregard for cost.  Both systems were expensive, doomed to lose money on each sale until the next generation was rolled out.  That dependency on lower cost without unambiguous means of how that would be achieved was a dead giveaway the struggle to overcome such a shortcoming would bring intense pressure.  But rather than learn from the past, they chose to hope for the best instead.  That failed miserably.  How could the same approach result in a different outcome?  The belief was this market would immediately embrace plug-in vehicles, to the point where consumers wouldn't hesitate... even in the face of a high sticker price.  They were wrong, very wrong.  Not having a non-plug model of the vehicle made that bad situation worse.  Fighting against the idea of second offering with a smaller capacity battery-pack for rapid cost-reduction basically sealed its fate.  The lack of enthusiast endorsement for such a simple rescue effort was so ironic, I was beside myself.  They chose the high-risk course, rather than support automaker attempts to widen appeal.  They claimed they had no influence on GM decision-making, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  They demanded patience instead.  Don't react to the growing problems.  Stay true to the original concept, regardless of the benefit change could bring.  As a result, few sales have caused a wide-array of problems... without any suggestion of how to recover.


Stopped Production.  We all knew there were serious problems with Volt demand.  The large price reduction to deal with the massive build up of inventory overwhelmingly confirmed that.  Finding out that GM is no longer sharing production information takes us to an entirely new low.  It's amazing things could so bad.  But witnessing the denial of the situation certainly made it clear the issues were not being addressed.  It started 3 years ago with the design itself, when the direct-drive ability (HV mode) wasn't revealed until someone inside accidently mentioned it and there was an immediate refusal to clarify.  Then came that absurd publicity event, where a Volt was driven 1,776 miles over the 4th of July weekend.  GM absolutely refused to reveal what the MPG was.  That didn't make any sense.  Why in the world would they withhold information so vital to a high-efficiency vehicle?  We didn't find out the answer to that until just before rollout began.  The numbers showed a very heavy dependency on plugging in.  Without that electricity, Volt was just an ordinary car.  That's why the idea of a smaller battery-pack was so intensely fought against, despite the reality of cost being much too high for mainstream consumers.  Then came the plug-in Toyota Prius, the plug-in Ford C-Max, the Nissan Leaf, and Tesla Model-S.  Heck, maybe even the plug-in Honda Accord had an influence.  With the choices growing, each showing more market potential than Volt, the loss of interest became an inevitable reality.  It was only a matter of time before the supply issue could no longer be explained.  We were told every excuse imaginable.  The hype is gone though.  There's nothing left to promote it as "vastly superior".  The end has arrived.  This chapter is closed.  Will GM be able to rollout a new Volt in a few years that actually addresses middle-market need.  Who knows?  All we know now is that this was did not.


30 Months.  That duration marks judgment time for the success or failure of a rollout.  We watched the mighty Two-Mode evaporate at that point.  Every argument and support effort imaginable had been done to keep it relevant.  Nothing worked.  It was simply too expensive.  Cost was by far the biggest shortcoming.  Having inventory piled up was confirmation sales weren't able to meet expectations.  How can a product not making a profit and heavily dependent on tax-credits possibly become a regular offering?  Needless to say, it faded away to become just a page in history books.  Volt faced that very same trouble, and more.  Beside the problem of cost, it came up short on seating room and depleted efficiency.  With an inventory of over 9,000 unsold, we knew something rather drastic would have to happen.  It did too.  3 days ago, GM slashed prices of 2013 models by $4,000 and 2012 models by $5,000.  That was an undeniable sign the hope to reach the mainstream minimum of 5,000 per month isn't going to happen.  What was shocking was finding some 2012 models still available.  Clearly, there are a few dealers simply aren't interested.  Why bother?  Seriously.  Everyone is abandoning this generation of Volt.  Even the die-hard supporters have given up.  It certainly has been a shock to see those who had been fiercely disagreeing with defending just last week become silent.  GM produced a vehicle they wanted to sell, not what they needed to sell.  The evidence is overwhelming now.  Purchase priorities cannot be dismissed in favor of trophies.  Reality can be cruel, but it's not like warnings weren't abundantly provided.


250,000 Sales.  Just a few months ago, we were told the hope for a quarter-million sales of Prius in the United States for 2013 didn't look realistic.  Boy, have things changed.  Recent growing interest has put expectations back on track.  That is now looking to be quite doable.  There's a new advertisement campaign starting and the confusion caused by Volt is subsiding.  To think of how much of a mess GM made of things...  That situation is why Toyota held back.  It was frustrating.  But then again, the delay allowed time for the rewards of having real-world data readily available prior to nationwide rollout.  After all, that is exactly what the Volt enthusiasts insisted upon anyway.  They were quite adamant we wait a full year first.  For Prius PHV, the extra 9 months is a bit annoying... but benefits of not having got snarled in the GM mess should be obvious.  Marketing a hybrid as an EV was a big mistake.  Even some of the once hostile supporters now acknowledge the damage that choice caused.  Seeing the success Ford has been having recently is what made them come around.  Admitting Toyota had anything to do with the outcome simply isn't going to happen, ever.  Mention of "Prius" still upsets.  But with a family of them demonstrating growth and the ability to sustain sales, that makes sense.  That measure of success is what true change is all about.


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