Personal Log  #628

July 12, 2013  -  July 21, 2013

Last Updated: Weds. 8/28/2013

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Cost of Gas.  Here in Minnesota, we get are oil from Canada.  That makes the "paying terrorists" argument about oil dependency self-deprecating, immediately informing us the arguer likely didn't actually research the situation.  It's a handy credibility measure.  That's important, since here coal is quickly being replaced by natural gas and ethanol is produced locally.  We've been experimenting more with wind too.  It makes the state more accepting to change than others, which is clearly confirmed by the number of Prius on the roads.  Gotta like that.  Anywho, the Keystone XL pipeline controversy has recently revealed a new problem for us here to seriously consider.  The purpose of that pipeline is to provide a means for Canada to export their oil to other markets, like Europe and Latin America.  Doing that would open up demand, resulting in the discounting of supply close to the source (like here in Minnesota) to come to an end.  The price of gas would go up.  The prediction is somewhere between 20 to 40 cents per gallon.  Seeing that happen could easily result in even more of a boom in the effort to drill in North Dakota.  This certainly puts some perspective on the need for hybrids by the masses.  Our obsession with oil isn't a comforting thought.  We're still not taking the cost of gas seriously.


Customers.  There are only a handful of Volt defenders left now.  The others have shifted over to the how-can-we-change for-the-better side at this point.  To those who insist they know better, our posts are few and far between.  Today's was started with: "When a manufacturer launches a product, it is mandatory that the organization KNOWS and UNDERSTAND its' customers. GM is struggling with this all along."  I contributed: Prior to rollout, Toyota established direct relationships with those hoping to become owners.  They'd provide detail about how the system operated, intended goals, and targeted audience.  We'd become the well-educated contacts to assist with the rollout process.  It was a win-win situation.  We had the opportunity to ask both the lead executive and top engineer of the Prius project questions.  They worked surprisingly hard at being as forthcoming as possible.  Concepts very new to the industry, like in-motion startup of an engine using a motor-generator and emission-cleansing to achieve the SULEV rating, were carefully explained.  I was delighted by the level of information they were willing to share.  It was fantastic... and a very different approach from what GM chose to take.  The relationship held strong throughout sales of the Classic model.  When the Iconic model was introduced, we still had an open communication line to ask questions and get answers.  By then, Toyota's own internal education program tapped into that owner relationship to ensure everyone knows and understands.  That proved to be extremely effective too.  Who did GM include in the committee they just formed?  Will there be an opportunity for consumer input?  Or is this just another example of "only GM itself", leaving those who don't work for GM but have helpful insight without any way to provide input?  A post this week from a die-hard Volt owner who previously owned a Prius stated the situation this way: "We all know Volt's problem is price and profitability."  That type of candid feedback is long overdue, something Toyota went to great efforts to avoid and successfully did.  Cost was treated as a very high priority and continues to be.  The design was configured to be enhanced overtime, as pricing would allow, rather than necessitating a new generation.  Pointing out the risk taken and the lack of flexibility doesn't achieve anything anymore, nor does identifying the product-gap.  It always boils down to knowing and understanding customers.  Just look at how "want" and "need" are defined to see the lack of clarity still.  The struggle will continue until those mixed messages cease.


Tesla's Influence.  There's a new thread on the big Prius forum stirring the pot in a new way.  This was the post I especially liked: "That article brings up no surprises at all. GM is nervous with Tesla, plain and simple.  Yeah, one could call Tesla a disruptor, so be it.  Innovations like Tesla is good for business and consumers."  It made things clear the mixed messages of the past are even more of a problem now.  I chimed in with:  That lack of acknowledgement for the obvious is what has made Volt a topic which attracted so much attention.  Enthusiasts went to extremes to tell us Volt was not the same as the plug-in Prius, then contradicted that very claim with direct comparisons.  So, you'd ask who Volt was intended for.  They'd evade the question.  Eventually, when sales faltering could no longer be denied, focus on audience changed.  We were led to believe the purpose of this generation all along wasn't to reach the mainstream, it was to tap into a new "electrified" market.  That sounded reasonable... until Tesla's success became apparent.  WHO IS THE MARKET FOR VOLT?  That's the question Volt supporters have come to despise, since they truly don't know.  The fear is that GM is completely reconfiguring the next-generation, sacrificing certain design aspects enthusiasts praised for the sake of it being able to appeal to middle-market.  It's what should have happened originally.  They just didn't want to admit the disconnect in priorities, hoping circumstances were change in the meantime.  Seeing Nissan, Toyota, Ford, and Honda all taking the need for high-volume profitable sales seriously, while watching the success of Tesla, is far more of an influence than any of our preventative advice prior to rollout.  GM knows now.  The uncertainty of who is costing them quite a penalty.  Forming that committee to observe confirms the worry they should have had all along.  Better late than never?


Finally.  All the nonsense coming from Volt is over.  With inventory on dealer's lots still high, despite deep discounts and high tax-credits, there's nothing to spin anymore.  The blind hope that was impairing the market is gone.  Toyota intentionally steered clear of it.  Many misinterpreted that choice, which is why there was an endless stream of comparisons with GM rather than evaluating each automaker's own product-line.  Now, it is confirmed as having been a wise move.  I was truly amazed how misunderstood the market was.  So many enthusiasts didn't have a background in economics, all arguments ended up focusing solely on engineering… which ultimately meant having to wait.  The world today clearly reveals what GM wanted to sell is not what GM needed to sell.  Those same enthusiasts who were horribly smug have stepped down, admitting that the "vastly superior" approach didn't work.  They see the next-generation of Volt as being quite different.  We are finally transitioning to constructive, far from the hype of the past.


After All.  Hearing that GM has formed a committee to watch the competition is no surprise.  We already have confirmation that the huge price-slash on Volt resulted in a surge of sales, nothing to show sustainability was achieved.  Looking at the online inventory, the purchase-rate has slowed to a crawl.  GM clearly has reason to worry about high-efficiency sales.  On the traditional side, GM just announced the intent to significantly increase production & sales of their vehicles like Cruze & Sonic.  There was also official word that the next-generation of Cruze would be delayed by a year to capitalize on recent strong consumer demand for it.  In other words, that question of knowing your audience is coming back to haunt GM now.  They didn't understand who the consumers were and truly believed the "if you build it, they will buy it" approach would do the trick.  That obviously didn't work.  This market isn't what they had anticipated.  Turns out, some of the naysayers really were contributing good advice after all.


Battery Longevity.  It's nice being able to switch over to answering newbie & research questions.  Today's was about battery longevity:  The careful avoidance of both high & low for battery-level is a major contributor to longevity that other rechargeable devices just plain don't have.  Using the timer, to take advantage of cold-soaks, is another.  It could take several years before even a small drop is noticed.  I certainly haven't seen anything.  In fact, the consecutive EV miles from driving my morning commute with a cold engine seems to have increased a little.  I'd attribute that to break-in of the drive components.  The battery itself hasn't ever raised any concern.  Of course, I never immediately recharge and the interior of the car rarely ever gets super-heated from the sun.  The system is designed with long-term use in mind.  Only recharging to 85% rather than 100% is obvious confirmation of that.  The same goes with the low-end, always starting the engine at 23.5% to ensure deep discharging never takes place.  It's intended to deliver many, many years of service without much degradation.


Sick Week.  I came down with something nasty and have been stuck at home the past few days.  My driving is for nothing but food, mostly runs to keep dehydration from becoming a problem.  The convenience of not having to leave your car to get a tasty drink sure is nice, doing that using nothing but electricity is even better.  Anything I desire is easily within range of the battery-capacity.  I'll be sick for a least a few more days.  So, this week is going to be really odd for the statistics.  Getting out for some fresh air is a plus.  Not having to deal with the daily commute is too.  Missing out on Summer activities due to being sick sucks.  The weather has finally taken a turn for the better, perfect for getting out on the kayaks.  Yet another thing I can do with only electricity, though I'd gladly use some gas for the sake of recreation.  Taking advantage of when the outdoor conditions are beautiful and your health is good really will be important to me this year.  In the meantime, cough & sniffle.  Blah.


Unwatch.  They did every possible thing they could think of to prevent conclusions from being drawn.  It didn't work, since my purpose was to draw conclusions.  I wanted to know who the troublemakers were.  With the venue the big Prius forum, it was important to find out who would keep trying to raise doubt and would ask the same questions over and over again.  They clearly didn't want to be constructive.  They just wanted to level the playing field, to undermine success to allow time for mistakes to be corrected.  Well, too bad. I now know who those Volt antagonists are and have put them on ignore.  That's not something I like to do.  I want to have very good reason not to listen to what someone has to say.  But when there are so many others would genuinely want help and these particular individuals are just wasting your time, it's ok.  So, I did.  They I draw a conclusion they hadn't anticipated and could do nothing about.  I simply ended a post with "unwatch".  There's no way for them to respond to that.  They knew I had moved on. And since virtually everyone else had already, there was no audience left.  The thread came to a screeching halt.


Blended & Purity.  There are a handful of bitter & resentful Volt enthusiasts still.  Having lost the ultimate test of success, achieving mainstream sales, they seek out ways to vent their frustration.  You can tell their emotional distress runs deep too… which means reasoning won't work.  Logic is outright dismissed.  They just want someone else to suffer at this point.  Having been proven incorrect is an uncomfortable place to be.  But to attack others makes the situation unacceptable.  The way this has manifested itself is in the form of misleading.  Among Volt's strongest traits prior to the actual design having been revealed was the belief of purity.  The engine would only be used as an emergency backup and would never provide power directly to the wheels.  Well, that obviously fell apart.  It never had any substance to support it anyway, but hope is a mighty powerful influence.  Anywho, those few individuals still frustrated are lashing out at the plug-in Prius by attempting to create a misconception about blending.  Succeeding with that would make Volt still stand out.  They want you to believe blended operation causes an extreme MPG drop.  It doesn't.  But making people assume there's a huge penalty is there hope.  I simply responded with:  Think about what "blended" actually means.  It's just an indication of at least 1 injection of fuel was utilized.   That's all. So even if the engine shuts off just a few seconds later, the drive is no longer considered pure electric.  What about when the heater is needed?  In other words, the EPA estimates don't tell us the whole story.  Notice how there isn't a usable-capacity listed?


Absolutes.  You gotta like this: "If the car is not capable of electric only max power then there is NO all electric range.  The EPA, CARB, etc, should see it this way.  They should only provide blended MPG and gas only MPG numbers."  That effort to support purity is still going nowhere.  Being horribly vague, it won't.  But that's what those pushing generalizations do.  They want you to think in terms of absolutes.  The hybrid approach of taking advantage of whatever the situation presents messes up that effort.  Nonetheless, I had to respond with something:  Finally, something constructive to discuss.  Thank you!  With everyone else -1 voting to make comments disappear rather than actually address them, that is a welcome change.  Unfortunately, the term "max power" doesn't actually mean anything.  For that matter, there is no "max speed" either.  It's all quite vague and differs amongst audience.  No standard has ever emerged.  The measure of maximum doesn't reflect upon real-world results anyway.  As for your suggestion, the "blended" would need to be divided into 2 separate categories... before & after depletion.  The latter is what we currently have available from the EPA.  They don't provide anything direct with respect to MPG while plug-supplied electricity is being used.  That's because you wouldn't be taking into account all fuel consumption, only what the engine is doing... hence the MPGe value.  While blending with plug-supplied electricity, I see efficiency averaging well over 100 MPG.  What does that number tell the consumer wanting to know more about how the system works?


"too little, too late"  I couldn't let that particular summary slip by.  Those defending GM on the big Prius forum are basically just providing damage-control at this point; there's nothing to actually hope for anymore.  It's counter-productive not drawing conclusions at this point anyway.  But pride is a big barrier to overcome and anything we say to that effect ends up making us sound smug.  So, I tried to convey the situation with: "too little, too slowly" was the concern expressed by the auto-taskforce when the bankruptcy recovery was being planned and throughout the years that followed.  We were assured there was nothing to worry about.  Now all we get is a stream of excuses without any plan.  Neither Two-Mode nor BAS/eAssist were able to reach beyond initial rollout.  What makes this effort with Volt different?  We see small cars and diesel as the current push from GM. How does a hybrid offering fit into the mix now?  The clock is ticking.  When the $7,500 tax-credit expires, that difference must be made up for by GM... since even with it, the main complaint is price is still too high and no profit is being made.  Many people, especially some participating on this thread, forget that traditional vehicles are the true competition.  GM is competing with itself.


Excluding Business.  Sometimes it is rather pleasant to just deal with PHV outlashing.  The rhetoric with Volt is really getting old.  Some just plain don't care about the business aspect, so they exclude it entirely.  It boggles the mind that anyone could intentionally be so short-sighted.  But here it is: "We (not you) are talking about the technology and engineering here.  This is what has leapfrogged the competition."  It's that same definition of success they've evaded all along.  You ask for goals, they respond with praise for the design.  I've had it with this too.  So, I posted:  That trophy-mentality is what pushed Volt in the wrong direction, encouraging GM to deliver a car enthusiasts will praise.  The consequence is a vehicle not drawing interest from the mainstream, piling up as unsold inventory on dealer's lots.  Had that "we" embraced the idea of GM diversification by offering a second model of Volt, one much less expensive and configured to match purchase-priorities of the masses, the situation currently being faced wouldn't' be so dire.  Focus on technology and engineering only has consequences.  That blatant dismissal of business need is now proving to be a poor choice.  In the meantime, the competition is striving to deliver what GM did not.  The leapfrog opportunity was missed.  We could see GM join in with the next generation offering.  But there won't be a trophy for that.  They'll be a partner in the effort to phase out production of traditional vehicles.  To those who that upsets, just do a search of 2013 models still available for purchase.  The majority of consumers, middle-market, simply aren't interested.  Their needs & budget are quite different from the "we" here.  Those of us here referred to as "you" will continue to remind about the realities of a business needing profit and what happens when the tax-credits expire.  As for the frog, notice how hot the water is getting?


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