Personal Log  #632

August 8, 2013  -  August 14, 2013

Last Updated: Weds. 8/28/2013

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Starting Over.  The sense of change is becoming much easier to see now.  I was astonished to encounter this: "To those who bought early and now see lower prices: welcome to technology and quit whining."  It was from a Volt owner who wasn't pleased with the topic on that daily blog... which finally addressed recent sales and the price drop.  Seeing that it took so long for the topic to even come up for discussion, it wasn't much of a surprise.  It's yet another piece of evidence that things are different now.  Anywho, I couldn't resist.  It's been awhile since I posted there.  The daily battles are now just a faint memory.  The war has been won.  Some aren't pleased with the outcome... or my reminder:  The priorities originally set by GM were quite different from what ended up being delivered.  Ironically, those are what they are now striving for.  There's a penalty though for having diverted goals though.  But who would have thought it would come at the expense of owners turning on each other.  That's quite a statement to make!  There's much to do still.  Just because cost has come down does not mean the new price now reflects a profit is bow being made.  It simply means some progress has been achieved.  At some point, the tax-credit will expire too.  The ability to sell the technology is high-volume is quite a challenge.  Reality is, there will be changes.  Basically, it will be as if GM started over.  The fact there's some isolationism taking place will actually make that easier.  With all the other choices emerging in the market, its not like there was going to be a loud chorus from Volt owners anyway.  Just look at how much division we've seen over the idea of offering more than a single model.  Long story short, Volt didn't end up being the "game changer" enthusiasts had hoped for.  Sales have been a struggle, definitely not what had been expected.  Those interested in taking the next step will acknowledge production cost and accept what needs to be done to deliver a profitable vehicle.  For those still holding on to the "vastly superior" claim, take a look at automaker sales... not just plug-in vehicles... the entire market.


Colors.  Based on Toyota's history, we've seen color play a role in demand.  It makes you wonder what other vehicles have the same type of connection.  Think about the mid-cycle refresh.  Most of the time, the modifications are primarily cosmetic.  Blizzard Pearl, Sea Glass, Classic Silver, and Winter Gray are colors shared amongst the regular & plug-in models of Prius.  Clearwater Blue is the only unique to PHV.  For the regular, people also get the choice of Black, Barcelona Red, Nautical Blue... all of which are popular.  Yet, Toyota doesn't offer them with the plug.  Having such a current selection that lacks a standout option is a tactic we've seen in the past.  They colors are all on the soft side, nothing vibrant.    Think the 2014 will?  It makes sense that they'd save something for later.  After all, changing the technology itself sooner than each generation introduces all kinds of issues.  Holding back on colors initially is a safe bet.  Had you considered that as a sales influence?  Most people never think of it.


Conspiracy.  Even though just earlier this year, the CEO of GM stated the sale of each Volt is at a loss, we are now suppose to believe the entire $5,000 price cut is the result of the cost having dropped that much.  That seems highly unlikely.  Cost dropping is quite realistic.  That much in such a short amount of time is not though.  But most people only hear the first part.  They also like to say Volt is following the identical path Prius did over a decade ago, even though it did not experience such a large cost drop.  It's a good example of how spin comes about and how people disregard some facts... like the inventory piling up.  There are obviously some misconceptions about plug-in vehicles; however, profit is lost when targets are set and not met.  We're seeing that play out now.  Realignment of priorities is proving painful.  There's backlash too.  Seeing this published recently was a surprise: "Chevy is slashing Volt prices because it has been selling a ton of pickups and wants to keep doing so."  The enthusiasts certainly didn't see that coming... even though they were warned repeatedly.  When sales don't meet expectations, it leaves the vehicle vulnerable to things like conspiracy theory.  That sounds absurd until you look back at the Hummer comparisons to Prius.  It boggled the mind that we suppose to believe such nonsense.  Yet, they tried anyway.  Needless to say, there's a mess to deal with now.


Cold Climb.  It's difficult to know how to respond to such a comment: "I also have a hill just outside the driveway, but no other way, but uphill.  If engine is cold, fast climb can totally deplete the battery, as ICE refuses to help.  There are 2 solutions to the problem..."  When a new owner doesn't include speed, distance, or state-of-charge, giving advice isn't easy.  They often don't realize how wide the variety of driving circumstances had be.  And of course, the tendency is to forget about ever-changing factors, like temperature.    Misinterpretation of intent is very easy.  So, pointing out aspects of design can be very tricky.  I tried though:  There is no problem.  It's suppose to do that.  The system will intentionally protect the engine from strain. That's a fundamental part of the design.  It reduces emissions.  Living near the bottom of a valley and having owned each of the generations of Prius, I know the hill climb extremely well.  In the dead of winter (very cold here in Minnesota), the battery-assist is quite pronounced too. I start the Prius and begin the climb.  It has never been an issue.  Now, I have the plug-in model.  So, I'm even more familiar how the system automatically goes out of its way to limit RPM initially.  Just drive it.


Ignoring Cost.  There sure are a lot of online comparisons popping up now.  They all point out the discounts & incentives, all drawing the conclusion that Volt is a better buy than the plug-in Prius... all ignoring cost.  That's a recipe for trouble.  How many vehicles will an automaker produce & sell at a loss?  With a niche, that's an acceptable practice.  The vehicle serves as a "halo" to draw in sales of their other choices.  It's basically spending advertisement money on brand rather than sales of that particular vehicle.  So, it is effective.  But if the point is to sell lots of that actual vehicle, for it to be a source of business-sustaining profit, that doesn't work with regard to the comparisons.  Purchase decisions made now are based entirely on the vehicle actually being available for immediate purchase.  With a loss-leader like that, only a limited amount are available... falling well under the mainstream minimum of 60,000 per year.  In other words, Volt is have that identity crisis we warned about.  We still don't know who the heck it is intended for.  For that matter, we really don't know the purpose anymore either.  Pretty much everything except the desired price is very much a mystery for the second generation.  Goals are non-existent.  That's quite a bit worse than the vague we had in the past.  What is its purpose?  Those currently ignoring cost certainly don't care.  They just want to enjoy the brief moment of victory caused by the price drop.  It's more of that blind-hope playing out again.


Asked Questions.  There's a charging-station by a nice lake and a walk across the park to the zoo.  It was an excellent location to spend a Sunday with the family.  The weather was great too, perfect for powering the solar-cells attached to the charging-station... making it especially rewarding to plug in there.  Anywho, as I was unplugging, a small group of people stopped to watch.  One asked the question: "How do you like it?"  My answer was: "My average so far this month is 147 MPG."  Needless to say, they all took a step closer.  Their interest was peaked.  I had a captive audience.  So, I kept responding their variety of inquiries.  My ultimate goal is to sneak in the information about recharging not requiring anything beyond an ordinary household outlet.  Most people are taken aback when discovering all that's needed is a regular 110-volt connection.  They just assume some type of special installation is necessary.  I've noticed that pattern.  It's an incorrect assumption impeding the acceptance of plugging in at home.  People simply don't realize how easy it actually is to own a plug-in hybrid.  Thankfully, overcoming that particular barrier misconception isn't that big of a deal.  We'll be able to tackle it fairly well... once national availability begins in a few months.


Disassociation.  It doesn't take much to see what's happening.  We've seen the same thing in the past.  When a goal isn't fulfilled, those who supported it conveniently forget.  Then when someone like me brings it up, they're extremely quick to dismiss or belittle anyone who would have believed such a promise.  That looking backward after-the-fact makes such attitude common.  Not being observant while decisions are being made is how people can be easily be misled.  Delivery claims aren't seriously considered; they're just accepted as if the outcome is already a given.  Oddly, that's actually advantageous at this stage with Volt.  Knowing the first generation came up far short of expectations, they simply move on to the second.  That growing disassociation is exactly what's needed for fundamental changes to be made.  Those must-have traits of the past no longer apply.  New goals are created & accepted instead. It's as if none of the original nonsense ever happened.  Remember the "vaporware" criteria?  They don't.  Ironically, some of those same goals will be revisited.  But this time, it will be with a realistic understanding of what can actually be achieved.  In the past, hope outweighed logic.  Now, there will be recognition of some of the challenges the Prius owners stated from the very beginning.  They assumed we were simply defending Toyota.  The thought of us actually trying to help seemed an impossibility… but not anymore.


Diesel.  This comment was quite to the point: "Wow, the hate is strong in this thread."  It was a worthwhile thing to say.  After all, no one really knows what "hate" actually means anymore, especially with so many polarizing topics lately.  My comment back was:  The hate we see has some merit.  That for misleading marketing is a good example.  We've seen focus solely on highway MPG often, which is clearly misrepresentative of what someone with a mix of driving will experience.  Ignoring emissions was be a big problem in the past.  Now, we've switched to the "clean" marketing.  It gives the impression of being greener than it actually is.  You want to be honest about emissions, state the official rating.  Using a vague adjective instead allows for incorrect assumptions.  There's also a history of reviews & comparisons with intentional bias, where they attempt to make it look fair, but we see how the data presented doesn't actually tell the whole story.  In other words, the benefit of doubt is no longer available.  People have been fooled far too many times to allow claims to be accepted as-is.  Without the step back to look at all that was claimed, we enable the efforts to undermine to flourish.  Sadly though, that fact-checking ends up getting the "hate" label.  But what else can be done?


FUEL-CUT while in EV-BOOST.  Since introduction of the plug-in model Prius, those wanting to undermine its acceptance have been exploiting the misconception related to the 100 km/h (62 mph) threshold.  Unfortunately, we haven't had a good way to prove the system doesn't actually work as they implied.  When traveling at speeds faster than the threshold, the engine RPM isn't 0.  That gives the impression the engine is running.  We can point out how little horsepower is required to maintain travel at higher speeds, but that message is difficult to convey when there isn't anything observable to support the claim.  Fortunately, I made an unexpected observation.  My morning commute started with an errand that needed to be run, rather than just jumping on the highway like I'd usually do.  That meant approaching from a different direction at a slower speed.  Further altering the routine, I got stuck behind a string of traffic slowed by a big truck.  The end result was cruising along with an engine not fully warmed up yet.  Since my speed was 65 mph, I was in EV-BOOST mode instead of EV.  That means the engine was spinning, but not necessarily consuming any fuel... the aspect of operation we've never really had a good method of proving.  Even though the RPM readout was 992, the temperature of the coolant wasn't rising.  In fact, it was dropping!  That's basically impossible for a combustion engine... since they are so terribly inefficient, losing most of their energy from fuel as heat through the exhaust & cooling system.  But there I was, watching the coolant temperature drop.  It was a new bit of evidence confirming the engine was in FUEL-CUT mode... only spinning, without use of fuel.  It takes very little energy for the engine to spin without any compression.  There's just unimpeded air passing through.  The power from the electric-motor and battery-pack were more than enough sustain travel.  Seeing the value go lower was great. I had enough electricity available to make the observation twice too, once when the temperature started at 175°F and the other 181°F.  Both times I watched 7°F disappear one degree at a time before intentionally speeding up to watch it switch from dropping to rising.  It was pretty exciting to stumble across new data like that.


Change.  Addressing this should be very interesting: "The GM haters need to get over the fact that the Volt is not a complete flop, and that it is a more compelling car to the public than the Prius plug in."  My response was:  They did get over it.  That's old news.  Comments have since changed to it needing to be affordable.  Back when Volt was rolled out, the cost for the battery was between $800 and $1,000 per kWh, not including controllers or liquid cooling.  That puts the price of 16 kWh of capacity at a very minimum of $12,000.  Cost has since come down by then.  How much?  That's a big unknown.  Half would be remarkable.  Volt is a hybrid with clutches.  Adding the battery-pack makes it a costly product.  3 years isn't much time for a significant reduction.  But consider that actually happening.  The plug-in Prius only uses 4.4 kWh and doesn't use liquid cooling.  Cost of lithium batteries dropping will benefit it too... making it compelling by becoming affordable, the very thing people have been asking for.  Mainstream consumers are looking for a plug-in option that doesn't require paying a large premium.  That's why GM set their "nicely under $30,000" target.  That's why Toyota set their $3,000 to $5,000 package-option target.  What part of that doesn't make sense from what we are seeing now?


Settling Down.  The usual undermining techniques aren't even working.  Attempts, like diverting focus, are failing to hold the discussions attention as they did in the past.  Antagonists can no longer prevent conclusions from being made.  There's simple too much evidence available now.  That's good news.  Being able to have a somewhat constructive few posts is quite an improvement from just a week ago.  It will be interesting to see how things proceed.  Here's the direction the discussion went this evening:  Supplier information has been provided over time for us to consider.  And yes, there is indeed a benefit from volume.  However, we've seen there can be a penalty if you want the increase right away.  The extra work is usually welcomed, but overtime pay comes with it.  There are sometimes limited supplies of raw material too, requiring a premium if you want more quickly.  Long story short, the underlying effort to downplay is going well.  Some contribute unknowingly.  Others do it quite intentionally.  It even comes from the automaker itself.  Notice the doubt being raised?  Meanwhile, the clock is still ticking.  We know progress is being made when goals are clearly being set & achieved.  For Toyota, it is clear.  We know they are pushing for higher engine efficiency and lower plug-in cost.  Both criteria are based upon the models currently available and the method being taken to deliver that has been spelled out.  For GM, all we've been told is a general order to reduce cost from $7,500 to $10,000 without any idea how that will be accomplished.  In other words, how is what's happening now different from the past?  Seriously.  There's a lot more in common with the blind hope of the past than anyone cares to admit.  There isn't any accountability either.  If very little is accomplished, oh well.  We have emissions & dependency issues to deal with still.  What about those?  How long should we wait, for what, and for who?


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