Personal Log  #641

October 7, 2013  -  October 13, 2013

Last Updated: Mon. 10/14/2013

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What Else?  That question wasn't answered.  Instead, there were off-topic comments and this: "GM has put much more effort into customer satisfaction for the Volt and Spark than Toyota has for the PIP."  That seemed worthy of a response.  Maybe I could actually get something constructive from it.  So, I tried:  That's an interesting comment.  What specifically does it refer to?  As a computer programmer for over 20 years, I know extremely well how less can actually mean more.  Not having user-calls to respond to can be an indication that they are pleased with what you delivered.  You don't want the system to stand out.  You want it to become ubiquitous, so common people just use it without any thought.  We all know that situation extremely well from experience with the regular Prius.  It is mature product, a system with all the kinks worked out already.  The majority of owners are rarely ever heard from.  They simply drive their Prius with content.  They are satisfied.  Consider it a job well done when it is used without complaint.  That's how success is defined.  Again, what else is there?


What Advice?  When a former plug-in Prius owner who changed over to a Volt says this, you have to ask for more information:  "That is advice that Toyota should heed as well."  With the high trade-in value for Prius PHV and the bargain clearance prices of Volt, his switch was understandable.  Though, I would like to hear about the that same decision 2 years from now as the next generation models are rolled out.  Everyone's situation is different anyway, and my gripe is about the business not owners.  What an automaker will produce  is quite different from individual purchase decisions in the here & now.  Someone had pointed out what GM could do to help Volt along.  That quote was his response.  So, I asked for clarification:  What isn't Toyota already doing that they should?  They've diversified the hybrid system in a variety of ways.  Prius itself is available in 3 different styles/sizes. HSD is available with different engines & motors as well as AWD and RWD.  There's also the plug-in option, which does an excellent job of presenting the next step without requiring customers change much.  Toyota also kept cost-containment as a major priority... advice GM gave itself, then disregarded and is now struggling to deal with.  Remember all those years hearing about the importance of $30,000 as a purchase price to achieve mainstream volume?  That is now MSRP for the base Prius PHV and reasonable with respect to cost & profit.  What else is there at this time and in this market?


Tarnished Reputation.  That was the title of an article describing GM's current situation, following their announcement of Cadillac ELR being rolled out with a price of $75,995.  With a such an expensive offering and the recent trouble with lack of demand for Volt, you have to wonder what in the world GM is thinking.  How could an automaker repeatedly make so many mistakes?  It's like they aren't even trying to target middle-market.  Where do they believe business-sustaining profit comes from?  The writer of the article also pointed out how press releases have been mentioning Volt less and less as the government sells back the GM stock it had purchased as part of the bankruptcy recovery.  The money lost makes it officially a bailout (roughly $10 Billion), something supporters quickly want to distance themselves from.  GM itself has clearly moved on too.  There's an obvious re-emphasis on Pickups and SUVs.  In other words, the draw to high-profit vehicles is becoming a problem again.  To make matters worse, there's a stigma emerging in regard to Volt as a reminder of the difficult years.  A return to trucks dominating the mindset of buyer's pride in American values is the theme we're seeing now.  What is there to be said at this point?  Hype resulted in disappoint.  Demand didn't emerge.  Supply didn't match the purchase priorities of mainstream consumers... which is what we all saw prior to rollout.  Yet, hope persisted... even though there wasn't a next step available.  The design didn't offer flexibility.  What the heck does that mean for next year?  2014 promises an array of high-efficiency choices from other automakers.  Will GM even compete in that market?  What about our dependency on oil and climate change?


eAssist Dropped.  Rather than attempting to push this second-generation of BAS any further, Malibu will no longer offer it.  With a hybrid system offering so little, it never made much sense anyway.  Dropping it is a good move, but that puts even more pressure on Volt... the only choice available that isn't traditional.  There aren't any other high-efficiency options in GM's product-line.  That's a lot of pressure in an increasingly competitive market.  GM's on-going decision to focus heavily on a plug-in vehicle and disregard the "50 MPG" goal so many other automakers have is bizarre.  Diversity is a fundamental of good business.  Intentionally choosing not to compete in the highest volume category is reason for concern.  How exactly will profit be made?  Do they really think nothing more than a traditional vehicle with start-stop could continue to draw large sales many years from now?  What will people who want high-efficiency but not a plug purchase?  Watching Ford, Hyundai, and Honda all push their midsize sedans hybrids hard enough to attempt to dethrone Toyota is great.  Fusion, Sonata, Accord, and Camry could all emerge as winners.  Gas will continue to get more expensive.  Climate change will become even more of a concern.  Our trouble with oil-dependency won't go away.  It's clear we need to change.  Does this latest move by GM represent unspoken acknowledgement of that? 


EV Technique.  Some of the new owner questions make you wonder.  They have bits & pieces of correct information mixed with assumptions combined with confusing descriptions of their observations.  It takes awhile to figure out what they are attempting to convey.   Sometimes, you just have to interject another perspective to verify everyone is talking about the same thing... because sometimes, they aren't.  It's surprisingly easy to get mixed up at times.  Online posting has limitations.  My contribution to one such thread went this way:  It isn't.  It doesn't.  It won't.  Forget what the impression you got and look at it this way: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE HV/EV BUTTON.  The other day, I had lots of running around to do and only a single charge to work with. 71 miles was the total distance.  I kept pushing that button.  Whenever I was approaching a stop and upon acceleration afterward.  With the slowing in EV, it would regenerate more electricity since the engine would shut off sooner.  With the speeding up in HV, the surplus energy from the energy would generate electricity since the system is designed to run the engine at optimum power.  The end result was 20 miles of EV display on the drive-ratio screen.  That's well beyond the battery's capacity.  The charge-level never exceeded the long-life threshold of 85% though.  Using up EV when you can allows space for extra electricity later. It's a win-win situation.  In other words, this is the plug-in version of hypermiling.  You are taking advantage of a feature built into the design of the system to achieve higher efficiency.


Smog Shutdown.  Imagine airports & highways being shutdown for an entire week due to smog.  That's what actually happened in Beijing recnetly.  The Chinese government was desperate to reduce the air pollution.  Our smog problems here are minor compared to that.  But we still have breathing warnings from time to time, days were the youngest & oldest are urged to stay indoors and avoid strenuous activities.  Fooling ourselves into thinking alternative fuels are the solution puts us on a similar path.  Plug-In vehicles using electricity from dirty coal plants doesn't help.  Sticking with traditional vehicles using compressed natural-gas isn't enough either.  We need engines delivering PZEV emission-ratings and electricity from cleaner sources.  Smog is a very real problem.  The growing population and increasing traffic congestion is making a bad situation even more difficult to deal.  What they buy now will remain on roads for many, many years to come.  That replacement delay will make the pollution problem even worse.  This is why delivering solutions for the masses in the near future is so important.  The vehicles must be practical & affordable.  How much longer must we wait?  How much tolerance do you think those inconvenienced by this recent shutdown will have?  After awhile, there will be some type of ugly backlash.  Cleaner is needed soon, very soon.


Big News.  Checking inventory listed online, we could see Toyota only had a little over 1-month supply of Prius PHV left.  That's far fewer 2013 models to deal with than the 6-month supply GM had with Volt.  So, there wasn't much concern.  For me, not a single one of them was within 500 miles of where I live (Minnesota).  There were still all concentrated in select areas of the country.  Rollout nationwide was indeed delayed until the 2014 model.  We saw that coming.  It made good business sense.  What also made sense was not announcing the price-drops we had been hoping for until now.  Let the dust settle.  After the other automakers respond to market pressure, then join in taking reaction to their choice into consideration.  What possible benefit would there be from rushing?  Anywho, that magic target of "nicely under $30,000" has been overwhelmingly confirmed as a sensible price.  We always saw the goal of offering the plug-in as a package option to be realistic with the right price.  And that's exactly what Toyota announced today.  The base model will have an MSRP of $29,990 without the loss of any features.  In fact, there's even a new feature added... heated seats for the cloth fabric.  That's no longer limited to just the synthetic leather on the advanced model.  So, even without the $2,500 tax-credit, the plug-in is more appealing.  Hooray!  National rollout should go well.  Having this lower price and a decent amount of real-world data available online now will really help.  The advanced model saw a drop too, its new MRSP is $34,905.  I'm excited about how things are shaping up.


Deterioration.  Pretty much every owner goes through the "it's different now" phase.  That's what happens as awareness heightens.  With the regular Prius, the reaction typically comes from seasonal changes.  With the plug-in model, it's less predicable.  The difference is unique for each owner.  They usually notice EV estimates slowly dropping.  That because the default value is just a generic factory setting, typically a bit on the high side.  It settles as real-world driving data is collected.  And since each driver is different, there's no predictable outcome.  It varies quite a bit from owner to owner.  Needless to say, the drop is usually interpreted as deterioration of the battery-pack.  In reality, the estimate value has no reflection on actual EV distance.  But they sometimes panic anyway.  Here was my contribution to the latest discussion thread started by a newbie on that very topic:  29,800 miles over the past 1.5 years is where my observations come from.  No deterioration.  Actual range has remained the same, taking into account seasonal variances of course.  Estimate is all over the place.  Fortunately, I have finally noticed a pattern.  After a vacation, where I went several days milking a single charge with 100's of miles of HV driving.  When you come back home and return to routine charging, the estimate goes up.  Last trip, the estimate climbed to 13.9 miles.  That was the highest I had ever seen it.  The trip last week pushed it up to a new high this morning... 14.1 miles.  That estimate is just that, a guess based on recent data.  It doesn't affect actual range at all.  This morning's commute was 16.7 miles, taking the fast route on the 70 mph highway.  The result was the same as it always had been for these temperatures, right around 200 MPG.  In this case, it was 196 MPG.


Journalist Integrity.  The host of the daily blog for Volt certainly set the enthusiasts their straight today.  He's a journalist, paid to provide quality content for discussion.  He has repeatedly pointed out how the topics would cover a wide range of industry happenings related to plug-in vehicles, that the subject matter was no longer devoted to Volt alone.  In other words, there is no daily blog for Volt anymore.  Seeing the topics first being posted on the parent website was the clue.  They are now getting reposts on what had once been a fanboy hangout.  It has become a child website for sharing the same content with a different audience.  They don't like that.  But the host didn't like their attitude more.  So, it was time to make it clear that things have changed.  I'm relieved.  The nonsense was getting tiring.  Downvoting facts was a clear indication they weren't taking the topics seriously.


Very, Very Quiet.  Normally, the time following sales announcements is filled with spin.  That rhetoric to defend the struggle was awful.  Last year, I remember it dragging a little into the third week.  It later tapered back to two weeks.  Then finally one by early this Summer.  Every excuse in the book had been exhausted.  There was literally nothing else left to say.  That was the end.  Price slashing resulted.  With a massive pile up of inventory, we all new Volt was in trouble.  After all, Leaf was actually selling a little better.  That didn't make any sense for those who pledged their undying support for a "range anxiety" solution.  The plug-in Prius continued to defy logic too.  Still only available in 15 states, it was maintaining a modest sales rate... actually in excess of Volt if you extrapolated quantity for all 50 states.  Needless to say, as the 2014 models have approached, the defense dwindled.  This time, it only lasted two days.  I was shocked.  Now a week later, nothing.  There hasn't been a peep from either the enthusiasts or the antagonists.  It's very, very quiet.  Volt has vanished from online discussions.  Remember how Two-Mode faded away?


Timer Misconception.  Oh!  This hit me as a total surprise.  I had no idea an owner could interpret the charging options this way.  Rather than seeing the START and the FINISH times as 2 separate options, the belief was they were tied to each other.  Having to use them together never occurred to me.  But looking back at the way VCR timers were programmed, that perspective makes sense.  You tell it how long to run.  With a plug-in hybrid, not wanting "full" seems a bit odd.  Why stop short?  Why would you want less capacity?  You certainly don't ever see that with other rechargeable devices, like phones & tablets.  My guess is the FINISH confuses some.  They likely don't recognize the convenience having that choice offers; they don't realize it's optional.  Rather than having to calculate in your head how much time it will take to recharge, especially if the capacity isn't depleted entirely in the first place, you simply tell it went you'd like the recharge to be complete.  Requiring both seems a bit odd for the well information.  But for the newbie, it is a reasonable assumption.  They jump to the wrong conclusion and sadly it sometimes takes years to discover they were incorrect.  Imagine how inconvenient that would be.  Instead of just pushing the button once as you leave the vehicle, they go through a series of pushes each time.  Eek!  What a waste.  I sure hope this misconception doesn't take hold.


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