Personal Log  #643

October 20, 2013  -  October 26, 2013

Last Updated: Tues. 12/17/2013

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Good Combo.  He summed up the situation this way: "Prius + Pure EV.  Good Combo."  A friend of mine recently made that very same comment; however, this was from someone quite different.  Early this year, he had engaged in several intense battles with me.  He was a stanch Volt supported... heavily focused on engineering alone.  He felt the combination of engine, motor, and battery GM offered struck a good balance.  Cost wasn't a consideration.  The business aspect was something quite unfamiliar to him.  It was mostly a matter of principle, an ideal.  Since then, reality has changed his view on priorities.  The importance of other things, like sales growth & profit, are sinking in.  This comment yesterday helped to confirm that: "I think when my lease runs out on my Volt I will switch to a pure EV: either a Spark EV or a Tesla.  So I think a good combo is a Prius for long trips and a Pure EV for around town."  He, like many, assumed my endorsement for Prius was nothing but brand loyalty.  He couldn't see past that old school mindset.  He couldn't believe anyone interested in vehicle electrification could fight against any plug-in vehicle offering a pure EV experience.  He didn't see the sacrifice GM made to deliver a plug-in with an engine.  Now, he does.  Now, he understands the consequences of business decisions based on want rather than need.  It's very fulfilling for me to witness such an attitude change.  Too bad the struggle to get there was so intense.


Dealer Inventory.  Looking at new plug-in inventory for 2012 vehicles, we just plain don't why some are still available.  The numbers are so few, it gives the impression some dealers simply held on to their older ones as showroom & demo models.  That makes sense.  Why have to discount another when the existing serve the same purpose just fine?  Inventory of 2013 plug-in vehicles tells a different story though.  Specifically highlighting the end of the Volt verse Prius PHV clash, we see 1,885 Volt and 1,219 Prius PHV available.  Volt can be purchased nationwide.  Prius PHV continues to be limited to those initial 15 rollout states.  Of course, that does give the overall impression of a somewhat level sales status.  Both seem reasonable... until you look at 2014 inventory.  For Volt, it's 1,753 available.  For Prius PHV, it's 0.  Zero tells us an interesting story.  Toyota has been holding out, an intentional delay to clear out existing vehicles sitting on lots first.  Why push out new ones?  That doesn't appear to have been a wise choice for GM.  Even supporters haven't been able to spin that to a positive.  Waiting to rollout 2014 to the whole nation all within the same relative time-span is sensible.  After all, dealers have a partnership with the automaker.  Getting stuck with old inventory isn't helpful in any respect.  More than ever, I'm quite curious what next year will bring.  2013 certainly shock beliefs to the core.  Approaches have changed as a result.  What will that end up doing for sales?


October Guesses.  Reality has sunk in.  The third year of sales is coming to a close for Volt.  That puts those who insisted on making comparisons to the early rollout of Prius in a difficult position.  They now know that history didn't match.  Hope has been replaced with dismay.  Even the belief that price was high to help recover development expenses has fizzled.  They honestly don't understand what some of us had been saying for awhile.  Here's an example: "I guess I still don't understand the whole Volt loss debacle either.  They just dropped the MSRP by $5k stating that was attainable due to cost reductions in batteries etc.  So was their news release a blatant lie?  If they're losing money, and they don't really care how much they sell, why decrease the price at all?"  When that price drop took place, we pointed out how there was no evidence supporting any claim of recent major advances for lithium battery production.  We also recited the words of GM's CEO stating just months earlier that each Volt sale was losing money.  Yet, they believed cost had been dramatically reduced anyway.  For those of us who have taken accounting classes, we knew it was the rate of cost-reduction that had justified the lower price.  In other words, if it could continue at that rate, the new price would become profitable within a reasonable timeframe.  There was nothing in any statement saying that had happened already.  Enthusiasts simply wanted it so bad already, they convinced themselves that's what they actually heard.  So now, with overwhelming evidence that sales continue to just drag along at a level well below expectations, their guesses for October reflect a sense of disillusionment.  Consequences of their intense focus on engineering and blatant disregard for business are revealing themselves.  Too bad some still don't understand why.  Perhaps the guesses being made now by peers will help them see the reasons.


500 RPM.  It hadn't hit me until today.  When I take the back way home from work, the climb out of the river valley is longer and steeper.  Just before reaching the top, the initial EV-BOOST runs out.  That's when you get a very generous amount of electricity provided to allow engine warm-up to be a more gentle process.  RPM is held below 1500.  That reduces strain, both for longevity and to help keep emissions lower.  Just before that boost ends, the RPM will gradually creep up.  With at aftermarket gauge, you can see it in the 1700's.  Shortly before reaching 1800, the RPM abruptly speeds up past 2300.  Especially due to that climb, you'd expect more than just a minor audio cue.  After all, traditional vehicle shifting is quite a normal event to feel.  But with Prius PHV, there's nothing in that respect.  In fact, that 500 RPM jump is something I've never really even acknowledge from the perspective of feeling anything.  I've been so focused on the quantity itself and when that happens, it hadn't occurred to me that the lack of sensation is a benefit of the design.  Things like that going unnoticed is what really endorses the design.  You wouldn't want a shift in operation to be noticeable.  After all, lack of behavior responses like that are what people purchase luxury vehicles for.  They attribute system aspects like that as a mark of quality.  The smooooooothness of having a planetary "transmission" rather than something with actual gears really makes a difference.


Wild Claims.  There's always reason to be suspicious when a first-time poster comes on the forum making wild claims.  We've seen it so many times now, we are always on guard.  This time, it came with a story of health issues and death.  That was a new spin.  The other part was quite familiar... a claim about advertised miles.  We've seen that in countless different ways.  Each has the same thing in common though... no detail.  That new member will say something to anger people, then vanish.  I was especially amused with his closing comment: "I am currently planning to get rid of the Prius and buy a 4x4."  That simply didn't make any sense coming from a supposed plug-in owner.  Needless to say, the following day brought lots of posts... none from the person who had started it though.  It had already become apparent the purpose of that thread was just an attack on the forum.  Having such a harsh attitude, then showing no activity whatsoever afterward indicates something is very wrong.  The facts themselves didn't add up either.  I was the first to respond when that thread was first posted.  Immediately noticing the behavior, I pressed for detail right away:  This is the text on the TOYOTA.COM website about the PHV model: "EV Mode is great for those shorter trips.  Prius Plug-in has an EPA estimated driving range of 11 miles in EV Mode, and you'll be able to cover them quickly since it's capable of traveling up to 62 mph on electric power alone."  The purpose of Prius PHV is to deliver a significant MPG improvement.  That benefit is delivered even when the engine runs and the electricity being used isn't counted as EV miles.  What were your MPG expectations and what did you actually get?


Failure Confirmation.  When goals are forgotten and definitions are changed, you have your confirmation.  Being well past the time-period when success should have been achieved, the best response to that is simply ignoring it.  So, that's what I did today.  The claim was made that he had stated a goal of "with at least 30 EPA miles all-electric range" since the very beginning, way back in 2007.  I know that was just plain not true.  His was one of those who pushed the "40-mile" mindset aggressively for Volt.  I remember that well.  Whenever he mentioned it, I rebutted by asking what happens in Winter.  That frustrated him every time, often resulting in a hostile response... until he finally figured out that heating consumes far more electricity than he ever imagined.  His belief was that real-world EV range didn't vary.  Factors like speed & accessories weren't considered.  His goal changed from all-condition results to EPA estimate and from 40 miles to 30... with the hope no one would notice.  I certainly did and take that as a big confirmation of failure.  The enthusiasts hate labels like that.  But seeing a dramatic drop in price 2.5 years after rollout with heavy dependency on tax-credits and lagging sales still, what else can be said?  It's time for that "Plan B" to be used.  I always stated it should have been a second model.  They fought me to the bitter end, embracing the one-size-fits-all approach instead.  Now what?  Watching other automakers introduce their plug-in choices means there are even more challenges to face.  That opportunity to lead the way has passed.  Mission not accomplished.


Oil Change Follow-Up.  5 months later, I took the Prius in again for an oil change.  With the free changes used up, I would normally do it myself.  But there was fallout from that incident back in May... when the gasket was pinched and all the oil leaked out onto my garage floor.  The mechanic responsible did a great job of personally cleaning up that, but the mess ended up being bigger than I had originally thought.  It wasn't limited to the garage.  Oil had dripped down and got soaked up by the blotter on the plastic door under the pan of the Prius itself.  That caused the door to sag, exposing a breath-hole to catch spray, which contributed to even more sagging.  That reduced ground-clearance and would clearly become an issue traveling through deep snow later.  Needless to say, there was an obvious problem the dealership had directly caused.  To my pleasure, they replaced the entire plastic section without question or charge.  That was a nice follow-up to a situation which could of had a very different outcome.  I sure hope no one else ever has to deal with the same thing.  But at least they'll know there are some service departments willing to acknowledge mistakes and do what they can to rectify them.


New Tires.  The expectation of the factory tires lasting 35,000 mile is quite realistic.  Sadly though, seasonal demands here in Minnesota sometimes force you to get new ones sooner.  Sales promotions make timing even more of a challenge.  As I type this, my Prius is at the dealer getting its routine 30,000-mile service.  There's a sale: "buy 3 tires, get the 4th for $1".  That's a difficult opportunity to let slip by... especially knowing the forecast for this week is evening temperatures below freezing... which means any precipitation will be in the form of snow.  We basically skip Fall some years, going from Summer to Winter abruptly.  That actually makes the choice of tire replacement easy though.  When you see a chance, take it.  So, I decided to go with Michelin Energy Saver A/S tires.  They're popular choice among Prius owners.  Others must like them too, since they are often back-ordered.  Online reviews provide a mix of impressions.  I'm not sure what to make of that.  But then again, much depends upon personal driving habits & conditions.  I run tire-pressure close to the maximum too.  So, there will be lots of subjective observations over the next few months from me.  Finding those tires in stock and on sale while at the dealer anyway is a nice happenstance.  My interest in them is based on being LRR (Lower Rolling Resistance) for better efficiency and the good experience I had with that brand in the past on my Iconic Prius.  We'll see.


Heater & Snow.  It has begun.  Temperatures have been 30's in the evening and will be dropping to the 20's starting tonight.  We got what counts as the first snow today.  It was the round pellet type.  That's not rain, so it's official.  MPG has already dropped too.  So, I'll obviously be blocking the grille soon.  Winter brings interesting change... especially when you drive a plug-in model.  Efficiency is outstanding, but you have to aware of coolant temperature to make the most of it.  When the coolant is toasty warm, you can be generous with the heater and not have any concerns about the engine starting.  Driving EV doesn't work as well when the coolant is still icy cold.  For short trips, the heated-seats do a great job of keeping you comfortable.  You have to either run the blower on LO or crack two windows to circulate outside air to prevent fogging of the glass inside.  That works great for short trips, a dramatic improvement over the regular Prius.  But for longer distances through the suburbs, it's best just to fire up the engine.  Grille-Blocking helps reduce warm-up time and extends engine-off duration.  So, that's not too bad.  Toyota has does an excellent job of optimizing heat utilization over the years; however, electrical resistance due to the cold reduces capacity of the battery-pack.  It a reality plug-in owners know all too well.  That makes you look forward to Spring coming again.  In the meantime, here comes the snowy season.


Introduction Sales.  That topic is what the media is focusing on now.  I see this as a sign that Volt's fade away has left the reporting industry without an poster-child, so they are finding themselves having to be more creative about article subject matter.  It isn't just the writing about GM's latest fumble.  That's progress!  On a new discussion thread about introduction sales, I posted:  Comparing hybrid sales back then to plug-in sales now is not constructive.  When I took delivery of my Prius in September 2000, virtually no one understood what a hybrid even was.  Online discussions up to that point were with those actively seeking out that education and struggling to get enough correct information.  The misconceptions were abundant.  There was a major effort to undermine too.  Then came 9/11, which ushered in the "good for the economy" campaign encouraging consumer to purchase guzzlers.  After all, gas was just $1 per gallon with no expectation of it going up.  Remember GM's push of Hummer and claim that hybrids could never be profitable?  At the same time, Ford had vowed to increase SUV fleet efficiency by 25%.  Neither automaker was able to deliver though.  Both were forced to change.  Meanwhile, Toyota triumphed.  Proof of success was a simple matter of looking around on streets and in parking lots.  Prius were easy to spot by the completion of the second year of sales for the second generation.  As the third year was underway and high-volume already achieved, a tax-credit was introduced to push hybrids deeper into the mainstream.  That provided encouragement for the entire industry... 6.5 years after introduction here.  Looking at 2011 as the start of plug-in sales, there was basically only Volt & Leaf.  But by then, hybrids were already well-proven and gas was expensive.  The entire industry was planning to deliver high-efficiency choices.  All automakers were in agreement that battery & motor usage was the future.  There was no disagreement about taking that next step.  There were generous tax-credits available too.  That spirit of cooperation, a very different market from hybrid introduction, is why comparing to plug-in sales is not constructive.


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