Personal Log  #649

November 27, 2013  -  December 6, 2013

Last Updated: Weds. 12/18/2013

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Morning Commute Video, dashcam.  With the temperature at -F and snow from the day before, it was a great opportunity to try out my new video configuration.  I wanted to capture both the dashboard activity as well as what was happening in front of my plug-in Prius as I drove.  Those 2 very different lighting situations combined with the refresh flicker of a display screen made it quite a challenge with just one camera.  But I had timed it just right with the morning commute.  I took the back route, which is slower but scenic.  Starting the engine right away to warm the system was a must with it so cold out.  That directly affects the EV range estimate, lowering it with an approximation of what that alternate use of battery power could have.  In other words, the electricity is consumed while the engine is running instead.  So, the computer counts those miles as HV instead.  Ultimately, the measure of performance is determined by MPG, since the amount of electricity consumed is always the same.  My commute to work will always use the entire plug-in capacity.  That's roughly 2.75 kWh, including charging losses.  What varies is the amount of gas.  The more the engine has to run to provide heat for the cabin and emission cleansing, the lower the overall efficiency.  On this particular drive, the total 17.3 miles resulted in an average of 128 MPG.  That's quite remarkable considering the extreme conditions... video:  Morning Commute (dashcam)


Change.  Yeah!  The charging-station count at the ramp I park at for work recently went grew from 2 to 6.  Today was the sweetest experience yet.  There was a Leaf, Volt, and Fusion Energi.  It sure makes the 2014 outlook something to ponder.  The crazy superiority roars have succumb to sales reality.  Phew!  That being over is quite nice.  Perhaps now, the actual competition will get a recognized and the proper audience addressed.  It's hard to believe how far off track some got.  We now have plug-in vehicles leading the way.  That will draw even more people in for the purchase of regular hybrids.  Misconceptions have been replaced with mainstream acceptance... at least for Prius.  Several other automakers are striving to reach middle-market consumers too, so there's hope.  It's always slower than you'd like.  But at least we see growth potential for some.  I'm looking forward to the rollout of Prius PHV here.  My dealer sent out a mass email recently, which included mention of the plug-in model.  That was a first. Online listing of 2013 inventory seems to indicate the 2014 availability is realistic.  So, that might mean something.  But then again, the temperature here right now is just 1°F... which is far for ideal for a plug-in.  Though, I did still manage 75 MPG from driving 46 miles with 2 recharges.  Anywho, maybe they'll be a surge in sales for the plug-ins this month from those wanting to take advantage of getting their tax-credit money in just a few months rather than having to wait over a year.


Statistics.  When discussions are led with stating percentages, be wary.  There's reason to be concerned.  It's easy to mislead when the numbers to provide perspective aren't also included.  In this case, it was: "The Volt's November numbers represent a 26.4 percent increase over 1,519 units sold in November 2012."  Notice the complete absence of scale.  It's only a comparison to itself.  No consideration for the market itself is taken.  Lack of context is a key of greenwashing.  Anywho, I sounded off with:  With a $5,000 price drop, shouldn't growth have been quite a bit more than just an increase of 400?  After all, the monthly sales expectation set 2 years ago was 3,750 per month... which was under the mainstream minimum of 5,000 per month. 1,920 still falls well short of either.  If GM had a plan "B", some other method of advancing the platform, it wouldn't be so bad.  Suggestions of offering a model with a smaller capacity battery and an engine tuned more for efficiency fell on deaf ears.  GM chose to invest in ELR instead, a much more expensive configuration trading off efficiency for luxury.  Where the heck is high-volume production that had been hoped for?  18,200 Cruze.  14,405 Malibu.  13,418 Impala.  5,068 Camaro.  4,712 Sonic.  What does that tell us about the new GM's priorities for cars?  Forget about the trucks.  Forget about the other automakers.  How much longer must we continue to wait for something that actually competes with GM's own cars?  Those traditional choices are absolutely crushing Volt.


Remember October 1997?  I really enjoyed posting this reminiscence of the past:  Toyota revealed Prius then.  It was an amazing technological achievement, all done in secrecy as a result of having been excluded from the PNGV program.  They decided to develop an high-efficiency design on their own... and passed the Detroit automakers in the process.  They had a fully functional vehicle already.  That wasn't the shocking part though.  What amazed the world was the announcement that it would be available for sales just 2 months later.  Think about that when you consider what Toyota's next steps may be.  They have a diverse & profitable offering which continues to be improved.  That ultimate goal of replacing traditional production is growing more and more realistic.


November Sales.  The entire industry did fairly well this month.  Economic recovery is undeniable from this aspect of revenue exchange; however, there were many warnings about it not lasting.  Truck sales are through the roof, very strong.  Much of that is claimed to be as a result of the construction industry finally making long postponed purchases.  New equipment, like pickups, are the kind of financial burden easily delayed.  But at some point, there comes a time.  That time appears to be now.  For the automotive industry, that's good news.  The vehicles are very, very high-profit.  That puts the spotlight on Ford & GM, leaving the hybrid cars to survive without any attention.  That's a challenge when some are being sold below cost, at a loss.  Volt clearly falls into that category.  And to my surprise, not a single thing was said about it.  This is the first ever month totally silent.  None of the antagonists said even a peep.  That's quite the confirmation of market.  It's stuck as a niche until the next generation.  Meanwhile, I got a mass-email advertisement from my local dealer listing the hybrids they are selling.  The plug-in model Prius was listed.  Hmm?  Are they expecting delivery of their first soon?  That would be right on time for the arrival of the 2014.  Needless to say, I'm intrigued.  There haven't been any available anywhere in the Midwest.  They are still limited to just the 15 initial rollout states.  Anywho, there are some sales numbers for November published now.  This is what we are aware of so far:  9,801 Prius liftback.  2,227 Prius v.  3,001 Prius c.  1,100 Prius PHV.  2,003 Leaf.  1,920 Volt.  2,398 C-Max.  941 C-Max Energi.  870 Fusion Energi.  68 Accord PHEV.  1,031 Civic Hybrid.


Out Of Time.  Reality has come crashing down to such an extreme, even those attacks that come from the posting of disenchanting facts have vanished.  Starting the 4th year of sales for Volt has brought about the acknowledgement that it has not and will not achieve mainstream acceptance in the next few years.  That challenge has been overwhelmingly transferred to the next generation, following initial rollout.  Not only must it achieve the goals set, it must also garnish accolades from owners... which takes time, a lot of time.  That's why this question was asked today about it taking so long even for just the goals themselves to be confirmed: "How much time did GM need?"  It really makes you wonder how executive decisions were actually made.  We know that the pursuit of profit and the draw of praise can lead to trouble.  But you'd think they'd learn from the mistakes of others.  Apparently, not.  I chimed in to that question with:  GM still hasn't decided who the market for Volt actually is.  Continued mixed messages about intent holds back progress.  How can the next step be taken if they don't even know which direction to go?  With BMW, we see clear intent.  The i3 offers a small, minimum power engine with a small, minimum range tank.  Its purpose is for non-routine drives, when the owner goes outside the usual distance traveled.  There are obvious tradeoffs to that configuration, but at least the audience is clear.  With GM, we still don't know who the heck will be targeted for the next generation model of Volt.  The current ended up for enthusiasts only, not reaching mainstream consumers as originally hoped.  Some of that came from not specifying purpose.  It was always just a vague reference to electric-only driving.  What does that mean from the business perspective?  Will the approach really be to only offer a plug-in as the high-efficiency choice, without anything to compete against regular hybrids?  That lack of diversity should be a concern for those wishing to see on-going profit.  It means high-volume production & sales is required.  It also means having an outlet available is required.  Why does GM still need more time?  Who's making decisions now?  When will we get answers to questions that should have been cleared up many years ago?


Unbelievable.  To think it would have come to this.  That's unbelievable.  Yet, it did indeed happen.  Being able to look back at the chapter now closed is great.  But not everyone sees it the same way: "From 2007-2010 many naysayers thought the Volt was just vaporware.  This was actually a very prevalent feeling back then.  That's why GM made some design decisions that were less than optimal to get it out on time.  The result is a fantastic car (I love my Volt), but its heavier, more costly, and less efficient than it could be.  That's why the Gen2 Volt design will probably be a very different.  They now have time to optimize things properly."  The twisting of events is nothing new.  People have differing perspectives anyway.  Some just don't want to see that.  I'm happy to point them out:  Those supposed naysayers already knew the engineering was realistic.  That wasn't ever contested.  It was the timeline that brought about the vaporware claims, not if the technology itself was possible.  Delivering all that had been promised by the end of 2010 was the argument.  So much was expected in just a few years, they were in dismay about the reckless attitude.  There wasn't anything to support the ability to produce & sell a high-volume plug-in for a profit.  Hope blinded the faithful.  Refusal to acknowledge the mountain of evidence showing expectations were unrealistic for such a short amount of time caused posts to turn into hype.  Cheerleading drowned out the voice of reason.  Constructive discussion became impossible.  Then when the end of 2010 arrived, reality of the situation became overwhelmingly clear.  Lessons of the past had not been learned.  It was yet another example of "over promise, under deliver".  Those having made the vaporware claims were vindicated.  Damage control caused focus to rapidly shift over to the next generation.  The current would limited to enthusiasts.  Mainstream ambitions were delayed.  3 years later, attempts to distort that unfortunate history continue.  But at least expectations for the future have become realistic.  The painful experience of recognizing the difference between want and need is over.  Fallout consequences are being overcome.  It is now understood what those vaporware challenges actually were and what they still are.  Hope has finally replaced hype.


On-Going Improvements.  I certainly liked reading this today: "It does 36.4 km per litre in the Japanese cycle, but the new Aqua will top that with 37 km/l, says Toyota. They eked out an extra 1.6 km/l by reducing frictional resistance in the engine and improving motor control."  That information was the highlight of an article published about the new model year of Prius Aqua (known as the "c" model here) now available in Japan.  It's a big deal since competition in Japan is so much higher with hybrids, where they strive to squeeze out improvements at an on-going basis.  We don't see that here.  Our market doesn't place as high of a value on engine efficiency; sadly, the bar for actual MPG is set much lower too.  So, we typically only get updates from the rollout of new generations.  This is what I posted on the discussion thread about the news:  Minor system enhancements along the way are always nice to see.  It certainly is a welcome change from the old school perception too.  Remember the days when any revision to the design following rollout was given the stigma of having been delivered with a defect?  The competition would spin any update as a shortcoming being fix.  But now with software updates on our phones becoming routine, the thought continuous improvement is coming an expectation.  Heck, even the idea of plugging in at night isn't a big deal anymore.


Cold EV.  Yesterday, the Prius sat outside unused for a little over 9 hours.  Capacity remaining was estimated at enough electricity remaining to travel 6.7 miles.  It was 9:30 in the evening when I left.  The condition outside was a blustery 18°F.  Since I was dressed well and was out in the garage working before having left, all that would be needed was the seat-heater set to high.  The drive consisted of several blocks of 30 mph travel (roughly 1 miles), then a turn onto a 50 mph road.  That became a long 45 mph stretch with several stoplights, a few which caught be with red.  5 miles into the journey, that electricity had all been used up.  At no time while driving those 5 miles did the engine start, despite the cold.  That leaves me scratching my head wondering why some owners state their experience is quite different.  Their engine starting even with the heater off and EV still available.  The only thought that comes to mind is the battery-pack has a short opportunity to warm up prior to needing a faster speed.  (Note that I have the entire lower section of the grille blocked, the top is entirely open.)


Failure Fallout, voices.  Those few particular individuals I keep quoting have become well established online spokespeople.  The rest of the members are enablers, cheering them on when they post misleading information and insult those attempting to provide clarification.  They are the voices for what Volt has evolved into.  Nothing else stands out anymore.  Those mixed messages of the past prevented anything actually constructive from getting a foothold.  We have no idea what the heck the purpose is anymore.  This quote posted today from one of those individuals summed up the situation well: "If Volt drivers are only getting 75% EV then the Volt battery needs another 5-10 miles of EV range to bring more drivers under the bell curve."  Notice how he used the word "If" to lead the discussion, even though it is well proven that the actual percent is much lower.  The article clearly points out 62 percent from real-world data collection.  That means even greater EV range would be needed.  Of course, the very realization that the 40-mile range didn't actually fulfill requirements for owners undermines the supposed core goal of Volt.  That number was hoped to be nearly 100%.  Missing the mark by that much, especially with early adopters, is quite disheartening.  They had promoted the "range extender" as an emergency backup... not a feature that would be used so routinely.  Then when it was confirmed that the MPG it provided was sub-standard for a hybrid, they made even more of an effort to downplay the role of the gas engine... hence those voices emerging.  Now, 3 years after rollout began, real-world data is making them look bad, really bad.  And with a group holding pride with such high regard, that hurts, really hurts.


Failure Fallout, sensitive.  There was a discussion today about the growing threat Ford presents.  Their plug-in hybrid delivers a top electric-only speed of 85 mph.  That irritates Volt owners to no end.  They were able to easily dismiss Prius PHV simply by pointing out the slower limit of 62 mph.  But with C-Max Energi, the vague definition they used to distinguish Volt has completely fallen apart.  Now that some plug-in hybrids are matching criteria or even exceeding which was only supposed to apply to EREV, they are at a loss about how to respond.  Rather than just striving to offer the best plug-in hybrid, they wanted an entirely unique category.  Each time the topic was brought up, they'd immediately dismiss it.  No comparisons, period.  That's yet another self-inflicted wound, something which could have easily been avoided.  But when the goal is to achieve bragging rights, getting blinded by things like that is easy.  After all, a goal like high-volume sales would take away from any distinctiveness.  Being common isn't what they really ever wanted.  So, any reference to mainstream stirred emotion.  They yearned for something above & beyond all else... but failed to get it.  From that new thread, this particular quote stood out: "I'm hyper sensitive to any comment implying the position that the Volt is not superior to short range plug in..."  That mindset of wanting to be vastly superior obviously still persists.


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