Personal Log  #650

December 8, 2013  -  December 17, 2013

Last Updated: Weds. 3/05/2014

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Gas-Guzzling Horror.  A new stir to the market came today in the form of an article published stating the gas-consumption per-person in 128 countries.  It brought to light the extreme difference between the United States and the rest of the developed world.  We heavily subsidize oil and encourage waste.  It's an embarrassing reality most here don't want to admit, hence the stir.  That's not the kind of attention those who guzzle want to draw.  That inconvenient truth really hurts.  The kind of backlash this type of mention will result in is quite uncertain.  There was a massive number of comments posted online, but things like that rarely actually change behavior.  There's a disconnect between what people say and what they actually do.  So even if there is anything encouraging posted, it likely won't amount to anything on dealer's lots.  That's sad.  Government invention must continue to change.  Automaker priorities must continue to change.  Consumer mindsets must continue to change.  Progress is painfully slow and those purchasing now will be stuck with those vehicles for the next decade.  That's the real horror story.  Even with realistic solutions, it's too expensive to part with a guzzler that's still has a number of reliable service years available.  We're forced to deal with waste legacy.  To make matters worse, there are organizations dedicated to maintaining the status quo.  It's a very frustrating situation.  Fortunately, we have efforts like this attempting to influence change.


What It Wasn't.  For many years, we listened to claims from enthusiasts about how Volt would be a game changer.  Only problem, what they praised never actually got delivered.  It's now a classic example of moving goal-posts.  They just altered the definition rather than staying true to their cause.  The hope was a vehicle that would feature a small engine, just enough to allow the vehicle to continue to be used in the rare event travel is still required after depletion.  Primary power would come from a battery-pack.  All the propulsion, heating, and cooling would be electric.  Range would be 40 miles under all conditions.  Production would be high-volume.  Cost would be competitive & profitable.  Things obviously didn't work out.  Instead, the upcoming ELR is contributing to a great deal of supporter arguments and the market is looking at BMW's new i3 as the solution GM promised.  To further confuse matters, there are some who making up false history about Prius to justify the mess.  We know what it wasn't.  We have no idea what it will become.  We have a good understanding what the market actually needs.  Problem is, time is up.  The opportunity to leap-frog has expired.  The early-adopter phase has passed.  We're entering the second chapter now.  Automakers are striving to diversify, each making an effort to attract consumers seeking new options.  The choices are growing.  Some will win.  Some will lose.  That need will become more and more clear.  Here comes 2014.


Winter Efficiency.  This hot topic of cold subject matter is an endless source of posts.  Each year, it's the same thing.  When will that finally change?  This is the latest post I decided to join in on: "Now, my other car, a conventional gasoline powered, small AWD SUV, is not significantly impacted by these weather conditions, and my fuel efficiency is almost the same, winter and summer."  It's somewhat frustrating that the actual MPG isn't included.  That's common, but what are you going to do.  It's the same thing each Winter.  I provided this:  That always low under any conditions is an interesting situation to consider.  It amplifies & confuses the situation for those not aware of influencing factors.  We see it.  But conveying that message is problematic.  Overcoming the 50 MPG barrier presents challenges.  There's lots of fine-tuning required to take advantage of thermal dynamics.  It can equate to cost & complexity, something really only Toyota is in a position to address.  They will too.  We can see the opportunity for Gen-4.  Beyond that is a mystery.  But then again, engine optimization faces diminishing returns anyway.  Delivering more than a solid 50 MPG average with PZEV isn't really necessary.  Shifting focus over to electric efficiency makes sense at that point.  After all, the measure of "kWh/mile" is rarely gets mentioned currently.  Think about how few people know what the vehicle they drive now actually delivers for MPG.  Sadly, your observation isn't common.  Even worse, most still just settle for low efficiency, not placing a high priority on using less gas.


Coming Soon.  National rollout appears to be coming soon.  Here in Minnesota, there has been a single 2014 delivered to a dealer.  Hooray!  Just 1 available is a whole lot more than the none we've had.  It's really encouraging to see some progress.  Waiting until the 2013 inventory was pretty much sold out prior to expanding required quite a bit of patience.  That opened up the opportunity for antagonist spin too, making a sensible business decision sound like something had went terribly wrong instead.  Where I park for work, there are now 6 charging-stations available.  I share them with a Leaf.  Soon, a Fusion Energi is expected to join us.  The owner has plans to add more as demand increases.  That's quite encouraging... and quite a relief considering the rhetoric of the past.  By the time Winter's thaw arrives, some owners will be celebrating 2-year anniversaries.  That real-world data is priceless in the support of sales expansion.  Next year looks really encouraging.


Much Cheaper, response.  It was the same old trouble resurfacing again.  Rather than simply state goals, it was cherry-picking.  I especially liked how the reduction of gas usage and carbon emissions was sighted as important, but no mention of electricity usage or smog emissions.  That reliance on the tax-credit stirs anger too.  It continues to show the expectation of low sales for several years still.  No clear purpose and the lack of any push for better, we end up with status quo.  After all this time, why can't they see that?  If you don't strive to improve, it won't happen.  This isn't rocket science.  It's just basic economics.  To deliver a cost-competitive product, the business must work to deliver on clearly stated priorities.  Now into the 4th year of sales for Volt, you'd think that would be obvious.  Step away from that group of enthusiasts and those venues which cater to them.  Read the comments posted in other online sources.  Doing that provides a great eye-opening experience, a wake-up call for those who think all will be fine if they simply just wait.  The need to be proactive, for supporters to make a large effort to share experiences and to educate others, should be overwhelmingly clear.  Take a look at the recent recall of the VW Jetta hybrid as an example.  Confidence in the technology isn't there.  Reliability concerns dominate posts.  Whether or not there was ever any problem for a customer never gets addressed.  They don't look at corrective steps to prevent possible long-term issues as acceptable.  The word "recall" of any sort has a negative stigma.  Sadly, aspects like "fun to drive" still get far more attention.


Much Cheaper, intent.  When the purpose of a blog is to draw attention and stir participation, expect things like the following: "Volt's 5-year ownership cost is much cheaper than Prius".  Upon inspection of the data itself, that situation clearly wasn't the case.  But controversy of ambiguity and contradiction is what venues like that thrive on.  So, it's quite intentional.  My curiosity as to how that particular group (Volt enthusiasts) would respond to the insurance aspect coxed me to response with:  Since tax-credit availability is temporary and the analysis purpose is long-term, we should consider the difference without.  That leaves the difference with Volt at just $637.  And since Prius clearly offers more seating room in back and a larger cargo area, that in itself is enough to make the difference a wash.  What I find misleading though is the insurance premium.  Why the heck is Prius an average of $706 more per year (for a total difference of $3,529) and who is paying such a high rate?  Factoring in the price of gas really changes things.  The expectation of it going up is very realistic, again, since this is long-term.  Going up changes the equation… hence the need to consider the plug-in model.  That raises the question of bringing region into the equation… since we all know how winter really impacts outcome.  Then of course, how many owners will choose to purchase & install a L2 charger for their home.  With a larger battery-pack, that's more likely.


Toyota Advancements.  It's nice that the member posts on the big Prius forum related to Volt are gone.  The playing offense to keep attention didn't work.  That one person would drop bait and a few others would "like" it to show support.  We still have webmaster topics to deal with on the blogs, but at least that's a different venue.  It means the way is clear for those with constructive things to say to actually post them.  Today, we got: "And if Toyota fails to update their now essentially 10 year old drive train anytime soon there are a lot of new hybrids coming out right now from other brands.  So the competition is good for us customers - we have other models and brands to choose from - no need to wait for the Prius."  That's good stuff, something we can actually chime it with a variety of perspectives.  The days of dealing with "vastly superior" are gone. Yeah!  My post to that was:  That only applies to those in the market at the time.  And it would be fascinating to find something actually competitive with Prius.  The choices so far have taken different approaches.  For that matter, HSD itself has too.  The age doesn't matter.  Good thing, since the cars most people are still buying use much, much older drive trains.  4th generation pretty much brings an end to the "new" perspective, that's all.  It means there's nothing left to prove.  The time of speculation & doubt is over.  Everyone agrees the technology is clearly here to stay.  Failure would be not investing anymore, to allow Prius purpose to fade.  Instead, we already know the next will bring even greater engine efficiency.  Having to wait a full product cycle leaves you hanging, but ultimately, that is good business.


The Game.  There is literally only one person left playing it.  That shouldn't be much of a surprise.  No matter what I post, it's always somehow twisted to make it sound like I'm declaring "vastly superior" for Prius PHV... which made those die-hard enthusiasts of years past for Volt absolutely furious.  Now, all but he has moved on.  This was today's example: "You can claim the prius phv is mainstream and the better selling volt is not, but here you simply are making up your own flawed definition of mainstream, and of course the topic is not mainstream or high efficiency."  Pointing out that GM was competing with itself, crushing Volt with its own offerings of Malibu, Impala, Cruze, and Equinox, was information that simply never gets heard.  No matter what, the discussion would keep getting redirected back to "not the same" arguments in comparison with Toyota.  When Ford and other automakers are mentioned, they post gets ignored.  He wants to go down fighting.  No one else even bothers to respond anymore.  I'm getting quite short with him myself.  My response was:  That's the game.  I'm not taking the bait.  Thanks for the quote.


Constructive Attempts?  Uncertainty is the situation now.  That finality yesterday brought big change today.  A new CEO for GM was announced.  It was a change people from many different perspectives were happy to welcome.  Focus was almost entirely on proper business, how on-going profit could be made.  The well-being of the business certainly got the attention that has been lacking in the past.  That obviously left Volt supporters wondering what comes next.  There was barely a mention of that struggling platform.  That realization of trophies not paying the bills has become a very real concern.  It's about dang time!  So naturally, we seem to be getting a few attempts at constructive discussion.  It makes you wonder what the intent actually is though... since nothing was suggested.  Still refusing to state goals is the first red flag, a warning of potential that the past could repeat again... since that's how it started before.  Tired of watching blind hope led people astray, not wanting it to happen all over again, and the need to actually deliver, it's difficult to know how to respond.  What's different this time is how sales is getting far more attention.  So, restating the original claim seemed worthy of a next step:  TOO LITTLE, TOO SLOWLY is very much on the topic of sales.  The distraction was claiming purpose wasn't that.  Today's shake up at the top supports the situation too.  Not having any profitable high-efficiency vehicle to offer middle-market and relying heavily on trucks instead is clear evidence of not having advanced forward.  In fact, it's basically a reset to where GM was prior to the financial collapse.  Selling something competitive is required.  Status quo is not enough.  How much longer must we wait?


It's Finally Over.  The last share of stock has been sold.  What a relief.  No matter how times we pointed out the importance of delivering a mainstream hybrid, something to directly compete with high-volume traditional cars, the discussion would ultimately get spun into it somehow really being about GM's financial struggle.  It never was.  The problem remains.  There still isn't a choice available for middle-market consumers.  We all see how the other automakers are targeting their own production, offering high-efficiency vehicles similar to and the same as existing inventory.  Had GM also done that, while including Volt as a choice, the situation would be quite different. Instead, it's the one-size-fits-all approach.  Why isn't the market as a whole addressed?  How come is there continued refusal to acknowledge strong sales of traditional cars?  Shouldn't that be a concern?  When will something actually competitive be offered?  Needless to say, it's nice that the government ownership excuse is gone.  Having that used as a distraction from the true problem got quite annoying.  There's even time still available for something able to achieve business-sustaining profits to be delivered.  After all, isn't that the point?


Extreme Cold.  When the daily high is well below 0°F, you get lots of opportunity to make extreme cold observations.  There's the usual watching of coolant temperature, observing how much heat is available with the engine not running and how long that heat lasts.  In cases where the rest of the system has reached the full operating level, the threshold is lower.  Coolant temperature is allowed to drop all the way down to 87°F.  Most owners are unaware of that on-the-fly alteration.  In fact, some aren't even aware of the usual 114°F tolerance.  They are only familiar with the 130°F and 145°F levels.  It get confusing, even with an aftermarket gauge to help you see more data.  There are simply too many parameters to make those types of observations.  But in the type of Winter we are now having in Minnesota, I certainly get to.  That's why I was caught by surprise to discover that heater settings make a difference during initial warm-up.  Toggling between LO (that's outside air) and 65 (the lowest setting for heat), I noticed the engine RPM changing.  It went up by 200 when going from LO to 65 and back down again to LO.  I did that several times while sitting at an intersection waiting for the light to turn green.  The same thing happened when switching from LO to DEFROST (the special button for window-only blowing).  That actually impacted RPM even more, by 300.  The system response makes sense.  Running the engine faster will generate heat quicker... which is the very thing you are requesting by pushing those buttons.  But that isn't an obvious behavior.  Most people simply wouldn't even realize anything was different.  But in the extreme cold, it's much easier.


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