Personal Log  #656

January 27, 2014  -  February 1, 2014

Last Updated: Weds. 3/05/2014

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Winter Driving.  It's always nice to read a new thread posted by a new owner.  Today, it was a report of Winter driving.  The results were quite pleasing.  The excitement was easy to see.  In fact, a photo was even included.  I welcomed the new forum member with:  Slow down from Winter's snow & ice certainly does have its benefits when your driving a Prius.  It's quite refreshing seeing MPG go up, rather than down, when there's congestion on the road.  Think about how the effect those same conditions have on others.  They grow increasingly frustrated.  Some of that is the direct result of gas being wasted.  We don't have that with the hybrid system.  It fact, I bet you may have had a silly grin appear on your face at some point... watching the impact of the drive have a positive effect on efficiency.  Enjoy Winter, but also remind yourself what happens with the arrival of Spring.


Looks.  This particular quote caught my attention: "Bought my Prius for what it can do, not what it looks like."  How can you resist that.  I couldn't:  It very refreshing to hear that.  Think of all the SUV owners who did exactly the opposite... the heavy-duty suspension and high ground-clearance combined with all that power, wasted.  Prius got mocked relentlessly for many years due to its practical look.  The hatchback screamed convenience that no sedan could possibly compete with.  To make matters worse, it was the only midsize hatchback available in this market.  They were all compact & sub-compact back then.  Add to that the 50 MPG owners were reporting, there was simply no way to avoid all the negative attention the supporters of other automakers could dish out.  Mainstream vehicles have a familiar look anyway.  That's what makes them common and so easy to consider.  With millions of Prius on the road now, other priorities are what compel consumers to take a closer look to see what else it has to offer.  Enjoy your Prius.  Take advantage of it like I do.  Load up the interior with cargo, toss some bikes on back or kayaks on top, then hit the road.


Plug-In Rage.  That new topic has had an interesting thread going on the big Prius forum.  I added this to it:  It's somewhat puzzling to read posts about whether or not employers should provide the ability to plug in when there isn't even a requirement to provide a spot for employees to park their traditional vehicles.  No regulation or mandate will make people to be civil with each other either.  Good behavior comes from people sharing a common goal, a clear & concise objective that benefits many.  That's what we need to find & spread.  Waiting for the situations emerging to somehow work themselves out on their own isn't exactly the approach we want.  That's attitude is common though, so it's understandable.  But being reactive is not how change comes about.  We need to proactively seek out solutions.  That requires actions like engaging other plug-in owners by holding gatherings... because it obviously isn't effective to have direct confrontations at charging-stations.  Anyone remember how effective gatherings were, over a decade ago when hybrids were still new?  We're only now reaching the stage where our efforts can even be effective.  Getting over the chaos of initial plug-in rollout was rather painful at times.  Those first attempts unable to reach the masses resulted in disappointment & resentment... something we don't want to carry over to the charging-stations.  Recognizing what the mainstream actually needs has become easier.  A big part of that is getting away from the one-size-fits-all mentality.  Notice how resulting efficiency varies dramatically from owner to owner even with the same vehicle?  That's why what happens at the plug is such a big deal.  Each person will have a very different experience from the same recharge opportunity.


No Recharging.  With the daily high temperature below 0°F, then need for heat has prevented battery-pack capacity from being used entirely on my daily commute.  I haven't been recharging at work as a result.  To my delight, that hasn't impacted efficiency as much as I thought it might.  After 50 miles of driving, each of those days ended with MPG in the low 50's.  The engine runs more to produce that heat, but it's not in the on/off fashion people tend to assume.  In actuality, the RPM is just higher at times.  That adjustment works well.  Producing heat also produces electricity.  So, there really isn't as much waste as you would think.  The hybrid system still proves quite beneficial, even with such extreme cold driving conditions.  I do miss Summer though.  The Prius always being dirty and virtually no outdoor activities is a sad.  Of course, a warmer Winter would do the trick.  There's plenty of recreation possible when the temperature is closer to just under freezing... in other words, 30 to 40 degrees warmer.  Waking up to -18°F is just plain nasty.  But seeing the temperature still negative when you drive home from work is even worse.  Blah!


Mass Market.  For the past 11 years, J.D. Powers has been conducting surveys on this very topic.  They know the audience and just published results of their most recent findings.  The top-5 priorities mentioned, in order of importance, for mass-market vehicles were:  1. Gas mileage (fuel economy)  2. Reliability (freedom from breakdowns)  3. The "Deal" (interest rates/rebates)  4. Exterior styling (design)  5. Performance (power, handling, etc.)  Seeing that easily confirms the problem.  Enthusiasts of Volt absolutely insisted number 5 was actually number 1, performance was the key.  They also claimed number 1 was meaningless, that electric-only miles were all that mattered.  Of course, overall MPG is so random with a plug, they couldn't promote a clear expectation anyway.  Reliability never got mentioned, most likely due to obvious added complexity compared to Prius.  The allure of the tax-credit was heavily flaunted, but the reality of its delay and the possibility of not being able to collect due to AMT avoided.  As for appearance, you know how that gets spun.  Lastly, note that size doesn't come into play when comparing vehicles of the same class.  Long story short, it's very important to know your audience.


Know Your Audience.  That topic of marketing & economics sure is making its importance known now.  The example of GM having totally misjudged what people would actually buy made itself clear with Volt.  The regard for need was dismissed by executives, engineers, and enthusiasts.  The car delivered was based on want.  Who did they think purchases would come from?  Sales of high-volume vehicles are that way because they fulfill the requirements of those ordinary & plentiful consumers.  Remember when Prius was still perceived as "new" technology?  The primary reason automotive magazines published articles on it was the attention doing that brought.  Looking through previous copies, mention of mainstream vehicles was no where to be found.  They didn't write about Camry or Corolla.  Their audience simply didn't care.  They knew their audience.  It was the thrill of what the new technology had to offer, not the performance in any respect.  Volt enthusiasts didn't recognize that.  They seriously thought the average person would care... despite the fact that they didn't share anything in common.  It was yet another example of history repeating.  Prius owners knew the audience and tried to point out the mismatch countless times.  Warnings didn't work.  They found out for themselves, the hard way.


40,000 km Report.  2 years of ownership and that many kilometers of driving prompted the report.  It was from a Volt driver... one who absolutely hated me... which makes this particular situation quite ironic.  His main complaint was the technology works well, so well, he's frustrated by how slow and how little GM has done over the past 3 years.  Sound familiar?  Even the most staunch owners are now recognizing the "too little, too slowly" concern.  That select group absolutely refused to acknowledge the barriers Volt faced back when I was pointing them out.  Now, in a very humbling way, they've learned I really was sincere and all along just wanted to help out.  Being vindicated like that is strange.  I hadn't even expected the denial to get so bad.  What a relief that it's now over.  The realization of things going bad with Two-Mode wasn't anywhere near as bad.  Enthusiasts just faded away back then.  This time, it was continued fighting for a dead cause.  The next Volt will be so different, it doesn't even make sense to associate it with this one anymore.  That's why GM declared the first a niche.  Anywho, the other complaint was the size.  It should have been bigger.  The legroom in back really was more of an issue than he wanted to admit, but ultimately finally did.  So much focus was put on performance, the most basic of requirements was carelessly dismissed.  Now the consequences of each of those choices along the way are quite easy to see... 40,000 km later.  Ugh.  Why did it have to take so long?


Still.  Some of the issues still remain.  You wouldn't think things like this could persist for so long: "Nobody cares anymore about a few more mpg in the Prius.  Toyota, stop chasing diminishing returns..." when there are others saying this: "If only Volt had a proper modern hybrid-oriented engine, they'd have got one of those instead.  A gas engine that could get 50+mpg highway would have sold them."  Making hybrids stand out from traditional vehicles is a must for those who understand the market.  But then again, some people don't bother actually reading what's published.  They just post comments to belittle & insult.  Both quotes were in response to an article with this after the introduction: "Keeping cost down will be one of the major concerns of the new Prius."  The method of reducing costs highlighted was the making the system smaller & lighter.  That naturally results in improved efficiency.  It's that lack of understanding (or caring to understand) that is still a major problem.  You'd think something as simple as meeting the 50 MPG target would be a no-brainer.  Currently, the highway rating for Prius is 48 MPG.  Squeezing out 2 MPG is well under the diminishing return threshold.  In fact, it's only 4% more.  The size & weight improvement alone could achieve that.  The article also mentioned the engine refinement.  That too will deliver a few more MPG.  Combined into the next generation, the reasoning to purchase a Prius becomes easier.  After all, traditional vehicles continue to represent major competition.


Ironic Timing.  Or was it?  We know that Toyota was keeping a distance from GM.  They've done that several times in the past.  We've seen it with both Ford & Honda.  That's a wise business move.  If something goes wrong with consumer acceptance of a competitor's product, you don't want to be included simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Heavily promoting Prius PHV while Volt was struggling with problems on several fronts was obviously a good thing to avoid.  In the meantime, real-world data could be collected in mass quantity.  That's priceless.  In fact, it is one of the most important aspects of having a successful rollout.  Anywho, a little more detail about the next generation of Prius was offered by Toyota yesterday.  The timing was fantastic.  Volt never materialized as a "game changer" like Prius.  That leaves the path wide open for Prius to face the challenges of generational improvement head on.  Cost is a very big deal for Toyota too.  Refinements to the hybrid system design will help to achieve that.  Increasing the value of the vehicle itself will too.  Toyota will achieve that by delivering higher MPG through the increasing of thermal efficiency for the engine.  At the same, there will be weight reductions.  Switching to lithium batteries will be considered too.  The goal is to make the next Prius directly competitive with traditional vehicles to the degree that it can no longer be argued reasonably.  And that's without gas prices going up.  If they do, favor swings toward Prius even more.  I find it interesting that diminishing returns hasn't become too much of a struggle yet.  Of course, it won't matter as much when the next generations successor comes about.  At that point, the idea of plugging in will be common.  Plugging in offers opportunity for further enhancements.  But for now, we still need to way.  This one is expected the end of next year.  What do you think of that timing?


Parting Thoughts.  This is what I posted as parting thoughts on that explosive "niche" thread:  For over a decade, the definition of mainstream has meant monthly sales here of at least 5,000 and the definition of niche was simply not being enough to be mainstream.  Prior to Volt's rollout, GM set that very target (in terms of 60,000 per year).  The reason made sense, volume is required to achieve production cost savings... since automakers are publicly-held for-profit businesses... and none of the excuses or claims otherwise will change that.  As for the "compared to approximately 5 for electrification" comment, I continue to be astounded how GM supporters refuse to acknowledge the past.  Development of EV1 began back in the early 90's and work with batteries & motors carried on throughout the 00's with BAS and Two-Mode.  Their fuel-cell vehicles were electric too, which included battery-packs.  We all know what needs to be done at this point.  Cost must come down dramatically.  To break out beyond niche, there is no other way.  How well the technology works doesn't make any difference if few actually purchase it.  That means reconfiguration is needed to appeal to buyers of GM's high-volume vehicles.  They are the market for the next generation of Volt.  And since we are finally closing this chapter, to all those who swore this situation would never happen, I suggest taking a course in business economics.  You obviously have an excellent handle on the engineering, but it's overwhelmingly clear the influences of consumer behavior were not understood.


Chapter Closed.  Remember the "up to the chore" nonsense over a decade ago?  It was a lively discussion thread that went on for 1.5 years.  The propaganda of the time just plain could not get hybrids to die.  No matter how hard they tried, proof that they were capable continued to come in an mess up their arguments.  I had never seen desperation on that scale before.  It was amazing, especially from the eyes of an active participant.  The same thing happened again, but this time it was a different outcome... well, sort of.  Rather than traditional vehicles leading the fight and losing, they actually won.  Volt is technically a hybrid.  GM declared this generation a niche.  That official word of not being able to compete in the mainstream arena was taken two ways.  Those who strongly believe Volt can with modifications look forward to the next chapter to begin.  Those who feel the sting of defeat wanted someone to blame & punish.  That meant Prius and those like myself would be relentlessly attacked, faced with having to deal with the same kind of desperate lashing out we've become all too familiar with.  It was nasty, for them.  We actually got compliments for remaining civil.  Stay calm & polite makes a very good impression while at the same time allows the attacker to vent and tarnish their own image.  There was definite anger this time... because Prius is a hybrid, yet it won.  The fight against traditional vehicles is no where near as simple as certain individuals believed.  And despite being warned, they ended up learning that lesson the hard way.


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