Personal Log #658
February 9, 2014 - February 18, 2014
Last Updated: Weds. 3/05/2014
page #657 page #659 BOOK INDEX
Meaningful Technology. It's nice when someone asks a constructive question: "What *meaningful* technology lead is that?" With supporters claiming GM is a technology leader, you have to ask what they are actually leading. I couldn't resist. Joining in was a must: That's the magic question. We've seen many, many efforts to undermine Prius as a result of asking. When all attempts to exploit misconceptions failed, they turned to making "old" and "outdated" and "obsolete" references. When that hope to conceal its maturity failed, they tried to spin the situation by using the "early adopter" label for Volt. But after 3 years, still calling it that is too much of a stretch. So, the move has been to ignore the regular model of Prius entirely, focusing on the plug-in model instead. That's a complete reversal of original arguments. The reason why should be obvious too. Toyota clearly stated goals for the regular model next generation. The engine will be more thermally efficient. The hybrid system will be smaller & lighter. The production cost will be reduced. The hope is to switch from NiMH batteries to Lithium as well. Taking all that into account and the fact that United States annual sales of the regular model have remained steady at 145,000 for the past 2 years put supporters of Volt in a difficult position. They certainly didn't want to bring up the compact or wagon models. And the hybrid Camry scares the heck out of them, knowing its traction motor is nearly identical in size to the one in Volt. Toyota also offers an AWD hybrid Highlander with a 3,500-pound towing capacity. Attacking the plug-in model has been their only option available. Our encouragement to get GM to also offer a variety of configurations continues to fall on deaf ears. After all this time, including 3 years of weak sales, some Volt supporters still don't want to acknowledge the need to diversify. It's bizarre how they don’t want to see the benefit from offering the choice of a smaller battery or a model without a plug, despite the growing pressure to meet CAFE requirements and the requirement to deliver sustainable profit. Toyota has broken out of the "only for green" stage, confirming that technology is meaningful. This new commercial portraying Volt as an electric car with a backup engine leaves us wondering who GM is attempting to appeal to. With the necessity of mainstream interest for high-volume sales, it assumes there’s ample demand for plug-in vehicles… despite the recent trend and generous tax-credits. It would be great to see the masses flocking to plug-in vehicles, but that isn’t realistic yet. It means the lead must come in the form of companion technologies in the meantime. The approach of battery-advancement and engine-refinement through vehicles without plugs was an aspiration GM shared with Ford, Toyota, and Honda. GM's gamble to leapfrog of abandoning that design backfired and supporters now feel burned. So, some are expressing their hurt & frustration by lashing out rather than championing the next chapter. What a waste.
BMW Plug-In. Some information about the expected plug-in hybrid from BMW was provided. No, not that model which messes up the vague & misleading enthusiast definition of EREV. It's their true plug-in hybrid. You know, a vehicle which blends power-sources for the sake of achieving optimal efficiency rather than forcing electric-only power initially, sacrificing opportunity to use the engine. The detail we got came from BMW. It was the result of some photos having been leaked. Rather than allow hype and false expectations to emerge, they took advantage of the attention that had garnered. We learned it will be provide roughly 190 horsepower and will likely use a high-performance 1.5 liter 3-cylinder engine. The key is will look similar to the common hatchback/wagon offerings we see now and the battery-pack will be in the 13-mile range. Not intruding on cargo or passenger space is obviously an important aspect of design... the very thing complained often about with Volt. Sometime the middle of next year is when the availability is planned. That timing should make it quite interesting.
Only For Green. The online fighting has come to an end. We are seeing hypocritical posts and childish parroting now. That's a sure sign nothing is left to say. It further reinforces the reality of a chapter having ended. The audience has moved on and even those extremes aren't drawing attention. I find comments like this interesting: "But, if you look at Ford sales numbers, Energi isn't exactly selling like hotcakes, so Ford hasn't exactly found the answer either…." They give the impression of being constructive, until you look at the actual numbers. Being vague is the key to keeping discussions alive. But at this point, even that doesn't work, which is why comments like this emerge: "You're the person that shows up invited to a party and can't take a hint to leave." Making opposing viewpoints feel unwelcome is nothing new. The catch is, the moderator shares the same sentiment. Rather than agreeing with those everyday posters who just want cheerleading, more and more evidence of a new chapter beginning is provided. It's an obvious effort to get the discussions to change. I joined in by providing some insight: There were 1,004 purchases of Ford Energi models last month. Comparing that to 959 sales of Volt & ELR puts GM in the same, if not worse, situation. Taking into account the reality that the GM plug-in hybrids offer $3,493 more tax-credit incentive makes those Ford purchases even more meaningful. Then when you notice 471 of the total 1,418 C-Max sales were the plug-in model, it really provides some perspective. Volt was available for a full 2 years before the first Energi model too. Seeing the latest Volt advertisement focus on range-anxiety and only the cheerleading comments about it acceptable, tells an unwillingness to address the problem of low gas-prices and high battery-prices. Using a double-standard to distract from the "too little, too slowly" concern having been proven correct sends the message of genuine trouble. Avoidance of an issue doesn't makes things better. This new chapter in the history of Volt, having the current generation officially declared a niche, makes the next offering even more of a challenge to face. Continued advertising to the EV market rather than ordinary mainstream consumers would otherwise purchase a Malibu or Cruze reinforces the "only for green" mindset. The step forward is appealing to the masses. Not wanting to tackle that and just quarreling amongst ourselves doesn't accomplish anything. We already know that production cost must be given high priority and practically cannot be sacrificed. The expectation of high-efficiency (better than traditional) following depletion is being sighted as important now too. Goals must be clear and taken seriously. So far, that hasn't happened.
You'll Know When. Setting proper expectations is a very big deal. We saw how much of a problem that was for Volt, where hope had wandered far from reality. So naturally, the topic of the next generation Prius is a popular one. There's over 1,850 posts on that particular thread already. This recent comment caught my eye: "I am beginning to believe that Toyota is experiencing problems meeting the expectations, including fuel efficiency, handling, comfort and cost. The G3 was a wonderful achievement in all of those area, and it may be very difficult to eclipse that success. OTOH, no other manufacturer has been able to, although some are getting closer and closer." That opened up the opportunity for me to set some expectations, especially having been through this several times already over the past 14 years: Putting developing-market expectations on a maturing-market will inevitably bring disappointment. It's not realistic to think each generation will bring major improvements without something actually changing. You can only squeeze so much out of a design. The engine/battery approach will only take clean & efficient so far. There's nothing left to prove either; real-world results ended all misconceptions. The next step is engine/battery/plug... which Toyota already has a huge industry lead on. No other automaker is working so hard to squeeze out so much out of so little. Dropping in a larger battery-pack is easy. Getting a large return from a capacity of just 4.4 kWh is quite a challenge... but that's exactly what's needed to not compromise on efficiency, handling, comfort, and cost. Thinking people will suddenly embrace high-capacity batteries is futile. They won't, period. Look at the computer & device industry. Large solid-state drives are clearly superior to traditional hard-drives, yet they are still far from standard. People don't care how much more robust, faster, and efficient they are. The cost just plain doesn't justify that. So, the best to hope for high-volume market penetration with much smaller capacity solid-state on common tablets for now... however, that is a sign of maturing. Seeing the plug-in Prius emerge as an affordable choice, an option actually competitive with traditional vehicles is what we should hope for. We'll obviously see design gains from the regular Prius. But those will contribute to mainstream expansion and the reduction of guzzlers. The push into new territory comes from adding a plug. Watch as the term "hybrid" fades away. That's when you'll know it happened.
Showing The Love. I watched the opposite this week, perfect timing for Valentine's Day. There was a "recall" issued for the current generation Prius. It's actually just a software update, providing preventative & longevity improvement. But the stigma of updating is a major image problem for the auto industry. That's really unfortunate. Look how widely accepted that practice is for phones & computers. People think nothing of accepting them and they most definitely don't treat that as a recall. On-Going improvements for vehicles is still thought of as a bad thing though. Why must we deal with that rhetoric? The posts on the big GM forum and the big forum dedicated to Volt were outright cruel. What I got a kick out of was the blatant effort to attack supporters. I was called out by name, even though I haven't posted on the one in well over a year and never on the other. Since I had established myself as a lightning-rod, an owner spokesperson due to having so much real-world data easily accessible, they felt the hostility was justified. They felt I could be blamed for Volt's struggle and wanted Prius to suffer. I thought it was quite amusing how they misrepresented both me and Prius. What was more telling though was how both threads abruptly stopped when it got personal. True supporters of Volt understand the benefit of software improvements. They also see what can be gained by having a well-known hybrid success as an ally rather than an enemy.
Sighting. Well, that was quite unexpected. While taking a nice walk with my sweetheart, she suddenly got excited and pointed. Having spotted another Prius PHV before me came as a very nice surprise. With them still not available in Minnesota, it isn't something you'd expect. But being that color unique to the plug-in model, it's difficult not for it to not standout in the eyes of another Prius owner. Hopefully, when the Winter finally melts away, there really will be a chance of more. Right now though, forget it. Between the cold & snow, it's a miracle to be seeing a solid 60 MPG average. That's half of what I saw during my best month last Summer, but remarkable when compared to other vehicles... even hybrids without a plug. It's lonely still. But with the chaos coming from the first chapter, it has been confirmed a wise decision to wait. In the meantime, the few of us who do actually own one are gathering lots of real-world data. Remember the mess caused by rolling out without? Setting realistic expectations is important. How many people really understand how Prius works in the first place? Adding the plug option confuses matters. Thankfully, there are some of us who know the differences well. Too bad I didn't actually get to meet the owner.
MPG not MPH. The hate really came out today. I innocently made a comment about diminishing returns, how efficiency gain drops significantly after exceeding 75 MPG. The person who attacked clearly didn't read anything I wrote or even looked at the link provided. Each of the line included in the quote responded to stated "MPG" too, all in upper-case letters. He assumed "MPH" and the dozen who quickly voted positive for his post did too. I was amazed at such a blatant attempt to greenwash and the lack of integrity. Of course, that's why I never got banned. Me being detailed & polite is quite a contrast to the Volt enthusiasts intentionally misleading. I later called that post out too, pointing how the response was completely unrelated to the quote. They didn't care. That's why this new chapter is so easy to see. There's a huge divide between those trying to genuinely support the replacement of traditional vehicles and those who simply thrive on pride & conquest.
Power or Energy, not both. Upon reading the following quote (from the moderator of what's left of that daily blog for Volt), I knew an explosive reaction was about to occur: "An important consideration that people without a technical background don't understand is that you can either have a high power or a high energy cell chemistry, but not both. Since the battery pack in a plug-in hybrid like the Volt has to generate the same power as a much larger battery pack in a pure electric vehicle, it has to use a low energy cell chemistry." That came from Elon Musk back in 2009. He's the person responsible for Tesla, well informed and passionately disliked by Volt supporters. Getting such a comment from him was going to be a problem. It backed my stance. So, they wouldn't like hearing from me at all. Who could resist that? I posted the following: Thanks for digging up that quote. Having a source to refer back to about that fundamental difference would have been handy. It's a factor rarely brought up in the non-tech discussions. Ironically, engine running is often posted. But sadly is used as an insult, rather than an objective comparison. GM chose to design a vehicle which depended heavily on the battery-pack, doing everything it could to avoid starting the engine. Toyota did the opposite, allowing the engine to start for the sake of maximum overall efficiency. In other words, one automaker sacrificed electricity for the sake of purity and the other decided sacrifice purity to avoid some losses. The reason for the approach difference should have been obvious. It was to protect the battery-pack. Why allow heavy draw knowing that accelerates deterioration? What is obvious is the obsession with power. It doesn't make sense carrying around a engine if the point of it is only for use after depletion, especially when supporters want a larger capacity battery-pack to prevent ever having to use it. How many times have we seen "blending" labeled as a shortcoming? That points it out as a strength for vehicles which include both a plug and an engine, who's system is designed to squeeze out the efficiencies of each by using them in conjunction.
Product Gap. This topic of Tesla production intentions certainly has stirred up some rhetoric of the past. Remember a decade ago when Lutz launched his "stop gap" campaign? It was a clear anti-hybrid effort to promote fuel-cell vehicles, a declaration to end the consumption of gas. That fell apart. He got burned bad by Prius. When Tesla came along, it was a golden opportunity for vindication. That ugly chapter from the past would be forgotten by the way of crushing a bold, new, player with strong potential. Volt would be superior, offering the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, the realities of business crushed those ambitions. Volt created a product-gap instead. Price was too far out of reach for GM's own customer base. It would be competing directly with GM's other offerings. Despite countless warnings that would happen, hype clouded judgment. When sales began, so did the denial. Purchases well under expectations spurred the need for delay, making the product-gap worse and leaving GM with an expensive niche. Meanwhile, Tesla continues to press on... leaving us all wondering who the next Volt will actually target. The spin we now get from certain individuals confirms the lack of clarity. The same market question will need to be asked again. It's quite obvious that will be the source of trouble again too. Watch for it. Those vague answers are a dead giveaway. Ironically, that's what enables Tesla to continue to be a "disruptive" company. Each time detail is avoided, it strengthens them. Pressure is growing from many directions. GM must offer something, anything, for the masses in the high-efficiency category.