Personal Log  #659

February 20, 2014  -  February 28, 2014

Last Updated: Weds. 3/05/2014

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Quick Adoption.  Fallout from 2013 will hurt some far more than others.  Toyota already has a profitable platform to leverage from.  The key to greater market penetration is using PHV to raise the bar.  When mainstream buyers see the plug from time to time, they'll look upon the regular model as the new normal.  After all, we are well into the 21st Century at this point.  Think about how much internet, phone, and television have changed over the past few years.  Being able to deliver an affordable plug-in model… quickly and without tax-credit dependency… to reach those consumers is realistic.  This is why Toyota worked so hard to squeeze out a significant return from just a modest battery-pack.  The 4.4 kWh size was quite deliberate.  It was small enough to be thought of as an upgrade option, once the cost of lithium reached a profitable level… which thankfully is right around the corner.  The fact that the battery-pack is also small enough to be totally concealed under the false floor without taking away from any of the open cargo area is a nice bonus.  The prototype models used a 5.0 kWh size, which did indeed reduce the space for cargo.  The change was a smart move, especially now knowing how 2014 looks to play out.  Being positioned to take advantage of a paradigm shift is important.  Quick adoption of hybrids will catch some automakers completely off guard.  Think about those that don't have anything but a loss-leader to offer.  They'll be stuck trying to compete with only traditional vehicles.


Business Realities.  The topic of profit for automakers has been beaten to death, to the point that even the most stubborn finally acknowledge the problems high-cost cause.  Some truly believe the "if you build it, they will buy it" model… despite countless examples of that not actually working.  In fact, there have been some monumental failures of the past they simply refused to address.  Thankfully, that's over now.  We can now move on to the other pressing matters.  Yet another example of "too little, too slowly" is the business reality of is the adoption of charging-stations.  Those fighting more practical plug-in hybrids, like Prius PHV, didn't realize they were shooting themselves in the foot.  Adoption of the plug by everyday consumers needed to be done quickly; otherwise, issues unique to niches emerge.  Lately, that has manifested itself with the quarreling of who is "entitled" to plug, rather than finding a way to make it work.  As a result, some owners are having charging-stations removed.  That's quite a dramatically different outcome from the expectation of installing more.  They are tired of dealing with those arguments & complaints and don’t see the patronage benefit they had anticipated.  Things like this are exactly why the "vastly superior" attitude frustrated me so much.  With over a decade of hybrid ownership, I knew the rollout wasn't targeting the correct market, which the masses needed to embrace plugging quickly.


Tax Reform Act.  Countless warnings that this could happen weren't taken seriously.  Finally, someone heard.  Of all people, it was the last Volt holdout who voiced some worry.  But when the Ways & Means committee for the House of Representatives brings it up, rather than Prius owners, the reason for concern is much stronger.  I responded with the news of the possible end of tax-credits for plug-in vehicles coming this way:  When the tax-credit for hybrids was offered in 2006, the expectation was that it would quickly stimulate sales.  The amount was $3,150 per vehicle with a quantity of 60,000 per automaker.  In 2010, for plug-in vehicles, more than double the amount (up to $7,500) and more than triple the quantity (200,000) was offered.  Expecting to milk that for 5 years was pushing it.  Hearing that it could indeed end after 5 years shouldn't surprise anyone, especially knowing the financial situation our government has been struggling with since 2008.  The need to proceed quickly was part of the economic recovery advice provided.  We all saw the possibility of incentive funding coming to a end.  Cost reduction is vital and you cannot wait until after the tax-credit has ended to deliver it.  The expectation has been to increase sales right away, to achieve some lower prices through the benefit of high-volume production.  What plug-in vehicles are in the position to deal with that just 10 months from now?


Starting Over.  It doesn't take much to see that the first-generation issues for Volt are now just a memory.  That attitude of being vastly superiority is long gone.  It's as if someone pushed a reset button.  Promises of the past have been abandoned.  They've started over.  Posts are so vague, what to expect next is anyone's guess.  That makes sense too.  All those years ago, the enthusiasts didn't anticipate the EV would be so successful.  The very idea of Tesla & Nissan holding on strong enough to show growth potential at this point was a joke.  Taking that possibility serious simply wasn't going to happen.  They also thought hybrids would be severely weakened at this point.  Seeing Toyota deliver 1,000,000 in just 9 months most definitely wasn't in their plans.  So, they have to recalibrate… without sounding hypocritical.  They don't want to fall into the hype trap again either.  Somewhere in the middle there's a happy balance… the very target Toyota has been aiming at all along.  I like the fact that such information doesn't rouse intense emotional outbursts anymore.  Recognizing need is progress, long overdue.  Better late than never… even if it does mean having to start over.


Honda Insight.  The idea of an ASSIST hybrid never made any sense.  It lacked the flexibility needed.  Not having a power-split device, instead being directly integrated, meant missing out on efficiency opportunities.  It also meant only a tiny electric-motor could be used.  There was no possibility of ever supporting a plug either.  So, it was doomed from the start.  The fact that Honda was able to milk the design for over a decade and provide some amount of competition was amazing.  But with so few choices, the challenge wasn't great.  Things are different now.  Honda has since developed its own FULL hybrid system too.  That made today's announcement quite predictable.  Insight production for the United States will end.  It simply wasn't able to compete here.  280,629 were sold worldwide last year, which is quite good.  But only 4,802 of those were purchased by us.  That's so small of a number, it's just plain not worth the effort anymore.  Honda will focus on other offerings instead.


Not Anymore.  It's nice reading this from someone who had for awhile pushed in the other direction: "This is no longer the happy go lucky community of first adopters. It's back to the real world and it's a dog eat dog one."  Some obviously pushed harder than others.  But it always came down to who each person considered the competition.  Overwhelming, owners of Volt considered the other plug-in vehicles.  Now they are only a tiny fraction, nothing to actually worry about.  In fact, the spirit of cooperation I had sought all those years ago is finally becoming realistic.  They now acknowledge the massive threat traditional vehicles pose.  It's about dang time!  I responded accordingly:  The warnings about "too little, too slowly" were not understood and were often dismissed with an "early adopter" excuse.  That isn't happening anymore.  I like this new chapter.  Seeking out cooperation across automakers is becoming realistic.  Those seeking out solutions using electricity now recognize the real threat is traditional vehicles, not other plug-in vehicles.  It was rough initially.  Back when we were in the "only for green" phase, it was easy enough to just argue against plugs using talking points without any merit.  But now that 3 years have passed, there's real-world data shaking out the unrealistic from the practical.  Some feel threatened, since they see the change coming.  They fear the inevitable and lash out.  We've seen a plug-in owner get arrested for plugging in using an outlet without explicit permission, even though that's a very common occurrence with cell-phones.  Now we see someone has intentionally destroyed a charger-cord.  Meanwhile, former quarreling parties are now trying to work out how to handle demand at the plug.  Those are all examples of a turning point having been reached.  The choice of plugging in isn't anywhere near as simple as had been portrayed.  Competition will be much more intense.  Look no further than the computer market for a parallel.  Remember back in the days when a system's worth could be evaluated primarily upon processor-speed?  Now, there are far more configurations available and measuring performance varies dramatically upon need.  We're seeing similar emerge with plug-in vehicle choices.


Focus Electric.  Looking in the mirror, I saw a familiar but unrecognizable car approaching.  It was sunset.  That made the LED stylelights really stand out.  They were unique, yet something about the vehicle kept nagging at me.  As it got close to pass, I could identify the Ford badge and noticed it had a door emblem.  I quickly dismissed it as saying "HYBRID".  So, I kept looking, hoping to confirm it said "ENERGI".  It didn't though.  It said "ELECTRIC".  That took a moment to register.  The car was one of the rare Focus Electrics.  With so few on the road, you simply never expect to actually see one.  That was cool.  It did make me wonder.  Why are there so few?  Nissan sells far more Leafs.  Oh well.  Not sure way.  But that makes it official.  I finally saw one.


Not Serious.  Proof that things have changed (we started a new chapter) is becoming very easy to find.  In the past, there was so much rhetoric against the plug-in Prius, the assumption was that Volt would naturally do far better.  The catch was, the belief only worked if you didn't include the regular model.  It couldn't be part of the equation.  The enthusiasts of Volt kept claiming Toyota's efforts weren't serious.  They didn't understand how change really occurs though.  Now, there's a "disgust" thread growing.  The supporters are sounding off about the observations of GM.  It started with a commercial for Cruze Diesel.  The original advertisement stated "best mileage of any non-hybrid" then later got switched to "best in-class mileage".  Remember the big question of who the market for Volt was?  They now see the competition coming from within, not Toyota.  The very thing we warned them about is coming true.  As a result, comments like this are getting posted: "I have said before and I will say it again, GM has no interest in selling volts!"   I find that quite ironic, especially since I don't recall ever having read that.  Of course, many never wanted to acknowledge the leadership issue either: "It got me thinking about whether or not GM will let the Volt wither on the vine... Half of the top people that were responsible for the Volt are no longer with GM."  My posts pointing that out resulted in hostile responses.  They'd keep posting information about promises having been made about upcoming expectations, but wouldn't acknowledge those who were responsible for delivering the improvement were no longer there.  Without accountability, it's really easy to abandon particular efforts.  Plug-In support (both marketing & financial) won't come from a regular hybrid either, since GM doesn't offer one.  There's literally nothing to leverage from.  In fact, all there is available is a tax-credit which will expire during the sales period of whatever is offered next.  Basically, seeing the current loss of interest, GM will have to start from scratch.  That reintroduction of what's called "Volt" a few years from now will be a major effort.  Think of the competition then.  Too bad things got so out of hand.  Supporters trusted the right decisions would be made rather than helping GM be better informed.  They cheered each step instead of providing constructive criticism.  Consequences of that blind hope are abundant.  GM wasn't serious.  Turns out, the enthusiasts weren't either.


41 MPG.  There was lots of running around yesterday.  It was annoyingly cold and I didn't get an opportunity to plug in.  Not being able to recharge and frequently having to start up a cold engine wasn't the weekend I had looked forward to.  But then again, that's what real-world data-collection is all about.  Fortunately, the results weren't too bad.  Getting 41 MPG was quite nice.  Too bad this terribly long Winter continues to drag on.  Snow piles at edges of driveways have climbed as high as the lower branches in the trees.  That well above average.  It obviously a big safety issue.  Having to deal with slippery & bumpy roads is bad enough.  Spring sure is going to be nice.  Thankfully, I can plug-in most days in the meantime... twice, in fact.  That boosts MPG into the 60's.  Gotta like that improvement.  It's way better than any guzzler could deliver.


Industry Disruption.  There are many innovations from the past that we can look back upon with great favor, saying they were an obvious next step for an industry.  Each takes a collection of other new technologies combined to make an entirely new product which causes a disruption in the industry.  The intent is to cause the end of the current product's production.  Digital cameras are a prime example.  The use of film by consumers ended as a result.  People switched to saving images electronically instead.  That was a major boom for those producers who could handle the change.  Those who couldn't disappeared.  The technologies that didn't achieve change disappeared too.  In fact, most of the history and players involved vanish, especially the competition.  DIVX is the prime example of that.  No, not the compression format we recognize nowadays.  The optical-disc.  It was competition to DVD, introduced after DVD had established itself as an industry agreed upon replacement for VHS video-tapes.  The now bankrupt Circuit City sponsored it, enticing movie studios to offer it as an alternative.  They paid a total of 300 Million dollars to those interested to join.  They pitched it as a copy-protected format.  The optical-disc could only be used when activated via phone-connection and would only work for 48 hours.  After that time, people would simply throw away the disc.  Back then, the late 90's, that meant a major opportunity to tap into the home-rental market.  Many saw it as expensive, complicated, and wasteful.  Now with digital downloads, the concept seems absurd... which is why barely anyone even remembers it.  Yet, it dramatically slowed down DVD production for nearly 2 years.  It was a true disruption which ultimately failed.  How is Volt any different?  It too is heavily subsidized, uses a convoluted system, and isn't actually as efficient as it would seem.  In the meantime, it has slowed the progress of other plug-in hybrids.  Look a Toyota, Ford, and Honda's efforts.  All use battery-packs notably smaller.  Supposedly, bigger is better.  But evidence to the contrary is becoming easier to find.  Just look at Hyundai and BMW.  They intend to offer plug-in hybrids with smaller battery-packs too.  GM intends to stick with a larger pack, despite sales being far below expectations and tax-credits expiring.  Remember what happened to Kodak from not embracing digital photography?


Charger Failure.  I got an email from the Prius, stating recharging had failed.  That certainly got my attention.  With wet & heavy snow coming down, I wondered what could have happened.  I know plugging in at work wasn't out of the ordinary.  Nothing stood out in my mind.  So, I walked over to investigate.  Checking the plug, all looked fine.  So, I went into the ramp office to point out their first ever charging issue.  They said for me to play around and report what I discovered.  Upon ending my efforts, I returned the plug to the charger.  It kept asking me to do exactly that, even after doing it and rescanning my card.  I went in and told them the unit had become confused, likely needing a software reboot to get it back on track.  They said it would be called in.  Nothing appeared damaged.  So hopefully, the fix is that simple.


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