Personal Log  #665

April 10, 2014  -  April 15, 2014

Last Updated: Tues. 5/27/2014

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Lunar Eclipse.  It was 2:00 in the morning.  We were in Northern Minnesota, looking up into an icy cold clear sky void of any city lights.  The moon had just turned red.  The lunar eclipse was in progress.  We were already freezing.  Another 45 minutes was too much.  I suggested taking advantage of the Prius.  We jumped in an drove down to a location where we could park in the road without any possible traffic interference.  Our breath raised a new problem.  It instantly froze to the glass.  Oops!  Without the Prius running, we were comfortable... but the windows wouldn't remain clear for long.  Sitting back did the trick.  That was nice.  Neither one of us cared for the idea of having the engine heat coolant for our warmth for that long.  Why waste gas and have to deal with the engine & blower noise when we were already comfortably dressed?  So, we sat there and watched, in as natural of a setting as possible.  I enjoyed every moment of that experience.  It was quite humorous afterward too.  Our breathing frosted over all but the two side-windows we were viewing out of.  There was a hysterical amount on the front windshield.  The drive back to our place was only a 1/4 mile.  Starting the engine would have been counter-productive.  So, I scrapped... no realizing my breathing would frost it back up 10 seconds later.  The angle of the glass, rather than being vertical like the sides, made keeping it clear nearly impossible.  But out there in such a rural area at 3:00 AM with powerfully bright LED lights, made crawling along at a snails pace using only electricity and scraping the entire time was no big deal.  In fact, that added to the memory.  We had a very unique time, just the two of us watching a rare astronomical event... with a plug-in hybrid.


Greenwashing Efforts.  There are more and more Volt owners attempting to squash efforts to greenwash, no longer willing to be enablers by not speaking up.  They don't like when misinformation is spread, especially when it is about other plug-in vehicles to make Volt appear better.  Their desire to honestly gain people's acceptance is triumphing over the superiority approach.  Substance over attitude, gotta love it.  Anywho, it's stuff like this we are currently seeing: "You and PiP owners talk about how anytime you want full power you just step down and the engine comes on and gives XX HP.  That sounds like a horrible way to wake up an engine first thing, especially when it's -10°.  The Volt never does that to its engine."  Volt never does because the engine fires up at temperatures under 15°F.  The same is true for the plug-in Prius, but he intentionally left out that vital fact... hoping you'd assume it was different.  Also, notice how he was ambiguous by not being specific with temperature?  On the Celsius scale, -10°C is actually 14°F.  So technically, it's accurate, but could easily mislead.  Lastly, the inclusion of adjectives, like "horrible", draw the conclusion for you rather than just providing information.  Not being allowed to decide for yourself is yet another way to greenwash.  Lastly, watch for words like "never".  Sighting absolutes by focusing on extremes, rather than ordinary circumstances, adds to disingenuous portrayal too.  It's sad, but true.


Rumors.  It's nice when we get a reminder how not-so-obvious a situation can be: "Well, we're coming up on the two year anniversary of this thread.  Still, I have no idea how these rumors get started."  That's a very realistic comment to make; yet, few ever actually make it.  The online forum isn't a venue for that.  There's no way to follow the activity of all threads at the same time other than at that very moment.  It's impossible to know what things were like at any particular point in time.  You're stuck with a today-only perspective.  Fortunately, the blogs do capture thoughts as they are happening.  Mine is among the sources readily available for hybrids.  So, I responded with:  I do.  There are countless quotes in my hundred of pages of blogs pointing out the emergence of false beliefs.  With Volt in particular, there were some rather intense fights which came about from those of us who questioned sources and pointed out claims without merit.  Sadly, there are also greenwashing efforts.  My all time favorite is how Toyota clearly stated in a presentation how lithium-based batteries were still too expensive to be used profitably and people would intentionally misled by making the claim that those batteries could never be used.  It was a blatant disregard for what was actually said.  They didn't care.  Then when Volt rolled out, there was a huge effort to undermine PIP by making people believe the plug-supplied electricity wouldn't be used at all once the engine started or you exceed 62 mph.  No matter how many times the correction information was provided, the same people would keep posting greenwash material.  So, simple things like rumors, are easy to see how they get out of hand. Consider the reality of most people taking what they read at face value, never bothering to confirm facts or follow up.  It's really disappointing to learn how common that is.


The Past.  It's nice having an open & constructive dialog now.  Things have definitely changed.  I pointed today's observations out with:  It is unfortunate most people are unaware of the past.  To those of you who have openly stated not having followed Volt until later in the process, THANK YOU for stating that.  It's far better than back when we pointed out the parallel to Two-Mode development and having been accused of trying to promote Prius rather than getting any type of constructive acknowledgement.  That's what the nonsense emerged from.  Having witnessed the entire process twice already and seeing the pattern start for a third, it's a very real issue finding an effective way to convey that information.  Items get argued down simply due to lack of detail... the very content I documented to the extreme back when those previous events happens, as they were unfolding.  Even the act of looking back afterward presents a perspective different from that of not knowing yet.  Long story short, I expect quite a bit of criticism from the resulting over-simplification.  Not addressing all the reasons why is a problem we've already seen repeat.  Then, of course, we have the problem of some people not having the background.  Unless you've studied economics, accounting, and engineering, there are aspects of discussions being missed.  The biggest problem, though, is not having goals or even an audience clearly identified.  Failure is inevitable when particulars are not provided for the measure of success.


Bottom Line.  The academic arguments are annoying.  People think they're being constructive, but don't realize excluding real-world is a major oversight.  They assume people make logical choices.  To make matters worse, they believe the best option is what offers the most of something.  So naturally, agreement is elusive.  Then there's the blame game, especially when it comes to Volt.  That means when we shift focus back to goals, the response is typically one of anger.  But that's how this works, resulting in: "Who cares about "he said, she said".  The truth is the bottom line: final sales numbers at the end of the year.  Enuf said."  Who is GM anyway?  Hype was allowed to take on a life of it's own.  Whenever something was said, it was always intentionally ambiguous.  There hasn't been any accountability.  Anyone of responsibility left the project.  Enthusiasts were enabled.  Look at what's happening was the next generation, the same nonsense is repeating.  We all know the what's required.  That shouldn't need to be said.  Success will always be defined by sales.   The business requires high-volume profitable sales. Being green cannot be achieved without those sales.


Lessons Learned.  An article summarizing the situation this way said it well: "In an effort to boost sales and find a wider appeal, a lower-priced, shorter range version of the Chevy Volt is reportedly planned."  That pokes at goals, indirectly highlighting how Toyota had it correct with Prius from the very beginning by holding price an extremely high priority.  As sensible as it seems to deliver a vehicle that's faster and more powerful, it doesn't actually mean that will result in more sales.  Those who support Volt have learned that lesson the hard way... and some, more so than others.  Quotes like this highlight the circumstances now: "I'm glad that I didn't buy my Chevy Volt. Just 3 years lease." and "I'd gladly sell the Volt, only GM has destroyed my resale value..."  Think about the damage that $5,000 price drop has done.  Think about what will happen when the $7,500 tax-credit expires.  Think about what happens in a few weeks when the HOV-sticker supply runs out.  What about making a profit?  When and how will that be achieved?  With so much marketing emphasis still being placed on the having a 40-mile range, the introduction of a reduced model clashes with what we've been told is important.  Remember, reduced capacity can also mean reduced speed & power.  Whatever the case, it ultimate must reach more consumers... an audience well beyond that of the first attempt.


Smart-Entry / Smart-Start.  That's how it was first named, abbreviated as SE/SS.  The reason for that was the more popular name now used wasn't specific enough.  Smart-Key-System (SKS) implies you can both unlock & start the vehicle with a wireless transmitter... which wasn't the case originally.  Some only allowed entry, but you still had to use a physical key afterward.  Anywho, I made a surprise discovery that it was smarter than I had thought.  My girlfriend had one of the transmitters in her purse, still inside the Prius.  When we walked away from it, I pressed the lock button on my transmitter.  The Prius doors locked.  Later when we returned, I discovered the doors weren't unlocking by just passing my hand through the handle like usual.  After several attempts and worry something was actually wrong, I pushed by button on the transmitter.  It unlocked.  All was well.  It took a minute for me to put together what had just occurred.  The system had automatically disabled the proximity feature, since it detected a transmitter was locked inside... forcing me to physically touch my own outside for entry.  Had it not done that, anyone could have got in the vehicle and driven away.  Sweet!


Non-Hybrid Use.  Some of the engine technology only used in the Toyota hybrids will be carried over to the Toyota traditional vehicles.  It's part of that on-going process often referred to a the "moving target" we are always concerned about.  There's a constant cycle of improvement which is a endless source of market pressure.  It can be good, but you need to take a reality check from time to time.  Expanding production & distribution reduces cost.  That's a win-win situation, especially since it means continued investment.  The most obvious change is switching from the Otto piston pumping to Atkinson.  The longer strokes provide more output for each act of combustion, resulting in higher efficiency.  While driving at a steady speed, that's great.  However, the tradeoff is reduced power.  Of course, not much power is needed while cruising anyway.  There are also refinement approaches, learned such as exhaust-gas recirculation, variable-valve timing, and air-intake ports, which can all be used in non-hybrids.  They increase the engine's thermal efficiency, resulting in higher MPG output.  It's an interesting situation.  Makes you wonder if the typical consumer has any clue what actually happens under the hood as they drive.


Encouragement.  Those working against the effort to reach the mainstream with hybrids & plugs are disappearing.  The ones left are quite amusing.  One website still working hard misleads for the sake of promoting diesel.  This month's attempt was to misrepresent by posting the total sales for hybrids and for diesel.  It seemed innocent enough… until you realized the hybrids were exclusively passenger vehicles and the diesel included commercial trucks.  How is that even the slightest big honest?  Whatever.  We're just looking for signs of encouragement asking how things have changed.  The most intriguing is the shift of former Prius owners replacing their aged vehicles with hybrids from other automakers.  That appears like a loss.  But stepping back to look at the big picture, it's really an industry plus.  Those owners are now pushing their expectations elsewhere… encouraging market growth overall.  Yeah!  It's one of those situations like negative publicity, where it ultimately has a positive effect.  The circumstances are counter-intuitive.  Conflict at the plug can be that way too.  Owners are figuring out what works best on their own, rather than being forced to conform to a standard established by group unfamiliar with we actually encounter.  There is a spirit of cooperation growing in the forums.  Defeat tends to encourage finding a compromise.  New hope is growing.


Dishonesty.  GM's frequent mention of the next-generation Volt encourages speculation.  That's perfectly fine.  There's nothing wrong with exploring options.  Hope without merit isn't constructive though.  When it leads to hype, the situation creates reason for concern.  When it results in dishonesty, problems arise.  We're seeing it already.  This new chapter ushered it back in.  Ugh.  There's one person flat out denying past discussions ever happened, even though the exact phrases recited were from many posts with him, over and over again.  For the same topic to be addressed repeatedly and now conveniently forgotten, you have to carefully choose how to respond.  My choice is abandonment.  The effort simply isn't worth it… especially since it would only serve to confirm his hypocritical stance.  His claim is dishonest, but that can be accepted.  That change was the goal anyway.  With another, the problem isn't so easy to deal with.  He continues to outright lie about how Prius operates.  Now, he's claiming the videos he watched validates the misinformation.  Upon reading that, I was stunned.  How could anyone be so desperate to undermine still?  Making statements so easily proven false is a good sign though.  It serves as indication that Prius is seen as a true threat… so much for finding an ally to help replace traditional vehicles.  I'm choosing to ignore him too.  With so much real-world data now available, we'll just focus on that instead.


Sometimes.  Patience is important, but ask what sacrifices are made in the meantime.  We really don't want to keep putting countless traditional vehicles on the road.  They'll remain in service for the next decade.  So, we have to consider comments like this carefully: "Sometime it just takes much longer than we want it to!"  That's very reason we need to keep carefully focused.  Anywho, this was my post in response:  Sometimes?  With the automotive industry, when hasn't it?  Seriously.  They always rollout in slow motion.  Each new advance is loooong awaited by the time we actually get it.  You complain about slow expansion with the plug-in Prius, yet don't mention the very same thing happening twice in the past.  We didn't get the Gen-0 model (Dec. 1997) at all.  Instead, we got the upgrade 2.5 years later and called it Gen-1 (Aug. 2000).  Then that rollout was internet-order-only for 2.5 years (until May 2002).  When Volt enthusiasts were making bold claims about mainstream sales by the end of year-2, some of us were shaking our heads in dismay.  What made it especially interesting was the outright dismal of anything related to Two-Mode, which was GM's own recent attempt to capitalize on their much stronger market... trucks.  We all knew the car market would heat up.  Pressure from traditional vehicles has been growing as the price of gas climbs and the efficient requirements rise.  That meant anything attempting to appeal to those same consumers absolutely must match their purchase priorities.  Toyota has remained true to that with Prius and has remained competitive.  GM decided to risk offering something at a higher cost while sacrificing interior space and is paying the consequences as a result.  So, we look ahead to what will be delivered for 2016.  Reading the blogs & forums for Volt, I find it ironic how many of the "second model" comments are exactly what many of us labeled as "trolls" were saying years ago.  They are now endorsing those very suggestions they had once despised.  The fear that our attempts to help progress along was really an effort to kill Volt.  Turns out, we had studied the market and understood it better.  It had nothing to do with the engineering.  It came down to basic economics.  Automakers are a business.  They cannot just build what they want, no matter how much hype that desire stirs.  It's all about high-volume profitable sales.


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