Personal Log  #667

April 27, 2014  -  May 3, 2014

Last Updated: Tues. 5/27/2014

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Given Up.  It's an interesting situation.  Volt enthusiasts have lowered their expectations so much, debates are pointless.  Their vehicle of praise was to take the market by storm, to put Prius to shame and make electric-only vehicles look silly.  That didn't happen.  In fact, things have went so poorly, they have allied with the electric-only vehicles.  The theme in today's April sales discussions has been that we need to be patient.  Progress been so slow, it's pointless to even bother to argue.  They've given up.  Embracing the much longer adoption path is now the plan.  Those who had exclaimed superiority and celebrated conquests are dismissed as rhetoric of the past, never having had any credibility or influence.  In other words, that effort to point out reality worked well.  They believed without supporting evidence and hoped for victory.  As technical detail was revealed, shortcomings with associated to goals were abandoned.  It's been a disaster... repeating the very same mistakes we saw with Two-Mode.  That's remarkable to have witnessed.  "Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it." was a warning not heeded.  Advice was simply disregarded.  Assumptions were made.  Preventable mistakes happened.  What a mess.  Fortunately, the attitude now makes taking the next step easier.  Unfortunately, the "too little, too slowly" concern has been overwhelmingly confirmed.  Volt was supposed to be a major player at this point, dominating the efficiency market and competing directly with traditional vehicles.  That didn't happen... not in any respect.


Perspective.  Results from April presented a major wake-up call... so much so, there isn't much to do beyond just present the numbers for perspective... which is exactly what I did.  To add some perspective, Chevy April sales here of cars:  21,752 Cruze;  19,944 Malibu;  13,915 Impala;  9,043 Camaro;  7,655 Sonic;  3,873 Spark;  3,514 Corvette.  Then there's Equinox at 20,315 and Silverado at 42,755.  Volt's 1,548 barely even gets noticed among those top-sellers.  When you take into account the month total here of 254,076 for GM, there should be genuine concern... especially since those other GM vehicles aren't aided by a $7,500 tax-credit.  They don't qualify for HOV stickers either.  Reality is, the market presents great challenges still. GM's own product-line is the competition.


Bailout Cost.  The final tally was released today.  This sentence says it all: "The U.S. Treasury’s bailout fund lost $11.2 billion on the rescue of General Motors Co. (GM) with the government's exit of the largest U.S. automaker."  We knew the realities of business would stifle innovation with respect to achieving sustainable profit.  That's why the auto task-force issued this concern as part of the bankruptcy-recovery plan: "too little, too slowly".  That meant efforts to compete would require actions above & beyond.  Fulfillment could not come from being reactionary, which is exactly what ended up happening.  The result was heavy investment in traditional cars & trucks.  Volt was doomed to be a niche.  Enthusiasts absolutely refused to acknowledge that reality.  Supporters did, abandoning the hope of mainstream until well after the introduction of the next-generation design.  No care was given to the product-gap, leaving GM without anything in the high-efficiency category.  Neither Two-Mode nor the second-generation of BAS (known as eAssist) could deliver.  Both died in response to terribly low sales.  Volt is fading.  ELR was dead on arrival.  Both require a plug.  What a mess.  The bailout did soften the impact.  But to those who absolutely insisted the government assistance would be repaid back entirely, they were very, very wrong.  We are left without an expectation for the future too.  How will the product-line change?  The remaining federal help, the tax-credits for all plug-in vehicles, will expire.  Then what?  Pressure from upcoming CAFE regulations (minimum MPG requirements) and the inevitable gas-price increases mean status quo isn't enough.  The other automakers are striving to provide better offerings too.  Progress marches on... with or without GM.  Perhaps the recent flood of recalls will encourage faster change.


Getting Old.  Attacks on the plug-in Prius continue.  This particular person simply doesn't care either.  Quite a number of people on the big Prius forum have called him how, frustrated with his blatant trolling.  Every chance he gets, he takes the opportunity to belittle and downplay.  As a Volt owner, other Volt owners are not happy about his behavior.  Misconceptions debunked long ago are repeating brought back up.  Today, it was: "Still, "the PiP can accelerate and merge into hywy traffic"?  And around here 62 MPH would be a traffic obstacle.  My point is when doing this with a stone cold engine, that is not the best thing for engine life."  I'm taken aback by his tenacity.  Being proven over and over again to be spreading FUD doesn't deter.  He just keeps it up anyway.  To make my point, not wanting to have to post rebuttals to the same nonsense again and again, I took a creative approach.  I made the post really stick out.  But rather than the ALL-CAPS shouting type response, I chose to make each sentence a different color... taking the response of being "colorful" in literal form, rather than the usual metaphor.  Hopefully, it will really stand out:  Since that point has already been debunked on several threads, it is time for a colorful response...  Prius PHV is a PLUG-IN HYBRID, which means it takes advantage of having both an electric-motor and a gas-engine.  When power beyond the electric-only threshold requested, the engine will start but is not allowed to exceed 1500 RPM.  That RPM limitation enables the engine to warm up gracefully, preventing wear a cold engine would otherwise experience.  Full draw from the battery-pack continues during the warm-up, which is how engine RPM can be limited yet still deliver power to merge onto a highway.  Remember this colorful response, so we don't have to answer the same question anymore.  Seeing it repeat is really getting old.


Blending, tradeoffs.  The benefit is far from obvious.  Most people aren't even aware of the fact that more of something often means less of something else.  When it comes to propulsion, that especially a problem.  The assumption is simply increasing the size of the engine, motor, or battery will improve the vehicle's overall performance.  That most definitely isn't the case.  Ford's plug-in hybrid approach has provided a great example of that.  First thing we see with Prius PHV is the warm-up process.  It takes full advantage of blending.  That 1500 RPM hold limit not only allows the engine to warm-up gracefully, that also contributes heavily to the warm-up speed of the catalytic-converter.  Most people forget about the emission system.  Rapid warm-up of it is just as important as the engine.  It requires 400°F for thorough cleansing.  What does Ford do?  We know that low RPM following warm-up is a key to Toyota's success.  That requires a gear-ratio optimization... which means a tradeoff of a slower maximum electric-only speed.  Ford's desire for higher speed in EV mode meant trading engine efficiency.  That gear-ratio isn't as well suited for blending as a result, taking advantage of boost from the battery-pack at any speed.  That's why neither the highway nor city MPG is a high as Prius PHV.  In fact, even that trading can be seen with the other Prius models.  To deliver greater power for Prius V, since it is larger & heavier, the final drive uses a lower gear-ratio.  That reduces MPG compared to the regular Prius, which shares the same engine, motor, and battery.  This is why blending is such a big deal.  Focusing on electric-only purity requires sacrifices.


Blending, stigma.  It's been given a stigma.  The purity of electric-only drive continues to get praise, regardless of the sacrifices required to achieve it.  There's a very active thread on the big Prius forum addressing it.  I added more to it today with:  Today's travel... mostly highway, in really wet snow, blah ...was 96 miles total.  I recharged early in the morning, mid-afternoon, and squeezed in a partial (60%) late in the evening.  The result was 62 MPG.  Blending is the new "caught off guard" situation.  People look back and give Toyota credit for being way ahead of the rest of the industry for hybrids, implying the other automakers are now rapidly catching up.  They believe the race is over, that a lead no longer exists.  Big mistake.  People assume the next big step forward is just increasing battery-capacity for further EV driving.  That's an easy trap to fall into.  It makes sense... unless you really take the time to consider all the factors involved.  Sadly, few ever do.  Most are greenwashed into thinking more is always better.  Engineers know differently.  They see how complicated it is to achieve a balance, how challenging it is to deliver an optimal solution.  They are well aware of tradeoffs.  They understand higher capacity and more power may not actually be an improvement.  It will take years for the typical consumer to figure that out.  Then, they'll look back and wonder way the others didn't just follow the same path Toyota took.  It will seem so obvious to them, at that point.  But right now, there's lots of disbelief that blending is better.


Heavy Rain.  This weekend, we had a mini gathering.  It was supposed to be an Earth Day event, but the heavy rain left us quite lonely... 6 plug-in vehicles... a Tesla, a Leaf, 3 Volt, and my Prius PHV.  Instead, it was a washout.  So, we hung out and talked for awhile.  The topic of "sales pitch" eventually came up.  We all recognize that you've got 20 seconds at most to say you piece.  After that, you typically lose the person to misconceptions & assumptions.  That makes subjects like "blending" nearly impossible to address.  There isn't an awareness of tradeoffs.  In this case, the belief is more electricity is better.  How do you illustrate to them that higher overall efficiency is possible from allowing the engine to run when the mindset is to use no gas until you run out of electricity?  To make matters worse, they think when the engine runs the battery is no longer used.  Then, there's the reality that much of our electricity is derived from dirty sources.  Conveying so much information is just a brief few sentences is basically pointless.  We were in agreement that the best way to convince the poorly informed is to encourage firsthand research.  After all, it was the test-drive experience that won over countless doubters years ago.  Why not with plug-in vehicles now?


New Discussions.  It's nice seeing new discussions emerge.  This one especially perked my interest.  "Why isn't there any discussion here about the PiP vs. the Ford Fusion Energi Plug-In?"  I jumped in with:  That's a reasonable question with a stirring answer.  In the past, there was a tremendous amount of chest-pounding.  Enthusiasts of Volt declared it "vastly superior" and celebrated GM having "leap frogged" the competition.  Then reality set in. Although Volt was an appealing vehicle and did indeed achieve some notable engineering milestones, it did not meet business or consumer need.  That's what caused so much attention to be drawn to it, pushing out pretty much all other mentions... except Prius.  Since then, GM itself has officially declared this generation and moved on.  They acknowledged goals not having been met.  That chapter ended. Many people aren't aware of the detail of that history.  And as much as some still want to discuss it, I have no interest.  I too would like to hear more about the other offerings, especially both Ford choices.  C-Max is what we've seen a number of former Volt drivers switch to when their lease expired.  Fusion isn't as practical, but it offers ample seating room.  Battery-Capacity is the obvious Energi advantage over Prius PHV.  That increased kWh provides higher kW draw opportunity, translating to more electric-only power.  Depleted efficiency isn't as good though, especially with C-Max.  Of course, comparisons are limited to the current situation.  We know that Toyota would like to increase capacity as cost drops, keeping it competitive with the real competition: traditional vehicles.  Knowing the engine in Prius will become even more efficient, it will continue to retain its hybrid advantage too.  Ford's direction isn't as obvious.  Capacity is already at a "maxed" threshold, with respect to both cost and physical space.  We haven't heard anything about engine efficiency either.  In fact, the MPG down-rating has really soured C-Max expectations.  Fusion, as a hybrid, is rather competitive already.  It rates notably higher than Camry, and matches Accord for combined. Fusion, as a plug-in, has a tiny trunk.  Being that limited for cargo space will deter buyers.  Being practical has been a strong selling-point for Prius, including the plug-in model.  Like it or not, we're still in the early stages.  Things will get interesting as tax-credit expiration nears.  In the meantime, charging-stations are evolving.  There are more locations and the equipment itself is improving considerably.


Impressive Charger.  Today's other charger encounter, the best charging-station I have ever seen, offered a nice balance.  It's at a remarkably beautiful nature preserve, which just happens to be within EV distance of my home.  The station offers 2 high-speed cords, both on those fancy retractable mounts.  No messing around with still or tangled cords.  The readout is an actual screen too, not a simple digital readout like all the others I've ever seen.  There's no charge to recharge either.  It's a great setup!  The location is absolutely ideal for a gathering as well.  There's lots of parking and room to hang out.  Sadly, it is rather out of the way for non-locals.  But that's life.  The best zoo in the state is nearby and people don't have any problem getting to it.  So, I've get a great opportunity to now exploit.  That impressive charger will help draw in a variety of efficiency supporters.  I can't wait for the weather to finally get nice!


Broken Charger.  On a cold, rainy day, what do you do?  Go to the mall.  Joining in that chaos wasn't the ideal choice.  Everyone else had the same thought.  But having a plug-in vehicle, at least parking would be too bad.  Of course, getting to the spot itself was a challenge.  It took awhile for us to reach the chargers.  Thankfully, there was room available.  That was a relief, considering how few spots are actually there.  Believe it or not, only 4 are offered at the Mall Of America.  That's a massive shopping destination.  With 2 huge parking ramps, that's beyond disappointing... especially since the recent efficiency upgrade.  All the lighting was switched over to LED.  Anywho, it got worse.  The charger I pulled up to was broken.  The L2 cable wouldn't release.  Only the L1 was operational.  That was a let down.  Hopefully, it will be fixed soon.  The broken charger at work took over a month to get repaired.  Oh well.


Real Issues.  It's nice to finally see some constructive dialog.  The new discussion started was about younger buyers, discussing the pattern we've observed. I contributed with:  The thing I run into with some older buyers is how their assumptions cloud judgment.  They believe they have all the information needed to make a decision.  Being unaware of what's actually available is a very big challenge to overcome still.  Today at the barber shop was a great example.  The barber's mom-in-law was there chatting with the people waiting to get their hair cut.  The topic started with flat tires (it's pothole season, after all), then became a discussion about cargo you could carry inside, since spares aren't always included anymore.  I mentioned mine didn't; instead, there was a battery-pack.  The woman immediately chimed in about "not being comfortable in one of those cars".  That got my attention.  I asked for clarification.  She said she had looked at "one of those" and didn't want any part of them.  Baffled by her lack of clarity, I asked about seating space.  She made some obscure reference about being small... which made no sense, since I knew her vehicle was a PT Cruiser... not a large vehicle which she had inferred owning.  Then, the topic was abruptly changed.  She had made up her mind, believing her stance was based on complete up-to-date facts.  She was wrong, but not having an effective way to point that out without embarrassment or disrespect is a very real problem.  Younger buyers don't have an extensive past to leverage upon and have grown up in an age where improvement was continuous & often.  So, most automatically seek out information.  That's a big difference with older buyers.  Assumption issues are a barrier to accepting high-efficiency vehicle choices.  How do we deal with that?


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