Personal Log  #686

October 22, 2014  -  November 3, 2014

Last Updated: Tues. 6/27/2017

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No One.  It doesn't surprise me to see this so quickly: "Of course the Toyota big wigs will look at it and say: See, no one wants plug-ins!"  It won't take long before people have no idea what was actually said.  The quote isn't included in full anymore.  The context is already lost.  That's a recipe for trouble.  We'll end up with a generalization which will be very difficult to shake.  Sad, but true, is our reality.  The best I could do about it was:  The statement was actually about electric-only vehicles in the current market.  It doesn't surprise me at all that has already mutated into a misunderstanding being spread around.  Trying to point out to others last week that would happen fell on deaf ears... even though we've seen it happen before.  I clearly remember a presentation Toyota made about lithium batteries a number of years ago.  Cost was sighted as the reason for not embracing them.  Almost immediately afterward, some started claiming the reason was fire concern.  Even though that clearly wasn't what had actually been said, many people believed it.  And still all these years later, the reason of cost still doesn't get recognized by some.  It's greenwashing at its best.  When incorrect information is innocently shared without anyone taking the time to verify that it is accurate.  Eventually most people will end up seeing the difference.  Sadly though, some will believe the change they see was the result of a decision change, having no idea they had incorrect information all along.  Oh well.


57 MPG.  The long drive home from my future in-laws place was a pleasant one.  It was a nice Fall day.  The temperature was just above 50°F.  There weren't bikes on the back this time, since we went there to participate in a haunted house for Halloween.  The grille on the Prius was blocked.  That probably provided a small aero-dynamic improvement.  MPG was outstanding as a result, even without plugging in.  That's so nice on weekend get-aways.  Being able to escape without consuming lots of gas rather empowering.  You don't fell trapped or obligated.  That's especially important when the opportunities to do that are so rare.  Summer is far too short.  But living in Minnesota, you take advantage when you can.  It will be April before I can even consider any type of favorable weather trip.  Almost 6 months.  Ugh.  It's a good thing I can plug in around here.  That makes the cold season easier to endure.  Snow is nice.  But temperatures well below freezing for weeks at a time get annoying... winter coat... thick gloves... heavy boots... ugly sweaters.


Nailed.  The hype leading to the recent announcement was a large build up for a non-event.  It fizzled.  You could sense the "Is that it?" disappointment to such a degree, no one had to say anything.  The lack of excitement following spoke for itself.  Thud.  So, the spin that emerged today had an attentive audience yearning for something to fulfill the emptiness.  I could only shake my head in dismay.  I really didn't expect it to die so quickly.  But witnessing it firsthand, all I could do was pass on the spin, looking for feedback.  This is what I took from the Volt daily blog and shared on the big Prius forum:  Here's what one of the die-hard enthusiasts had to say in response to the recent info from GM about the next-gen Volt: "GM has made the right decision in emphasizing more EV range, more responsiveness, and a more refined ride in CS Mode.  They completely nailed what is important, thankfully tuning out the demand for higher but inconsequential MPG in CS Mode."  Interesting, you bet.  We were told to expect much, for the next-gen design to leap-frog the competition... which would be great, considering what was needed.  Instead, we're finding out the improvements are incremental and are already seeing downplay.


That Question.  Yesterday's new information from GM was interesting.  Everyone, including Toyota, is waiting to see what happens with Volt before making the next move.  After all, gas prices are falling and high was necessary for sales growth.  So, there isn't much to do in the meantime except wonder.  Sadly, the market is loaded with examples of weak sales for high-efficiency offerings.  The reason GM stands out is due to their magnitude of goals having been missed.  Two-Mode, BAS/eAssist, and Voltec were all heavily hyped and were all a struggle to sell.  Achieving that mainstream minimum (5,000 sales per month) simply won't happen if you don't appeal to a wide audience.  So, it continues:  Who is the market for Volt?  That was the question asked prior to and following the rollout.  Focus on the nice performance & handling seemed to indicate potential buyers were those who desired more from a vehicle than the typical consumer who would otherwise purchase a Malibu, Impala, or Cruze.  It was instead targeted at those wanting more from a vehicle than affordable & reliable transport.  In the end, GM did indeed confirm the market was for those seeking something special.  Know that, now we ask a different question.  For the next Volt to be offered to a wider audience, we know cost (the amount the automaker pays to produce the vehicle) much be significantly reduced.  What other improvements are necessary?


Product-Gap.  Remember how concern has been about the product-gap?  That fact continues to get overlooked.  Either you purchase a traditional vehicle or a Volt.  Offering nothing in between doesn't position GM well for business sustaining profit in a highly competitive market selling to the masses.  Yet, that's what we found how they will be doing.  Whether or not the next-gen Volt is a refinement for the niche they carved out is besides the point.  Too bad today's online conference didn't see that as a problem.  We were told Volt would be without any variant model.  It's the one-size-fits-all strategy reboot.  Rather than reaching out to a wider audience by offering a choice, the decision has been made to rollout just one.  Either you buy an affordable traditional vehicle delivering MPG in the 30's or you buy an expensive plug-in with a battery-pack delivering roughly 50 miles.  Nothing between doesn't seem to worry anyone.  Ugh.  This upgrade was supposed to overcome shortcoming of the original.  That's not going to happen... based on what we learned today.  What could the details to be revealed in January do to change that?


Grille Blocked.  The cold weather is quickly settling in.  Fall seemed unusually brief this year.  Freezing temperatures for the nightly low are already a reality.  Ugh.  The seasonal ritual of blocking the grille took place today.  I simply squeeze foam-insulation for 1/2" pipes between each slot.  It takes about 20 minutes to entirely cover the bottom grille on the Prius.  The pressure alone keeps the stuff in place all Winter long, even with repeated trips through the carwash.  It looks surprisingly nice that way too.  When Spring arrives, the removal is just a matter of giving each a firm tug.  In the meantime, it there to help retain heat.  Why let so much cold air flow through the engine compartment when not that much is needed?  That reduction keeps the engine from having to start up as often to for warming.  Both the interior of the vehicle and the emissions system require heat.  Blocking is the solution to consume less gas for that.  It also helps the system warm up faster too.  With a price of just $2.35 for the foam, why not?


Volt Summary.  This chapter in history is clearly coming to an end soon.  The following wrapped up the situation well: "Not to take anything away from Volt.  It is a fine car that has been ride and handling and cleaner than a regular gas cars.  If you look at it from a wider angle, it is not an effective solution.  Costs too much for too little gain with many side-effects introduced, especially with the emission level in current grid."  Looking at goals, rather than just the vehicle itself, Volt fell way short.  It was terrible from a profit & risk perspective, proved to be an unwise business choice.  For the market as a whole, what did it actually accomplish?  It certainly wasn't the game-changer it was hyped to be.  In fact, it turned out to be a promotional disaster.  Looking back, it closely resembles Two-Mode.  The enthusiasts hated that prediction.  Supporters had a feeling it would be true.  Owners confirmed it was.  So, the only thing to do at this point is look forward:  Excellent summary.  Having driven Volt several times on a closed track, I can attest to the ride & handling.  That view fails to consider the unfulfilled goals though.  The "saving gas" campaign further illustrates how need hadn't been fully addressed.  Fortunately, many of the enthusiasts have come to terms with that reality and are placing their bets on the next-gen offering.  They had thought we were being unfair by forcing the big-picture perspective, not giving Volt a chance.  They now realize the importance of that cost-reduction, how it brings about vital improvements.  Look at what shedding weight delivers; using fewer materials for the build also provides an efficiency gain.  With subsidies expiring within the next-gen production cycle and the necessity to seriously increase sales volume, being an effective solution cannot be emphasized enough.


EV Sales.  These were the numbers that provoked the greenwash attempt:  (10) Renault Zoe: 15,063.  (9) Renault Kangoo: 15,369.  (8) Ford Fusion Energi: 15,611.  (7) Ford C-Max Energi: 16,377.  (6) Mitsubishi i-MiEV Family: 30,501.  (5) Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: 35,188.  (4) Tesla Model S: 47,000.  (3) Toyota Prius PHV: 65,300.  (2) Chevy/Holden Volt & Opel/Vauxhall Ampera: 83,687.  (1) Nissan Leaf: 142,000.  They are worldwide sales totals.  I'm wasn't certain which irritated that Volt enthusiast more, the count for Leaf or Prius PHV, at first.  Knowing his reputation for being disregarding data he didn't like and being a Prius antagonist, the response of attempting to belittle PHV was a safer bet.  But then again, the numbers are a little too close for comfort when you consider the reality of PHV availability still being limited to the initial 15 rollout states.  That sets a very interesting stage for next-gen competition.  The lack of inventory reminds me of the Classic rollout more and more.  The Iconic model which followed made the supposed lack-of-demand for the prior a trivial matter.  People really like the new offering and couldn't care less what led up to it.  That's why burning bridges with Volt doesn't make any sense.  Why set a precedent for greenwash when the future could be so different anyway?  After all, what does an antagonist really hope to accomplish by fighting both plug-in hybrids and electric-only vehicle when they are leading the way toward a market with fading interest in traditional vehicles?


Final Greenwashing.  The last desperate attempts to revive the hype for Volt are now being made.  Watching the end draw near over the last few months has been quite vindicating.  A struggling approach with no alternative can only survive so long before reality sets in.  To be successful, the price of gas had to stay high and the cost of lithium batteries come down some.  If the battery cost came down too much, Volt would lose its advantage to the EV.  If gas prices dropped, Volt would lose its advantage to traditional vehicles.  The position of Prius PHV irritated those enthusiasts to no end.  It required less of a premium and gas & lithium didn't have as big of an impact.  It also had a popular hybrid counterpart, one without a plug keeping the platform affordable.  Needless to say, no growth for Volt made the story worse.  With each month pounding another nail into the coffin, they knew the next-gen would have to be quite different to attract sales.  But in spirit of true denial, we got this today on that daily blog: "It would also be interesting to compare the amount of EV miles of the top 15 plug-in sales."  My response didn't make him happy.  I made me though.  There's no excuse for greenwashing like.  Pointing out his attempt is totally appropriate.  So, I did:  That would be misrepresentative, since it wouldn't depict all the electricity actually utilized.  Blending is when plug-supplied electricity is taken advantage of to reduce gas consumption by the engine.  The result is significantly boosted MPG, a value not represented by EV miles.  They are counted as HV miles instead.  When purpose is to reduce gas consumption, electricity consumption is very important to know.


Fuel-Cell Debate Points.  Cost and overall emissions are the big ones.  On their own, they don't provide enough justification either way.  So, the debates tend to drag on and on.  EV supporters love to bring up infrastructure as a shortcoming for hydrogen, but then end up being hypocritical about not wanting to address that very topic for plugging in.  That lack of balance obviously rubs me the wrong way.  Of course, the Volt supporters had been doing the very same thing up until recently.  That refusal to acknowledge is frustrating.  It's a red-flag about upcoming rollout issues... because you cannot just hope shortcomings will magically go away.  Anywho, I brought this point up, hoping to at least bring the level of rhetoric down in the discussion:  Refueling is a very real issue people seem to either dismiss or be unaware of.  Fast to refuel should be obvious.  The other is storage.  The grid doesn't actually have any.  That results in an efficiency penalty most fail to acknowledge.  When the electricity is generated, it is sent out for immediate use... since there isn't any way of holding on to it.  Hydrogen provides that means of capture, preventing waste in some circumstances.


Oops!  My references in the previous post to "leap frog" were misspelled.  They were oddly fitting too.  You rarely expect anything like that to happen.  But it did.  So, we got a good laugh from the blunder:  hehe!  That's both a funny typo and ironically fitting.  Gotta like the auto-spell feature on phones.  Anywho, we all remember how GM hyped the "range anxiety" angle.  They even went as far as trade-marketing the phrase.  Their purpose was to show the world how EREV was vastly superior to EV.  It was Tesla who stirred the pot, but the target was Leaf.  We were told over and over and over how valuable having a "range extender" would be.  As time progressed though, Leaf showed signs of consumer interest.  The fear campaign was falling apart.  That vital feature of Volt wasn't crushing the competition as hope.  So, attention was refocused on a seemingly weaker foe: Prius PHV.  But it turns out, that wasn't as easy as hoped.  Despite the limited market availability and much lower tax-credit, it still held on.  I was surprised how much misleading effort the enthusiasts had to expend to save face for Volt.  It's something they'll look back upon with regret... hence asking now what looking forward will bring.  Instead, we are seeing the hype being encouraged again.  That vague "leap frog" exclamation without any detail matches an all-to-familiar pattern.


Deciding After The Fact.  You cannot; yet, he believed that was totally acceptable.  "Will the gen II volt leap frog them? I think it has a good chance, but we won't know until it is released.  After that I figure we can decide if it was puffery or real.  It will be the first gen II so even if it does leap frog those models, those models may catch up in the next generation which is 2016 probably for the gen II leaf and next prius phv."  I was beside myself after having read that.  It's not the slightest bit constructive.  For that matter, it's so vague, it doesn't even tell us anything.  It's simply more hype, coming from the very person claiming no such spreading of unsupportable hope ever happens.  It's more feeding of the nonsense we've had to endure for years.  Oh well.  I'm still willing to fight it:  There's nothing to decide.  What is meant by "leaf frog" must be clearly defined prior to rollout.  If that detailed criteria is met, then it succeeded.  If not, it didn't.  The nonsense with rollout of the first was inexcusable.  We saw the goal-posts being moved after the fact.  Volt clearly wasn't achieving sales goals, so focus shifted over to performance instead.  The reality that it was in no way sustainable without a large subsidy was pushed aside in favor of promoting EV miles.  There's nothing to debate anymore and spin falls on deaf ears.  We want to know what "leaf frog" means.


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