Personal Log #687
November 3, 2014 - November 9, 2014
Last Updated: Tues. 6/27/2017
page #686 page #688 BOOK INDEX
Business. It's interesting to watch history play out.
Decisions made in the present seem so wrong sometimes. Some people are
so hung up on the fuel-cell product diversification, they feel Toyota's
current efforts are being abandoned. The next-gen Prius is a great
example; we already know of a few of the improvements on the way. They
actually think not investing heavily in EV offerings right now will doom
them to a future without anything electric-only to sell. The
short-sightedness and quick-to-forget nature of consumers in this market is
completely overlooked. I chimed into the on-going discussion with:
I got a "literal" comment from a person the other day who does that
on a regular basis. There was no point in even bothering to mention that
though. The point is the business. That reference to "door" and "knock"
was the larger market, not the literal. Cost is a major factor.
It's easy to see Toyota embracing lithium when it becomes competitive. In the
meantime, we have the NiMH patents expiring. I see that as a golden
opportunity to push traditional vehicles out of the spotlight with regular
hybrids. That will open the door for plug-in vehicles. Think about the
misconceptions that still persist. The plug-ins have all of those for
hybrids, plus quite a number of their own. I still hear the "didn't
know it could go that fast" and "when you have to replace the
battery" comments on a regular basis. Fortunately, those are far easier
to deal with than in the past and the audience is much wider, but the
real-world exposure for plug-in vehicles is quite lacking. We want
more than just automaker offerings. We want them to be affordable and
produced in high-volume too. People tend to forget about that part. That's
the bigger challenge.
Balance (more). It was pointed out that I forgot to mention the ability to sit on the back. I have done that quite a number of times. Simple things like using that flat surface while switching from shoes to rollerblades is easy to overlook. It's so convenient, you just don't think about it. What's even less obvious is the ability to host a tail-gate party. That large area works out great, especially being able to so easily access it from 3 different doors. There's no chance of anything falling into a lower section, since it's all at the same level. I've taken advantage of that storage usefulness on road trips too. You can shove bags & boxes anywhere, just pushing them over when needed. A height difference doesn't allow for that kind of flexibility.
Balance. This speaks for itself: It's interesting reading the posts on recent threads. Prior to any info about the next-gen offerings, having any type of constructive discussion was quite a challenge. True, the ultimate goal of getting the plug-in vehicles to compete against the true competition rather than each other is still not close, but progress is being made. With that said... I have driven a Volt out on a closed track. In fact, I once chased a Tesla with it there. You'll notice the handling difference doing that. With ordinary driving condition, not so much. That's why the question of WHO? is so important. If you're not going to push it, there's no benefit. It's like owning a car capable of 120 mph but never going faster than 75 mph. The same goes for 0-60 times. Unless you press the pedal hard, you'll never use that faster acceleration available. Know your audience. The same goes for the cargo area. The flat nature of the Prius makes it much more convenient for hauling very large and very heavy cargo. The drop down into Volt's rear behind the seats is less accommodating. Simply pushing & pulling cargo in & out is much easier, since the entire surface is level. I roll in mom's 3-wheel recumbent bike into the Prius with very little effort. In Volt, that wouldn't be the case. I'd have to lower it in. The height of the seat folded down might cause the chain to rub on it too. Reality is that aspects such as those are what will be selling points of the plug-in vehicles, not a push for maximums. Just look at the computer industry for confirmation. There's no contest that the SSD (solid state drive) is superior. It's dramatically faster, uses much less power, and is far more robust. But to get a competitive capacity, it is very very expensive. That's why most people still purchase traditional hard-drives instead. For those willing to pay a modest premium, they chose a SSD with small capacity. It's a balance of priorities.
Cold Temperatures. They have arrived... and wow, that certainly has presented interesting new data to collect & share. We're just above the freezing mark, currently. I can't wait to see what happens when outside conditions take a drop quite a bit further. Having the recharge end shortly before you drive most definitely influences the battery-pack. We know that electrical resistance increases considerably when dealing with frozen roads. So for those of you who get real winters, keep an eye on this thread over the next few months. Degradation from heat clearly isn't an issue in any respect. Yesterday's drive from work to my fiancée's home certainly confirmed that. The outside temperature was 37°F. The battery started at 46°F. I was determined to push the battery. The 10-mile drive started with a stretch at 50 mph, then increased to 60 mph. That flat highway then turned into a very, very long (about 3 miles) steep climb up at 45 mph. I arrived at the top with just 0.5 EV left. The battery had warmed to 72°F. Starting the engine at that point pushed the EV to 1.0 mile estimate. I got to her house just as the EV ran out and it switched to stealth mode. The battery reached its maximum of just 79°F. That's lower than starting temperatures in the summer, and I was really pushing it. That was quite an experience to witness. It's intriguing to observe rare data like that first hand, especially when the resulting efficiency was 225 MPG. Stay tuned for updates and eventually some cold-weather videos with temperature data.
There's No Way. Several people jumped into that discussion about the EV button. A newbie absolutely insisted it wasn't possible to actually know what the system was doing and why... enough though I had pointed our aftermarket gauges which would enable him to see the same behind-the-scenes detail we do. Knowing what criteria triggers what response isn't rocket science, especially with so many years of so many people do the research and sharing their findings. He got really angry... never bothering to actually consider the suggestion learning more about those gauges. It's sad when people don't understand that they really do have more resources available at their disposal. They just assume incorrectly. Oh well. We try. It's their opportunity lost.
Purchase Decisions. The market for plug-in hybrids is obviously quite a mess. Ford's major space compromise and the MPG rating has kept it from getting much sales attention. They remain flat, which is nice for collecting long-term data, but not competitive when the sales of the non-plug model continue to drop. The situation is different for GM & Toyota. That odd association persists. Fortunately, discussions are surprisingly constructive and diverse... drawing in participation from both Prius PHV and Volt owners. This was my post on that decision thread today: In the early days of Volt, there were intense comparisons to Leaf. Remember the "range anxiety" campaign? That feel apart when Leaf sales ended up doing far better than GM supporters expected. S o, comparisons refocused on Prius instead. It was an easy target, having a much smaller battery-pack. Keeping attention off the much better efficiency following depletion and the much larger seating area in back was fairly effective. But it didn't matter in the end. Volt would ultimately be compared to other GM vehicles. So, if you ask a dealer, they'll know far more about their traditional offerings than their plug-in selling at a rate of less than 1 per dealer per month. Those interesting in purchasing a Volt should shop carefully. Leases can be a great deal still. I know a number of people who took advantage of that opportunity to drive one without being obligated to keep it after a few years. Resale value, long-term reliability, or how much GM ends up altering Volt to make it a profitable high-volume vehicle is of no concern. You just enjoy the EV driving short-term. With the plug-in Prius, its a very close match to the non-plug model. You simply have a larger battery, offering much more electric power and delivering much more engine-off driving. There is no sacrifice of the cargo-area for carrying large objects inside. You get MPG just a little bit better than the regular model when not having plugged in. It should retain a decent resale value long-term. Just look at what happened with the gen-2 after gen-3 was introduced. Value remained high, despite the next-gen being available. Look at it this way, sales of plug-in vehicles will remain soft for the next few years. The price of gas is so low, stirring up demand is a major challenge. Infrastructure continues to present resistance too. You have to fight landlords to consider allowing you to plug in, employers are very reluctant to install chargers, and there is still some animosity among owners when space is limited. So, really study the market before making a decision.
Generations, part 2. The attitude comes from having discovered how anti-climatic the next generation of Volt will be. Many of the high expectations have already been confirmed as not-going-to-happen. The biggest was hope that MPG would be competitive with Prius. But instead of getting a major efficiency increased as hoped, it will only be incremental. Some have figured the rough percentage stated will translate to giving Volt a rating of roughly 42 MPG. That keeps it in the traditional category, since we frequently see advertisements touting that highway value for some. The new Prius will obviously push beyond the 50 MPG it currently delivers, from the upcoming thermal efficiency and the software controller advances. Finding out there will not be a cost-competitive second model was obviously a let down too. Appealing to a wider market was really important... and the one-size-fits-all argument was something enthusiasts were hoping to finally rid themselves of. Not understanding what incremental improvement means has obviously become a problem. That hope of "game changer" still lingers. The idea of "game player" is not appealing... when your mindset has been focused on trophies, rather than becoming ubiquitous.
Generations, part 1. That particular individual who thrives on debate wasn't too thrilled today when I called him out on what he had done to stir participation. He had been a source of irritation for awhile, contradicting posts just for the sake of keeping that topic alive. My attempt to look forward and advance the discussion required some context. He spun it to imply that context reference was actually focus on the past. Ugh. He was quite angry too for me having pointed out his activity. Normally, most people don't notice the pattern, since many are newer to the topic. Anywho, rather than fighting back and making it personal, I simply pointed out some perspective: It was well known right from the start the tax-credits would not expire until sometime in the middle of the next-generation. We all know design won't fundamentally change when a next-generation is rolled out. It cannot, since that would make it a new design rather than the incremental improvement the term "generation" represents. That means it must already carry those flexibility characteristics for the next to take advantage of them.
Generations, part 0. The reality of what generation actually mean doesn't sit well with some people... you know, those who see the world as an either/or situation with nothing between. So, building in flexibility, the ability to adapt along the way, doesn't sit well with them. We've seen that with Volt, we it was going to game everything, rather than being a contributing factor. Anywho, I posted this... know it was a topic which had been met with fierce resistance in the past: Prius PHV was designed without dependency on subsidies. It has a lucrative non-plug model to sustain high-volume production, reducing both cost & risk. That's proving to be worthwhile already too. With the price of gas dropping below $3 per gallon and the cost of oil expected to remain low for years to come, it makes you wonder how the one-size-fits-all offerings will be promoted. Flexibility like that is very important, yet it continues to be dismissed as unnecessary. A basic principle of good business is having product diversity. Sadly, the gamble was made by some automakers that gas would remain expensive. It didn't. This is why we must take entire market into consideration. Looking at just plug-in offerings is a form of denial. Like it or not, plugging in will continue to be a tough sell. Election results from yesterday reinforce the support for increasing domestic fuel efforts, consequently keeping gas prices down. There is very little, sadly almost non-existent, support for the rollout of public chargers. The challenge to even stir effort in interest in efficiency will remain daunting. Blah.
EV Button, why? It's existence really stirs the under-informed. We do what we can each time a new thread about it is created on the big Prius forum, like: There is an aspect of education & confirmation from the EV button. Many have attempted to greenwash by claiming Toyota didn't ever take adding a plug into consideration. That mode demonstrates there actually is more power potential available from the electric-motor already in the vehicle. It comes down to having a larger battery to deliver the higher kW required. It's understandable how that long-term view of the design can be easily overlooked. But then again, the regular model of Prius has already taken a next step. Maximum draw from the larger battery was increased in with the plug-in from 27 to 38 kW. That resulting power increase is easy to recognize behind the wheel. On paper, it gets even better. The electric-motor still offers greater potential. It is rated for 60 kW. Someday, battery cost and physical size could shrink enough to make that EV power increase a realistic option for the smaller model Prius too.
Battery Speculation. There's lots of it and many of those speculated haven't actually studied the market or even Toyota history. That allows for a very distorted view, an incomplete perspective... prime with the opportunity for assumption. Some of the guessing is reasonable. Others can be without any basis on reality. We see it all. So, I join in from time to time, giving them something else to speculate about as well as interject some history. It's a counter-intuitive way of keeping hype from emerging. This was today's contribution: We already know that the design was intended to be verification for next-gen. Toyota has been taking that approach all along. Remember how Camry-hybrid got the two-speed upgrade before Prius? Engineering can be worked out in great detail. But market response and political/competitor spin is quite unpredictable. Being able to observe a wide variety of real-world data & reaction before going all-out can payoff big-time later on. Think about this. The small pack currently being used can be squeezed even smaller as battery energy-density increases. Cost will hopefully drop quite a bit too. Eventually, it would be realistic to use in a Prius C. That's a major potential benefit of starting small.
The Other Perspective. It irritates me to no end how Toyota will get accused of a variety of different problems. But when GM does the same thing, there's no acknowledgement of it. Realistically, it doesn't matter anyway. One automaker is striving to deliver a product for the masses, pursuing the difficult consumers. Not going after the low-hanging fruit doesn't get much attention though. No one really cares about that other perspective. It's not exciting. It's just normal, what everyone buys. Not standing out in a crowd doesn't stir interest. Hype thrives on the unusual, not the ordinary. That's why there was always so much pushback from the idea of getting a second model of Volt, one with scaled-back features to bring cost down to a competitive level. Long story short, we found out recently from GM that won't happen. They will continue with the more expensive and higher risk one-size-fits-all approach for Volt. This is how I pointed that out, including the quotes made during the LA detail release for the upcoming next-gen model: Ironically, GM just conveyed a similar message, yet none have made a big deal about that: "We will not offer varying battery sizes for the next-generation Volt but we will provide more EV range. Specifics will be released in January." [Does Chevrolet have any plans to offer variations (aka models) within the Volt lineup?] "No plans at this time." [Is there gonna be 2 kind of volt? one will more Electric miles that the other?] "We have only plans for one Volt." In other words, no one is asking for a high-efficiency vehicle from them without a plug or a model choice that's more affordable.