Personal Log  #691

December 7, 2014  -  December 13, 2014

Last Updated: Sun. 12/21/2014

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Automaker Production.  That's been at the heart of the issues with high-efficiency, low-emission vehicles all along.  The reveal 2 months ago that Volt would remain a single model obviously stirred the market-growth issue.  That made the issue of traditional-vehicle sales sting even more.  What I didn't realize though was to what degree.  I was unaware that GM had just announced another $3.6 Billion investment for production increases in Mexico.  That brings expectation of job generation up to 5,600.  Knowing there have been plant closures here and that the federal government lost over $10 Billion in the stock purchase, the abrupt increase in terse posting makes sense.  Supporters aren't happy either.  It's unfortunate that newer technologies get dragged into political & economic strife, but that's reality.  Those issues will always exist.  Either face them to overcome or pretend they aren't a problem.  Which seems the sensible tactic?


4.5 Years Ago.  There was an interesting outlook on the potential for plugging in back then.  Volt enthusiasts who had been pushing the "vastly superior" hype were beginning to learn that something was wrong.  Details being revealed prior to rollout weren't meeting expectations.  That left those of us hoping for the potential from Nissan, Toyota, and Ford to not reveal similar concerns.  That seemed unlikely, since they didn't leave fundamental questions unanswered.  GM was touting "transparency" but leaving some of us scratching our heads.  That meant asking the questions again ourselves would inevitably result in explosive reaction.  That same hostility is alive & well again now.  They focus on engineering, claiming that was the better approach, but not wanting to look at all the data to confirm it.  Getting caught cherry-picking obviously stirs post activity.  They're well aware they're being selective, but just plain don't care... hence the difference between an enthusiast and a supporter.  Even at the minimum mainstream sales volume of 60,000 annually, making a real difference will be a challenge.  The quantity of guzzlers (traditional vehicles) will easily overwhelm.  That's not enough to offset the wasted consumption... and they know it.  That's why there is so much resentment for Toyota.  Selling 1 million hybrids worldwide within just the first 9 months of 2014 is what's really making an impact to oil-dependency reduction, as well as both less carbon-dioxide and smog-related emissions.  The approach of offering a larger capacity battery as cost & density improve is clearly proving to be the better choice.  The hope for cheap-batteries & expensive-gas approach clearly didn't work out well.  There's still that matter of tax-credit dependency too.  Now, 4.5 years later, what are consumers purchasing?


Bigger Big Picture.  That was the spin today.  You guessed it, those Volt enthusiasts are in a state of panic at this point.  Gas is down to $2.34 per gallon here (even lower in some places) and the news is filled with expectations of prices continuing to drop.  The problem comes from supply.  It's cheap to continue pumping oil.  Stopping costs money, even with oil having fallen below $60 per barrel.  The system is getting flooded with excess.  That will be a boost to the economy, so there isn't much concern about stopping the events now playing out.  In other words, we're seeing signs of consumption encouragement emerge.  That's troubling in the long run.  Small SUVs will likely see a rise in popularity.  Imagine the kind of pressure that puts on the forthcoming next-gen rollout for Volt.  Some areas of the country will be selling $2 gas.  How will it stir demand?  Needless to say, when I pointed out the true competition, the reaction was extreme.  They want someone to take there frustration out on.  Knowing a hybrid like the next-gen Prius stands a much better chance of competing in a market with cheap gas, that was to be expected.  I'd love to hear was Leaf supporters have to say about the situation.  For that matter, even Volt supporters will have my interest.  Their comments are usually quite constructive.  The childish insults, name calling, and dismissals as "stupid" from enthusiasts certainty isn't worth wasting time on.  I still can't believe we're witnessing that type of behavior still, but it does explain why the supporters don't want any part of the nonsense they stir.  Long story short, this lead into the new year sure is building up.  2015 will be a pivotal time in high-efficiency, clean-emission vehicle history.


Desperation Growing.  The article published today was so reminiscent of 10 years ago, I was beside myself.  It was an outright attack on owners titled: "With $2 Gas, the Toyota Prius Is for Drivers Who Stink at Math".  It was stunning to see such blatant greenwashing.  This is was caught my attention, resulting in anger I wasn't sure where to direct: "The Cruze gets a respectable 30 miles per gallon of combined highway and city driving, but its real strength is relative affordability. Without a second engine and a massive battery, the average Cruze had a $21,322 sticker price last month, compared with almost $31,973 for a Prius..."  Having lowered our standards to the point were a compact car delivering a combined efficiency of 30 MPG is considered acceptable is embarrassing.  But to mislead on price to that extreme is terrible.  The base price for the Prius larger than Cruze is $25,025 (msrp + dest).  The base price for the Prius the same size as Cruze is $19,905 (msrp + dest).  The decided to use fully loaded models for comparing instead, but without disclosing that or pointing out the features Prius delivers which Cruze does not.  Leaving out detail to make people assume incorrectly is desperation... definitely not anything we'd consider journalism.


Misrepresentation.  This is quite common: "We are continuously contrasting and projecting the sales performance of the Pirius with the Volt on this site.  Especially those who shall remain nameless.  The Pirius is a fourth generation product with 17 years incubation in the product pipeline, the volt barely has 4 years on generation one."  On that big GM forum, I become the lightening-rod.  Everyone upset with Volt's struggle associated comments made in favor of Prius or Toyota as things I said.  It got pretty bad too.  There were quotes used in retaliation to mine that I just plain didn't say, not even close.  Posting nameless messages like this contributed to the false belief.  They'd refuse to link back to the source too.  Also, note the intentional misspelling of Prius.  That daily blog is trouble; thankful, it is far from representative of most Volt owners.  These are just enthusiasts attempting to rekindle lost hope by keeping focus off the actual problem.  Having someone else to blame can be healing.  I find the blatant misrepresentation annoying.  But then again, there are interesting ways to respond:  Would you like me to provide the topic link from this website explaining in great detail how Volt inherited experience & expertise from GM's prior high-efficiency offerings?  Note how both EV1 and Two-Mode played major roles and contributed a great deal to what's in Volt now.  As for the comparisons to Prius, I too wonder why some people still do that.  In fact, they often don't even refer to the plug-in model.  How does that make sense?  Anywho, my compares have been in reference to GM's other offerings, since that's the true competition.  Cars like Malibu, Impala, and Cruze continue to draw GM customers away from Volt.  Also, the precedent of 5,000 sales per month, was established well over a decade ago by the industry and was embraced by GM as the target they too would strive for with Volt.  So, there's no need to compare to Prius anyway.  Whatever the case, Volt must become sustainably profitable without tax-credit help.  Seeing how much the plug-in category is both growing & diversifying, that's a tall order.  With the price of gas so low now and "range anxiety" proving not to be a major concern, the challenge is even more difficult.  GM must find a way to increase sales of the platform within the next few years for it to continue.


$2.44 Per Gallon.  The price of gas is remarkable.  It's the result of oil barrels dropping to the low 60's.  With prices cut that significant, the outlook is rather grim.  What incentive is there anymore?  Cost is a very real problem.  Not much can be done due to the over-supply though.  We'll end up watching the fuel-economy average revert.  Going in the wrong direction like that is the very thing those watching MPG feared.  Remember the "boil a frog" analogy?  Interestingly, the upswing will likely happen around the time the next-gen Prius is rolled out.  In the meantime, our lowered standards will continue to cause harm.  That's sad.  Maybe this is a good thing, an opportunity to automakers to discreetly catch up... or at least try to develop something actually competitive.  We've seen the emphasis on speed & power result in efficiency sacrifice.  Maybe this time that tradeoff won't be as severe.  After all, that excess speed & power increased cost.  Making the vehicle affordable was the lesson learned.  Perhaps they'd finally acknowledge the importance of what's actually needed rather than catering to want.  But then again, perhaps not.


Hypocritical.  The look-back afterward is absolutely fascinating.  Some people say the outcome was so obvious, it was ridiculous to assume any other choice would have been supported.  Yet, when in the mist of that choice, they cannot see it.  That's playing out again.  Certain people believe the long-term effort to offer hydrogen as a fuel option is really an effort to not deliver EV instead.  It's not taking all the factors at play into account which often causes that, another is the mindset of only a single type winning.  The thought of a world with multiple choices is beyond their grasp or desire.  The reality of both using electricity for propulsion and not everyone being able to plug in to recharge is too much.  Ugh.  Oh well, they'll just fade away like all the others we've had to deal with in the past.  They'll look back and finally see what we had been saying all along.  I put it this way:  Reality is, batteries still cost too much... hence the current stance.  Spreading of the belief that electric-only vehicles are actually competitive isn't helpful.  Traditional vehicles are absolutely crushing the high-efficiency market still.  Why is that so difficult to accept?  I'm amazed by the continued double-standard.  I could just as well call it hypocritical.  My blogs are loaded with quotes about how absurd it was to believe Volt hype years ago, that the posts of enthusiasts and articles from media shouldn't have been taken seriously.  Yet, that's exactly what's happening now with FCV.  Looking at attempts to diversify for long-term well-being as an anti-plug-in war is rather amusing.  We all know how easy it is to spin comments, take them out of context, and blow them out of proportion.  No amount of replies will change the minds of some though.


Conspiracy.  Wanting some level of closure prior to the gen-2 reveal of Volt, the topic of fuel-cell advancement has been helpful.  It's a flushing out those who aren't constructive, those who just like to debate or have some type of vendetta... or this case, wish to stir up trouble.  I start by addressing there posts indirectly.  If they still lash out and don't even try to meet in the middle, they'll end up getting ignored.  That forum feature is very handy.  This was one such flush:  How is fuel-cell advancement any different from other "alternates" with the same long-term ambitions of eventually becoming a common choice?  It takes decades and there are very real barriers to overcome.  One big one everyone seems to overlook is the reality of patents.  If you're first to pounce, you stand a greater chance of capitalizing on the opportunity.  It's a simple formula to success we've seen play out many times.  The costs & risks are traded off with that leadership potential.  There's obvious upset from the EV crowd for Toyota not delivering something competitive in the electric-only arena, but there aren't any bridges actually being burned.  Look at all the "anti" advertising of the past for proof.  We all know that battery advancement can & will change automaker stance on their offerings. We also know that reputation is not built upon offerings alone.  I personally get annoyed by the effort to push a conspiracy belief, especially what all the history we've witnessed with hybrids.  Remember all the anti-hybrid nonsense from GM, followed by an intense anti-EV campaign?  All that effort resulted in a vehicle which didn't take the market by storm as promised. Heck, sales are just barely squeaking along, even with a generous tax-credit.  Take a close look at Ford, who really did try to deliver something competitive.  Sales have been adequate, but next steps are a bit of a mystery.  Is keeping silent on plans better?  The double-standards and lack of big-picture consideration is frustrating.  Not taking into account history adds to it.  But what I find most interesting is the complete disregard for the existing energy distribution system.  It seems as though there are some so naïve that they think the oil, gas, transport, and reseller network will just abandon their business?  Hydrogen will become the take-over product. They can continue their business as usual, but with that instead.  We'll be able to produce locally too, without having to drill or frack.  Somehow, all the players involved must find a way to get along.  Without a major effort to cooperate, how much change do we actually think we can achieve?


Repeat Purchase Survey.  What do they tell us under normal circumstances for major purchases?  Heck, how much it cost for a gallon of gas has much more of a impact than anything even the most resourceful of us can do to influence a hybrid purchase.  So when it comes to plugging in, what can we learn about first-generation offerings?  Know the second will be quite different anyway, what's the point?  There probably isn't one, but at least there's an effort to see if any type of pattern or majority emerges.  That's at least better than nothing... or is it?  At what point is it better to start fresh?  After all, when most owners of a Prius PHV made their purchase, how many plug-in vehicles were even offered then?  Did then even know what it meant to be a plug-in hybrid?  How accurate were their assumptions?  After all, the availability of real-world data is still rather scarce.  Anywho, this is what I contributed to the thread about this topic on the big Prius forum today:  Expectations for the plug-in were all over the place.  There was a major greenwashing effort underway in the early days too, taking advantage of people's lack of understanding of what batteries can and cannot deliver.  Combine with the assumptions people are now making about what the next may or may not deliver, how could anyone get an accurate depiction of what future purchase choices may be?  Heck, just price alone has a major influence... and we have no idea what it will be.


That Petition.  The number of people who have signed it is close to reaching the goal of 100,000; yet, it's purpose still remain unclear.  Remember all the signatures for Volt?  They got 50,000 and that was loaded with uncertainty.  It didn't end up accomplishing anything either.  So, with this one, I had to say:  I keep wondering what the petition is actually for.  We know they are still working to improve batteries.  We know that motor & controller improvements for the fuel-cell will be a direct benefit to future battery-powered vehicles.  We also know that Toyota doesn't bet the farm on any single technology.  Who else has had success in the EV market so far?  Sustainable quantities have only been achieved by Nissan & Tesla.  Both of which depend upon tax-credits and have uncertain targets though.  The long-term potential is fantastic.  But looking at the other automakers (Ford, GM, VW, Honda, Mitsubishi, Smart, Kia, Fiat) ​​​​all struggling right now, it seems odds to push for rollout from Toyota.  Changing the way the EV is promoted makes far more sense.  I can see that as a worthwhile effort.  We already know any low-volume attempt will just be spun as a compliance move anyway.  What will adding another choice accomplish?  I see the real gain coming from greater market penetration of hybrids.  Finally letting go of traditional vehicles is an extraordinarily difficult bridge to cross.  So many pressures pushing back make it a daunting challenge to try to achieve a paradigm shift quickly... hence striving to diversify instead.  We'll see the fuel-cell & hydrogen progress slowly in the meantime.  We'll also see uncertainty faced by the other automakers.  What will their next move be?  The next-gen plug for Prius will tell us much about what true change is coming.  It will be the major influence as to what degree other plug-in offerings from Toyota will be, not a vague petition without any clear message on what's actually wanted.


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