Personal Log  #693

December 18, 2014  -  December 29, 2014

 Last Updated: Tues. 1/27/2015

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IIHS Award.  It was nice to here that the V model of Prius earned such high praise today.  The award gives it a top safety rating.  Being the larger wagon version makes it appealing to families already.  Seeing that Toyota worked to improve it will help sales grow.  Of course, the reality that Ford's advertising of C-Max drew so much attention to the V model has becomes an interesting twist... as people discover Toyota's hybrid was actually more efficient than the television commercials claimed.  Ford really blew it with that campaign.  Safety is obviously unrelated to fuel-efficiency too.  Adding safety to the primary draws is a big win.  For far too long, many assumed hybrids made many sacrifices for the sake of saving gas.  This highlights how that isn't actually the case.  Remember all that nonsense from certain automakers a decade back who claimed we'd all have to give up being safe?  Thank goodness we're finally able to move beyond that.  Even the most desperate will have trouble raising doubt now.


Power Steering.  I've kept quiet about the special coverage adjustment for Volt, campaign #14232.  There's no benefit in focusing on a mechanical issue, since those can be resolved.  After all, Prius wasn't perfect.  Though with the way GM people reacted to Prius, telling us that owners and those nearby were at great risk, it is reasonable to at least say something.  It was a "we're all going to die" campaign that proved to be an intentional effort to undermine, but I really don't want to stir that pot.  My purpose, as stated on my website for a decade, has been: "To significantly reduce emissions & consumption in a reliable & cost-effective manner."  That means providing support to vehicles which are actually affordable and targeted at the masses.  Anywho, this changes the situation a bit.  Rather than just expanding the update campaign (it's listed as a reprogramming of the power-steering-control module, though there have been reports of rack & gear replacement too), there's been a proposal for a class-action lawsuit.  A claim has been filed stating 100 plaintiffs requesting $5 Million for an: "alleged defect in the steering system of its Chevrolet Volts which causes the steering wheel to freeze intermittently while driving".  What should the reaction to that be?  Reading this makes you wonder: "Complaints that consumers filed with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and posted in discussion forums demonstrate that the defect is widespread and dangerous and that it manifests without warning."  Is this another circumstance where the situation is just being blown way out of proportion?  And what about the timing?  I'm hoping focus will be on the fix.  Get it done for owners quickly, then it's over.  No need to drag this out.


Frustrated.  This comment today was quite understandable: "I am just frustrated with the absence of information.  To me, the reading, studying, and analyzing, must precede the purchasing.  Toyota has thus far, denied me of that pleasure."  But at the same time, not reasonable.  It all comes down to the "Who?" question.  That's absolutely vital.  I responded with:  Know your audience!  That point cannot be stressed enough.  You want Toyota to provide information now, well ahead of rollout.  That's what enthusiasts want, not mainstream consumers.  The audience they're targeting Prius at is those who research shortly before purchasing, sometimes at the dealer itself.  Those are ordinary people who would otherwise purchase a Camry or Corolla.  The masses who buy high-volume profitable vehicles are the audience, those who often simply aren't paying attention to the automotive market until they are ready to replace their current vehicle.  It presents many challenges for sustainable sales.  That's an extremely fickle group to deal with.  They do little online.  Just look at Prius owners for perspective.  There are over 3 Million here, yet membership of this forum is just 112,567 right now... and not all of them even own a Prius.  That's about 3.5% representation, hardly any sort of majority.  And how many of them joined the forum to learn more about their purchase, after the fact?  As much as we'd like more, it's just plain not realistic.  The competition, both within and from others, is too great.  There is much at risk.  The very fact that Toyota has been willing to alter plans along the way is something we should be thankful for.  Having that flexibility and the willingness to acknowledge change is very important.  Want some more perspective?  Just look at GM.  Enthusiasts still have very little detail about the next Volt, even though the rollout is about 6 months away.  For that matter, they don't even know who the audience will be.


Incentives.  I couldn't resist responding to this:  "However. Hybrids were originally incentivized also."  That concluding note to a summary of the market situation now with plug-ins certainly got my attention.  I posted:  I take issue with that comment and see this as an opportunity to clarify assumptions.  (So, thanks!)  The tax deduction working out to $300 to $400 on your return hardly qualified as an incentive.  It was basically a nice "thank you" for purchasing.  Prius exceeded mainstream minimum (60,000 annual) prior to any credit being offered and it certainly wasn't comparable.  The quantity limit back then was 60,000 tax-credits per automaker before phaseout began.  That's a far cry from the 200,000 available now and even smaller when you can consider the market sold 17 Million new vehicle purchased per year in this country.  That has since fallen to around 12 Million.  The maximum amount was $3,150 per purchase, starting in 2006, well after Prius had already become well established.  The purpose was to push hybrids deeper into the mainstream.  The $7,500 available now is more than double and with the intent of introduction instead.  It's unfortunate that history isn't clear.  But finding out explains why there are so many misunderstandings about automaker decisions.  The economic factors are quite complex.  Not having the whole story and dealing with audiences expecting to-the-point responses miss out on important detail... then spread that vague to others.  Hopefully, this post was helpful.


Anti-EV Sentiment.  The frustration is growing and the want for Toyota to become a major participant right away is contributing to that.  Focusing on long-term makes it worse.  But with the challenges fourth-generation Prius rollout presents and trying to establish some type of approach for fuel-cell choices, it's easy to feel that way.  I understand, but don't appreciate the lack of acknowledgement.  So, today it was:  It's telling how the short-sighted statements are selective.  Notice how Ford's actions & claims aren't getting attention?  What about GM not targeting mainstream consumers?  There aren't even any expectations from Chrysler anymore.  And what happened to Honda?  Toyota carefully studied the market and prepared by focusing on long-term.  Yet, even in the face of $2 gas, they get grief for some delay.  It's not like they don't have other high-efficiency choices available in the meantime.  That's good business.  They continue to sustain profit, even though the market isn't favorable.  As much as we'd all like to see more offerings like Leaf, that just plain isn't realistic.  The other EV choices have come even remotely close to its success.  Not rushing to market and delivering something for the masses is what Toyota strives for with Prius.  That's a big reason why PHV wasn't rolled out to the other states.  They're well aware of the tradeoffs involved and the opportunities available.  The short-sightedness is a matter of patience.  Don't fall into the group-think trap.  Focus on goals.  Prius became a success by being attentive to mainstream priorities and not giving into pressure from enthusiasts.


Uncertain Goals.  Remember what happened last time?  Some people do:  "As a long time GM fan, I'm like others when I say: 'Hoping for great things, but bracing myself for disappointment.' "  We know what Toyota plans with Prius.  It will take on a competitive look as well as deliver higher MPG and without a cost increase.  We have been told about the effort being made to improve thermal-efficiency of the engine.  We've been told the PHV model will standout from the regular too.  There's also the expectation of PHV an increase in battery capacity and more power.  There aren't solid numbers, but that isn't really necessary for generational upgrades.  It's an incremental process.  We already know what the purpose is.  The next simply delivers improvements.  But with Volt, purpose is uncertain.  What are the goals?  Even though there have been droves of supporters pointing out the importance of greatly improved engine efficiency, the feeling now is that it will only be modest.  Although being quite vague, the impression is focus has been put on battery improvement instead.  Problem is, the purpose of a EREV was supposedly to deliver only what was truly needed for capacity: 40 miles.  More exceeds that, which aims the target away from mainstream consumers.  Remember how cost was the biggest concern?  That increase represents a step in the wrong direction... and they know it.  So, hope is fading.  GM's desire to produce a standout vehicle instead is getting confirmed in bits from comments about speed & performance, rather than any talk of something competitive with mainstream vehicles.


$2.09 Per Gallon.  That's the price I saw here this evening.  In a few other parts of the country, it's even lower.  How does that position the high-efficiency market?  What will be done to draw attention to those vehicles?  We have a bizarre situation with oil-supply.  The ecomony is seeing record highs with the stock-market and reaching normal lows for employment.  It's an interesting & unexpected set of circumstances.  Overall, this can be good, but it certainly feels like a big step backward.  Seeing MPG standards fall shows how volatile the market actually is.  That huge risk GM took with the hope gas prices would remain high and technology costs drop quickly didn't payoff.  It's really a problem promoting "saves gas" when the price of gas is so low.  At least with Prius, you still have the comfort & convenience of it being a midsize vehicle.  The appeal of "fun to drive" falls apart with "cheap to fill" prices, since that's what contributes heavily to small SUV purchases... and large pickups.  Ugh.  That market is booming now.  Of course, it does reinforce what I've been saying all along about want verses need.  We're back to the days when Volt was first revealed.  Remember late 2006?  The circumstances feel quite similar.  The upcoming next-gen reveal of Volt certainly will be noteworthy.


Peak Oil.  It's fascinating how people don't recognize the very time they are in.  That often comes from definition shift due to lack of understanding.  Well over a decade ago, especially among Prius owners, the view of "peak oil" was the time when it became very expense.  Most people simply took that to mean the price of gas alone, without taking any other factors into account.  It was unfortunate they didn't consider impact to the environment or political shake-up.  Look at the mess tar-sands and fraking have contributed.  Combined with the volatile drilling regimes, the result is an oil market turned upside-down.  There's also the reality of climate-change.  Needless to say, we're dealing with new circumstances and greater pressure.  That's peak oil.  It has nothing to do with how much is actually still available underground.  We've reached the summit, when no more stable growth is expected.  It will be a mix of solutions and compromise on a variety of levels.  That's a paradigm shift... the result of a pinnacle having been reached.


Explosive Topic.  I don't participate on the big GM forum anymore, but do drop in from time to time to see what the new threads are discussing.  Today, it was a topic about an Impala owner being excited about his decision to purchase a Volt soon.  The reaction was truly astonishing.  Within a few posts, this was added: "Amazing what infinite taxpayer money can build."  That certainly caught my attention.  Then came: "That's a pretty irrelevant statement, considering the car was mostly baked before the bankruptcy was completed."  I took that as blatant denial.  That's like saying all the holiday shopping is done and showing no care whatsoever about how to pay for all those gifts when the bill is due.  It went downhill in response: "That's a pretty short sighted statement. The car had most of its engineering and design completed before bankruptcy."  They just piled on the group-think, without any care: "The Volt took years to develop, the bankruptcy was something like 43 days in 2009."  True, the legal proceedings took only 43 days, but the cause of it took years.  We watched GM make poor decision after poor decision.  Just in the efficiency category alone, they had both Two-Mode and BAS to confirm money had been poorly spent.  From there, it got nasty: "It was smart of GM to invest all that capital into the Volt and then go bankrupt and need us to bail them out."  I was surprised by the attitude.  I never posted anything even close to that level of cynicism.  Oddly, it was rather effective: "I must admit as the price of gasoline quickly drops it is much more fun & rewarding to drive my V8's as the mileage penalty now seems moot."  The concern about tank-filling expense is gone.  So, even when there is a constructive observation, it falls on deaf ears: "GM needs a couple really good hybrids, but I think they are afraid it'll eat into the very, very small niche that the Volt has carved out."  This is the market GM is about to reveal the next-gen Volt to.  This is why I'm spending so much effort to document the moment.  Looking back afterward, the perspective will be lost.  We'll see both defensive & offensive statements emerge immediately following.  Then, we'll get the spin & parroting.  This is the very reason I push for goal ahead of time.  Knowing what the expectations were before is how you know if they were truly met after.  Falling short, way short, was the outcome 4 years ago.  Enthusiasts moved the goal posts back as a result; they lowered expectations.  Supporters grew silent with disappointment.  What will happen this time?   What does that mean for Nissan & Toyota, who are both striving for deep penetration into the mainstream.  What about Tesla & Ford with the opportunity they hope to capitalize on?  This moment we're approaching marks a pivotal time.


Fuel Saved, part 3.  I posted this as follow up:  Some people still haven't learned that personal attacks aren't effective.  Ugh.  What I find telling is how posts get voted down to hide them.  If there was incorrect info, someone would simply provide debunk detail and we'd move on.  Ignoring it instead is confirmation of that being a fact.  Ironically, the vote provides acknowledgement, which serves as a confirm.  The idea of Voltec becoming a platform and diversifying throughout the fleet continues to be a topic of disinterest.  Why?  I find that truly amazing.  This very thread shows the resulting increase in sales would increase the amount of fuel saved.  The announcement last month which included this quote,  "We have only plans for one Volt.", ended hope of a second more affordable model targeted at mainstream consumers.  So, it is understandable that the position of supporters is a difficult one now.  But unconstructive behavior like we've been seeing certainly isn't helping the situation.  Volt alone has not been able to achieve its own goal of "leap frogging" the competition.  Whether you call the competition other battery/engine choices or GM's own traditional inventory, the numbers clearly confirm that outcome.  Something needs to be done.  What will it be?


Fuel Saved, part 2.  Between the hypocrisy and the superiority, I had it.  With all those years of comparing Prius to Corolla, not doing the equivalent for Volt was maddening.  GM continues to use greenwashing value.  How is 19.2 MPG representative of anything even remotely comparable?  It's not even as high as the industry average back when Volt was first rolled out and certainly not as high as the 23.9 MPG average now.  Shouldn't it at least be 30 MPG, like the Cruze delivers?  After all, that is the same size-class as Volt.  With Prius, compares to Corolla were never appropriate, since Prius was larger.  As for the superiority, that group of enthusiasts keep hanging on to GM's promotion of EV miles, not giving any care whatsoever to blended miles... since then, they can simply dismiss all the other plug-in hybrids.  Well, no matter.  Even without a plug, we know that the regular Prius saves more fuel.  The math to verify that is easy.  All you have to do is look at how many are sold.  As a whole, even being less efficiency, the fleet average is improved overall... way higher than 19.2 MPG.  I could have added in the Camry & Highlander hybrids along with the ones from Lexus, to stress the point even further.  But what would that have accomplished?  The problem with their trophy-mentally has not been overcome after all these years... which means my post only served to upset... if it wasn't for the sake of doing the calculations myself to confirm true impact.  They don't like the reality that a smaller battery can actually make a larger difference.  They don't like that EV purity isn't necessary.  They just plain don't like anyone who points that out.


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