Personal Log  #698

January 24, 2015  -  February 3, 2015

 Last Updated: Sun. 7/26/2015

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Climate Change - Acceptance.  Somehow, we abruptly went from denial to acceptance here... locally, anyway.  The all of a sudden shift to "what are we going to do?" question is getting a lot of attention.  Stepping back to look at what just happened in our country which could have influenced the attitude change, 2 things become abundantly clear.  There's a rapidly growing interest in truck sales and the Republican party just took control of Congress.  Both had been outspoken deniers of climate change.  But with so much evidence now confirming things are different, denying it makes no sense.  Instead, the posture of accepting it has been embraced.  Unfortunately, rather than acknowledge contributing factors, talk is of how we are going to deal with the change.  In other words, keep drilling & guzzling as usual, we'll just improve infrastructure to deal with the drought, snow, and floods.  That's quite disturbing.  Those who opposed improved emissions & efficiency found a new way to continue to hold back the technology.  This is yet another reason why the "too little, too slowly" concern should have been taken seriously.  It was opportunity lost, intentionally!  That good enough stance has consequences.  Here's a great example of that.  Those wanting to undermine found a way to keep doing exactly what they want.  Why bother when you can just come up with new ways to fight?  Ugh.


$50 Per Barrel.  We never thought that price for oil would ever return.  Sadly, even though it has, the fuel-surcharge many service-providers added when oil was much more expensive has not been removed.  People are still seeing the charge on their bills.  It has turned into an arbitrary increase without justification or clarity.  That's become a concern for some, since it's an extra not part of the regularly advertised pricing for services.  Lack for full disclosure can be a problem.  Why shouldn't it be discontinued?  We are seeing much lower expenses related to gas & diesel consumption now.  Still having to pay as if that wasn't the case isn't right.  Oil costs less now.  In fact, some are now back to guzzling.


Speculation & Rumor.  We encounter this from time to time: "A fellow who works for Toyota told me last year that a bigger battery wasn't going to happen because it would change the classification of the plug-in due to the weight and size of a bigger battery and Toyota didn't want to do that."  Usually, that kind of vague-yet-definitive claim come from the GM enthusiasts.  Reading that on the big Prius forum from a regular poster was a big odd.  In fact, it gave the impression of trolling.  Sure enough, a newer member took the supposed bait too: "In that case, I've bought my last PiP."  I was somewhat perturbed at that point.  Vague contributes to assumptions & misunderstandings.  Detail should have been provided to prevent that.  After all, we've seen lots of undermining over the years.  Oh well.  I tried to intercept with some insight right away:  You're overlooking what should be obvious: No one wants size & weight to increase.  Sacrificing cargo & seating capacity, as well as reducing HV efficiency, for the sake of farther EV range would be a step backward.  The whole point of advancing lithium battery chemistry is to squeeze more out of less.  In other words, more capacity is wanted... which is commonly referred to as increasing energy density.  That's often achieved without cost increase too.


Really?  It has been extremely quiet now that the big reveal has passed.  Most of the automakers had little to show, which is why GM got so much attention with Volt.  That brings emphasis to what's happening at this point.  The thought was that going forward there would only be attention on price, since basically everything else has been told at this point.  Hype about it was to be expected, in fact.  But this turn of events is rather astonishing.  We're instead starting to see posts about the hope for conquest sales, going after Prius buyers with the new Volt.  This demonstration of still not recognizing audience tells us much about what is to come.  Apparently, little was learned.  GM didn't increase size from compact to midsize to make it competitive.  They also withheld an obvious convenience to make it look more like a sedan rather than a hatchback.  Notice the lack of a wiper in back?  The size and the hatch were major selling points for Prius.  What will they do to entice customers on the showroom floor?  The newest televisions commercial (available online already, expected be shown to the world during this weekend's Super Bowl) makes no reference whatsoever about plugging in.  There is only a one-second glimpse of the battery-pack.  That's it!  With supporters disappointed about the leg & head room in the back seats, what will make this next-gen offering stand out?  Who will the increased range and increased MPG appeal to?  50 miles is quite a bit less than what the EV competition offers.  41 MPG is quite a bit less than what the hybrid competition offers.  Wasn't the point to appeal to their own customer base?  Is that really what that audience wanted?  Really?


How It Happened.  My participation on the big GM forum was a result of Prius misrepresentation combined with curiosity of the unrealistic expectations.  I witnessed greenwashing & denial by many.  It was fascinating.  Two-Mode started it all.  Even way back in that beginning time, there were the words of "over promise, under deliver" haunting GM supporters.  And sure enough, that's exactly what happened.  It was a remarkable process to witness... something you wouldn't expect to actually be repeated.  The technology fell well short of the goals.  Enthusiasm for it faded.  Misplaced hope returned.  Volt became the salvation.  The same cycle would play out again.  I was astonished by the parallels, especially when such obvious signs were so recklessly dismissed.  It didn't end the same way though.  That was an interesting twist.  When Ford rolled out their first Energi vehicle (C-Max plug-in hybrid), that big forum turned hostile.  Rather than a foreign automaker highlighting GM's shortcomings, it was a fellow automaker from Detroit.  That ended discussions about Volt there.  For the following 2 years, it was the daily blog which took over, becoming more and more desperate as time rolled on.  Sales never improved, even with a drastic price-reduction.  The enthusiasm there became ended up becoming hostile too.  What had once been blind hope turned into looking for someone to blame.  ELR presented a glimmer of change, a chance at redemption... which fell apart almost immediately after the reveal.  The signs of that same thing happening with the next-gen Volt were there, in abundance.  On a regular basis, they'd be pointed out... with terrible consequences.  The resulting personal attacks were unbelievable.  But it didn't matter.  When things don't add up like that, simply sticking to facts and ignoring the rhetoric is a wise choice.  The day finally arrived... 2 weeks ago... that long-awaited about the next-gen Volt was revealed.  Disappointment was swift & painful; so bad, we aren't even witnessing any fallout.  It's just an abrupt end.  There's nothing to argue about.  People are moving on to other offerings from other automakers.  GM's lack of interest toward delivering a vehicle for the masses is so obvious, discussions have ceased.  Even that daily blog is winding down.  The silence is becoming very easy to notice... if that makes any sense.  I'm writing summaries now to retain the feelings & views at this moment.  Looking back years from later, reading this, thoughts about what actually happened will make some wonder how so many mistakes could be repeated.  Lessons most certainly were not learned.


For the Masses, pricing.  I wasn't sure exactly how to respond to this: "Well, it appears GM has Toyota / PiP on the ropes with their newly unveiled Volt 2.0: It's good looking inside and out, improved range, now seats 5, runs on 87 octane and more.  What about price though?"  I suspect it was just a matter of not having all the information now available.  We'll see.  Perhaps this will keep useful posts flowing:  No.  Even GM has stated they aren't competing with Prius anymore.  Toyota is on a quest for affordability, attempting to take on the mainstream directly.  Even supporters of Volt say that isn't the case for gen-2 of Volt.  It will instead take on the EV competition, hoping it to be well positioned in that growing market.  As for seating 5, take a look at recent photos.  That spot is for nothing but a small child.  There's no legroom whatsoever in the middle.  Price will be interesting.  GM's big worry will be Nissan, not Toyota.  Leaf will burn through the tax-credit money much sooner than Volt.  That means aggressive promotion after expiration to keep sales going.  Is GM prepared to deal with ramping up of pressure like that?


For the Masses, reality.  That same original post I originally responded to also had this: "Prius needs to come down at least $2k in price."  That was very clear recognition of who the audience actually is.  Yeah!  My references to showroom loss is getting the message through.  So much attention had been placed on emerging plug-in choices, the ultimate goal of replacing traditional vehicles was lost.  It's that not-seeing-the-forest problem.  Some would get so fixated on just the tree in front of them, all else wasn't noticed.  That was both naive and careless.  So, I was happy to add this to what was becoming a very constructive discussion:  Pointing out the same showroom issue existed with Toyota fell on deaf ears.  Some refused to acknowledge just how strong sales of traditional cars continue to be.  Leadership will come from being able to overcome those barriers.  Cost reduction to compete directly with traditional cars is a very, very big deal.  Fortunately, the patents on NiMH batteries just recently expired.  The next-gen Prius could exploit the new found opportunity that presents.


For the Masses, now.  That unwillingness or inability to wait is the norm.  We heard about the "hybrid premium" from the very beginning.  There will always be some degree of higher upfront cost.  But with gas prices at $4, that issue became a wash.  It's much easier to finance purchase payments than to empty the wallet each time you fill the tank.  But with cheap gas back, we must acknowledge this: "Customers want the best for their money NOW, and most aren't into EVing, plugging in and such..."  I was quite pleased to have read that in a post today.  I chimed in with:  A great deal of the hate from Volt supporters came from that reality.  Pointing out losses on the showroom floor resulted in hostile responses sometimes.  The thought of GM customers choosing a traditional cars instead was too much to accept.


For the Masses, category.  The lack of any clarity of purpose & audience for Volt did quite a bit of harm to the market.  It started as a "range anxiety" solution.  A hybrid offering a plug would supposedly be far more appealing than an EV with a finite range.  Leaf was far more successful than GM ever imagined though.  But rather than accept that mistaken understanding of the market and refocus, the response was to attack Prius instead.  It was brutal.  There was greenwashing and outright lies.  I was amazed how bad things got (which I documented heavily in these personal logs).  The next-gen reveal of Volt 2 weeks ago by GM and detail which followed will help make up for the problems it caused.  The rest of the industry can breath a sign of relief.  We now know who.  There is an emerging category of higher-capacity plug-in hybrids.  Volt fell short offering only 38 miles.  The increase to 50 is still low compared to the BMW i3 which delivers 81 miles.   But at least the intent is easier to see.  There will be a category for "entire day" capacity and another for "mpg boosting".  True, some will be able to run errands in Prius PHV entirely using electricity.  Some will be able to commute that way too.  But the purpose of significantly reducing emissions & consumptions in an reliable & cost-effective way won't be lost.  That category remains.  Some owners will have the package with a plug, others will not.  The goal of reaching the masses will be achieved.


For the Masses, cost.  It's good to that some are thinking clearly: "If Toyota could get their cost for a 10-15 mile range EV plug-in down to $1-3K, they could make that standard on trim levels 4-5.  Granted, some will not be able to plug-in routinely if they live in an apartment.  A plug-in that can stay nearly all EV for in-town driving and commuting, then get the best mpg on road trips, is a significant market Toyota can lead in."  I was delighted by the constructive view.  For far too long, the voices of a few who clearly only cared about engineering achievement dominated discussions.  That's changing, especially now that the next-gen Volt reveal didn't meet expectations.  Moving on to offerings for the masses is great!  I responded to that with:  $3,000 has been the ultimate target for many, many years.  Having that as a feature on the nicer packages makes sense.  It emphasizes the simplicity of the approach too.  Getting cost down low enough to earn a modest profit at that price would indeed make Toyota the leader.  Ford is clearly attempting to offer a plug-in hybrid option for the masses too.  It will happen.  As was just revealed by GM with the re-categorization of Volt, the segment for higher-capacity dedicated plug-in hybrids is taking shape.  That makes it far easier to convey the purpose of the hybrids with a plug option, like Prius, Fusion, and C-Max.  No more mixed messages is great.  The problem many haven't understood is purpose.  Granted, some of that was intentional greenwashing, but there was quite a bit of simply not knowing too.  The augmentation of the hybrid system with a plug and larger battery had been clear, prior to the chaotic rollouts a few years ago.  The automotive market was in a mess to begin with.  Now, the situation is different. There are enough choices to allow consumers to see how the various approaches differ and why.  I'm thankful the effort to appeal to the masses continues, even if some have already given up hope.  Penetrating the mainstream is a painfully slow process with very little excitement.  It's easy to lose sight of what's really important. Introducing a product is much easier than getting people to move on beyond what they already feel comfortable with.


For the Masses, nonsensical.  When someone isn't following what you've been saying for months, they end up attempting to discredit.  This was such an attempt today:  "You use the same vague, nonsensical terms such as "understanding audience". "  That type of denial is quite common, but rarely actually gets posted.  Most online participants simply don't bother to say anything.  But for a few, their frustration manifests itself.  I find the lack of effort on their part to understand remarkable.  Why post if you don't want to achieve some type of clarity?  Perhaps he views my statements as the means to end the debate.  After all, some thrive on the attention.  Of course, some see non-EV choices as a threat.  My endorsement of a choice for the masses presents a barrier for some, rather than support for change over the long-term.  I wanted to make the message crystal clear, before returning him to ignore:  We've been through this countless times already.  The never ending repetition in each new thread is counter-productive.  So, one last time, but in bold & caps with the hope it won't be forgotten and is easy to refer back to later:  THE AUDIENCE IS CONSUMERS SHOPPING FOR OTHER VEHICLES ON THE SAME SHOWROOM FLOOR.  THAT MAINSTREAM MARKET IS WHAT EACH AUTOMAKER MUST OVERCOME TO ACHIEVE GROWTH.  NO AMOUNT OF "WHAT OTHER AUTOMAKERS ARE DOING" BANTER WILL CHANGE THAT REALITY.  It's very clear that much of the nonsense we have to deal with comes from the unwillingness to see beyond enthusiast interest.  The amount of time wasted not recognizing that is real problem.  The disregard for economic well-being and the disconnect between want & need makes it worse.  Not understanding "who" means being unsuccessful.


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