Personal Log  #700

February 23, 2015  -  March 18, 2015

 Last Updated: Sun. 7/26/2015

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$44 Per Barrel.  Way, way, way back, I remember $39 per barrel.  I never imagined us ever getting close to seeing that again.  It's a problem getting bigger and bigger.  The oil industry depended upon stable generous prices.  Those proceeds were used to further develop extraction techniques & locations.  Too bad they weren't invested into renewable energy instead... but I digress.  Back on topic, we have cheap gas as a result of the low oil prices.  Sadly, that doesn't equate to an opportunity to raise gas taxes to pay for roadway maintenance & improvement.  Believe it or not, there is still strong resistance to that.  I see everything else slowly incrementing to keep pace with the growing economy, as well as the growing demand due to population growth.  Yet, the desire to guzzler continues to be a barrier to progress.  This is a reality the Volt enthusiasts didn't understand.  They didn't know what "who" referred to.  Audience is absolutely vital.  Just because it was built, does not mean people will buy it.  This is why the approach with Prius has been so successful.  This is why sales grew so high with the second generation, even before a tax-credit was offered.  It was no where near as generous either.  Less than half the amount and limited to 60,000 sales made its reach much less.  Yet, more was still achieved.  The enthusiasts know it too, hence the death of that blog.  The almost total silence now has opened up the way for many automakers to show off their upcoming solutions.  GM thought there was plenty of time... despite countless warnings... losing out to the oil providers.  Back when gas was expensive was the time.  It is now quite obvious what the "too little, too slowly" concern was all about.  That opportunity was wasted.  Sad.  We're seeing the popularity of ordinary traditional vehicles grow.


Peak Oil.  When a long-standing definition changes, you know a milestone has been reached.  For decades, the term "peak oil" has meant arriving at a tipping point.  Supposedly, it now means when supplies run lows and prices skyrocket.  The other day, that now dead (since Volt is no longer discussed) daily blog claimed experts were predicting that stage would be reached about 20 years in the future, sending gas to a price of about $10 per gallon.  I wondered where the heck he got that information.  For those of us who have studied economics, we know that the pressure from rises prices stirs innovation and increases the willingness to take risk.  In other words, some alternative means of fulfilling demand emerges... which is exactly what's happening now.  And when you consider the fact that "peak" actually represents change (like the loss of stability), it's difficult to argue that we aren't already witnessing that.  Looking back afterward, from a historical perspective, that's much easier to see & accept.  But while those events are taking place, there's often quite a bit of denial... and this case, excuses disguised as reasoning.  That's why I stopped participating there.  The opportunity for constructive discussion fell apart as the excuses grew.  It's exactly why I pushed so hard for goals prior to rollout.  What are we attempting to achieve?  For this discussion, how should we prepare for "peak" being reached.  No need to fall into a semantic trap.  Ask questions.  Take action.


Gas & Stock.  It's unfortunate that our market is heavily tied to gas & stock prices.  But in better news, GM will be buying back 2 Billion worth of their stock to help boost the remaining stocks value.  The United States government lost a massive amount of taxpayer money from that very problem.  It didn't go up that entire time of ownership.  Finally, when those shares were sold at a loss, the value when up a little.  Not much happened since then though.  And because this market relies so much on that, this step to improve became necessary.  It makes you wonder what will happen with gas.  The drilling & refining of oil isn't anywhere near as profitable as it had been.  That's put some investors in a difficult position.  Planned growth, especially from the sources more difficult to reach and dirtier to process, is impaired.  Low gas prices don't do much to encourage the appeal of plugging in either.  That's why the next-gen hybrids, most significantly Prius, is such a big deal.  People find $2.39 per gallon quite acceptable.  The pain from filling the tank has subsided.  Even more opportunity will be lost too, if there isn't a truly compelling choice offered.  That's why Volt was such a mismatch.  Who was going to actually buy it?  The end of this year will be a big one, giving us a indication of what's to come.  There's much to be lost or gained.


Recall.  The intentional stigma created toward recalls is an interesting topic to ponder.  Rather than preventative-updates being considered a post-purchase expectation, any after-the-fact change is bad.  The thought of getting upgrades, like we routinely witness for software, there's an attitude of negative.  It was taken to extremes back when Toyota had the spotlight.  Lately, it's been GM.  They tried to deal with it the best they could.  But under the circumstances, along with the precedent they helped to set, what good can come from so many years of promoting the opposite.  Anywho, the recall of 50,249 Volts makes a person wonder.  What will the response be?  The report is that 2 people have been injured as a result of carbon-monoxide exposure from the car running inside garages.  With the pre-warm-up approach GM took, some of us wondered if that would ever happen.  Of course, we were accused of spreading FUD, trying to undermine Volt as a troll.  In reality, it was constructive consideration.  But the enthusiasts became hostile if you ever questioned anything.  That's why supporters did everything they could to keep a distance from enthusiasts.  Long story short, this will likely pass almost completely unnoticed by many.  Downplay has been the response for most problems lately.


It's Gone.  The abrupt disappearance of Volt certainly was well timed.  With all the craziness of moving into a new house, that was rather fortunate.  Rhetoric from the enthusiasts was always quite informative.  Topics they got defensive about were vulnerabilities they worked hard to conceal.  That was a relatively effective approach, until the reveal of details for the next-gen Volt.  Their standing depended upon uncertainty.  With answers finally having been provided, the discussions ended.  There's nothing to draw interest anymore... hence nothing to write about.  Volt will continue to be a specialty vehicle, supposedly intended to compete directly with EV offerings, but clearly not able.  Just yesterday, a 300-mile announcement was made.  As expected, the automakers unable to deliver a competitive hybrid will focus on electric-only.  So, that announcement from Audi about a SUV on the way with an expected 311 miles of range wasn't a surprise.  Instead, it's yet another audience problem for Volt.  Who's going to want a 50-mile range when there are competitive EV offerings instead?  Even GM with Bolt is making that issue clearer to see.  That's why Toyota and Ford's approach with smaller, no-compromise, affordable plug-in hybrids still make sense.  That's what will threaten traditional vehicles.  Their price and high-volume potential will end guzzler appeal and compliment the EV.  It's a win-win.  Think about how appealing the next-gen Prius will be with the improved thermal-efficiency along with upgraded hardware & software.  Add the option of a plug, why wouldn't that be able to attract new buyers?  Market expansion is vital.  We need to end the guzzling now.  Asking everyone to quickly switch from gas to electricity just plain is not realistic.  That's still decades away for the masses.  Hybrids can archive the next level of green now, while at the same time usher a generation of buyers who will gladly upgrade... ones who won't fight, claiming MPG in the 30's is good enough.  That resistance is far too often, overlooked & dismissed.  And with Volt gone from the spotlight, we stand a chance of the real issues actually getting attention.


Spring Has Arrived.  Yeah!  Blessed with warm weather, finishing up the move to the new house has been quite pleasant.  Temperatures above freezing were not the expectation.  Watching them reach the 60's was quite a surprise.  My round-trip commute, starting with a fully recharged better at both ends, resulted in an overall average of 126 MPG.  That's great for a total of 37 miles driving in Spring-like weather.  It has been odd in the Prius over the past 3 weeks.  The car has been a 1-seater nearly the entire time.  With both back seats down and the front passenger, you can fit a lot of cargo inside... and I sure did.  It made our move easier.  We could pack and pack has many boxes and loose items without any effort.  That was really nice.  Spring made it even better.


That Is Why.  That daily blog for Volt has taken an odd turn since the reveal of the next-gen.  They know that new Volt falls well short of both expectations & need, so even they have moved on.  Unfortunately, the move hasn't been much of an improvement.  In fact, the discussions there have become so non-constructive, participation is pointless.  That is why I don't waste time on it anymore.  The big discussion there 2 days ago showed a glimmer of hope with this: "Most of your negative points on hydrogen for emissions hold for BEV as well."  But the result was so many negative votes so quickly, without any attempt to actually discuss that point, it was clear the bother wouldn't accomplish anything.  This was my favorite quote: "Let's list all the Pros of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle:  1. Fast refueling time.  . um  .  . ah..  .  That's it.  That's currently the ONLY advantage they have over plug-in vehicles.  Considering the mountain of negatives, is it really worth to build a whole new infrastructure (at the taxpayer's expense)..."  Having just pointed out that the reality of range for fuel-cell vehicles can now match that of traditional vehicles didn't matter.  He's one of those few outspoken Volt enthusiasts who simply doesn't care still.  Vote down facts you don't like and dismiss data showing unfavorable results continues to be his stance.  The fact that infrastructure at taxpayer's expense is a major problem with oil right now doesn't matter to him.  He doesn't care.  That's sad.  We won't need extensive cross-country pipelines for hydrogen.  The existing infrastructure can be converted.  Why not reuse?  Solar/Wind/Hydro can be taken advantage of too.  It makes far more sense than continuing to increase drilling & excavation of dirty, non-renewable energy sources.  Not everyone will be able to own a BEV (battery electric vehicle) either.  Some won't have a plug available.  Some will need rapid refueling and long-distance capability.  One size does not fit all.  Of course, that fact that Volt falls short and discussions have moved on is a bit of an indirect recognition of that.  Though, the negative votes don't confirm it.  Oh well.  They'll figure it out, but not with my contributions.  That venue has proven quite unproductive.


Progress.  It comes from learning what works and was doesn't, then applying that knowledge to take the next step.  Interest in Bolt has grown so much, Volt has already faded away into memory.  No one is talking about it anymore, even on that blog which was once-upon-a-time dedicated to Volt.  Too small and too expensive makes Volt unable to compete.  Why bother with an engine when you have battery-capacity in the 200-mile range coming to market?  The 50-mile range simply isn't competitive.  It's that simple.  This is the very reason why Toyota chose to go with a much smaller plug-in capacity instead.  By not sacrificing cost, seating/cargo space, or depleted efficiency, the plug-in Prius would stand a chance at being able to compete directly.  That goal continues to demonstrate a winning balance for business & customer.  We know the "Who?" answer.  The showroom floor is absolutely vital.  That is the battleground.  Toyota is striving to make a choice able to draw interest from those customers... who are quite different from those seeking an EV... which supposedly Volt will attempt to entice.  Knowing your audience is the lesson learned, which is playing out right before our eyes.  We can clearly see the potential and the lost opportunity.  Progress is tapping that potential.  Failure is not being able to take that next step... which in this case, means market growth... increased sales from those who would otherwise just purchase a traditional vehicle.


New Commute.  I moved into the new house last weekend.  Yesterday, was the first commute from it.  The location is 6.5 miles from the old house.  That meant quite a few trips with the Prius to transport everything except the large furniture.  It's amazing how much cargo the Prius can carry.  Too bad the temperatures were averaging 30 degrees below the freezing point.  The morning we closed, it was -13°F.  That's nasty.  Anywho, the temperature had warmed up to 12°F for this particular drive.  I was quite curious how it would go.  Rather than being just 2 blocks from the highway, I was now several miles but would enter it quite a bit closer with respect to work.  It turned out to be a 15-minute drive to that point.  With lots of stops and lots of hills, it was nice route for having a plug-in hybrid.  And sure enough, the end efficiency reflected that.  Overall distance was only 1 mile further, delivering a very respectable 85 MPG.  Today was the next time to do the same commute.  96 MPG was the result, despite only being a few degrees warmer.  I can't wait to see what happens when Spring finally arrives.


Unsupported.  Sorting through the mess to identify those who purposely misrepresent is a challenge.  You have to patiently wait and carefully observe.  Eventually, the pattern makes itself apparent.  This individual continues to confirm his intent.  Unfortunately, it's not good.  Even when pointing out lack of detail, the vague persists.  When pushed, he'll change the topic.  That's how you know.  The evade & switch behavior is difficult to deny and easy to verify.  This time, it was: "In a 2016 Volt, 50+ miles."  And sure enough, when I called him on that, the behavior continued.  That means another addition to the ignore list.  Why waste time on someone who simply doesn't care.  There are many, many others on the big Prius forum who actually want to have productive discussions.  I ended it with:  Based on what supporting evidence?  You may not remember the conjecture we had to deal with prior to the first Volt rollout, but some of us do.  Unsupported claims would be posted.  They'd end up becoming self-validating after being reposted enough.  When those of us who did our homework questioned for detail, the response was anything but constructive.  It was really sad watching false expectations rise.  The inevitable disenchantment which followed could have been avoided... simply by providing the requested detail.  Not having any doesn't mean comments cannot be posted; it only means they need to be identified as speculative and educated guesses rather than fact.


Fallout.  It's so redeeming to encounter more and more posts like this: "I guess that's good for city dwellers that only go on short trips, but can obviously go farther when the ice kicks in.  I'm kinda ignorant to the whole plug in scene as I never considered one."  Everyone is relieved that the new chapter is being written so quickly.  It's pretty easy to see the situation now.  That's quite normal, after the fact.  But in the mist of the hype, no.  I joined in with:  That's fallout from Volt, which is making itself more apparent as time goes on.  Prior to its rollout, everyone clearly understood the purpose of a PLUG-IN HYBRID.  The act of augmenting the system in Prius would result in more battery use.  It was that simple.  There was nothing discussed about EV range.  It was always seen as plugging in would deliver higher MPG.  Then came the hype.  Volt would be an EV until the battery was depleted and the engine would never contribute any power directly to the wheels.  Well, that obviously fell apart.  Enthusiasts disregarded information about thermal limitations and efficiency considerations.  They only cared about the purity of EV, even though it meant sacrifices.  GM was happy to deliver their want.  Toyota chose to focus on need instead, placing a very high-priority on cost-containment.  They didn't want to compromise on seating or cargo space either.  The result was a configuration capable of actually taking on the true competition: traditional vehicles.  MPG is boosted significantly over the regular hybrid, regardless of how far you drive, without the need for a massive battery-pack.  It's too bad so much emphasis on EV range has made that effort by Toyota so difficult to see.  Think about the complications that causes for the other automakers attempting to offer plugs with their hybrids.  People won't have a clue how it actually operates and will likely draw incorrect conclusions based solely on EV range.  That's really unfortunate.


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