Personal Log  #706

May 14, 2015  -  May 30, 2015

 Last Updated: Sun. 7/26/2015

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Transition.  During this time of transition, we are hearing very little about Prius.  Attention is focusing heavily upon Volt.  Having so many details about the one and almost none of the other makes it easy to see why.  Sentiment isn't exactly encouraging though: "The Volt could very well become the albatross of the century."  You could imagine how much attention that puts on me as a result.  Each post vindicates the position I've held from the very start.  I want something for ordinary consumers, a vehicle part of the mainstream.  That comment today was my invitation to post more observations about the upcoming next-gen rollout of Volt, at this particular point in time.  Just think of what history will think of this:  The choices GM has made with Volt 2.0 are setting it on that course.  Many years ago, we watched the first GM attempt to deliver a high-efficiency technology fail horribly.  Two-Mode was touted as the great successor, the advancement that would out-Prius the Prius.  It didn't, not even remotely close.  Too many tradeoffs were made.  Volt was the effort to make things right.  Early on though, we saw a misalignment of priorities.  What they targeted for performance was not conducive to making it affordable for the masses.  As details emerged over the development years, results wandered further and further from mainstream interest.  Enthusiasts were thrilled though, absolutely delighted with the engineering achievement.  Unfortunately, rollout proved that didn't pay the bills.  Gen-2 should have been a correction, realigning goals.  Reducing cost was supposedly the highest priority.  Turns out, it wasn't. Having reduced the battery-capacity would deliver improved cost, space, and weight.  It could have easily been done without loss of EV range too.  Instead, that was sacrificed for the sake of increasing range from 38 to 50 miles.  Will that tradeoff really be worth it?  So what if the engine starts from time to time?  The benefit of carrying around a gas engine is to supplement power.  If the goal really is to use EV almost exclusively, avoiding HV for all but special circumstance, why not use a smaller engine like BMW does?  The obvious sign of trouble to come is how the issue of cost is again passed on to the hope of later technology improvements.  In the meantime, dependency on tax-credits will continue.  That's contributing to low sales expectations and an emerging theme of "wait until Gen-3 rollout".  How much will an automaker continue to invest in a vehicle unable to self-sustain?  Dealers certainly won't want to carry a low-demand vehicle.  Seeing GM make an effort to diversify by offering a plug-in CT6 and Bolt is encouraging, but their sales could shorten the duration of when tax-credits are available for Volt.  Should we really just sit back and wait, again?


Diluting Design.  This has been a hot topic since way back in 2007.  Enthusiasts of Volt were fiercely against any type of small-battery endorsement.   That's why when Prius PHV came along later, all the online fighting ensued.  It was brutal.  Fast-Forwarding to today, we now get this: "How is the 2016 Volt design "diluting the Volt" ?"  That was asked by a supporter who truly wanted to know, one who didn't participate in any online discussions related to Volt until after rollout began.  So, he lacks the background.  I do what I can to fill in that missing history:  Step back and look at the big picture, then you'll understand what the situation was and is now.  Don't just look at 2016 Volt.  The "diluting" is with respect to other vehicles.  Enthusiasts wanted everything to offer a plug and at least a "40-mile" capacity.  They fully endorsed the same approach across the fleet.  Those enthusiasts fought intensely, to the point of hostility at times, to prevent support of any new vehicle from GM using a battery-pack smaller than that in the current Volt.  So, whenever the topic of a more affordable model was posted, the person suggesting it got labeled as a troll and personally attacked.  It was quite amazing to witness.  Long story short, they felt strongly about the "40-mile" range being a standard base for all vehicles going forward.  In other words, this upcoming CT6 plug-in hybrid is what they absolutely didn't want.  The enthusiasts used to make fun of hybrids to no end as well, portraying them as a huge waste of effort.  So, the upcoming Malibu hybrid is the last thing they ever imagined would happen.  Both are variants of Volt technology.  One offers less electricity capacity. One doesn't even offer a plug.  The product-line is diversifying.  They didn't want that.


Rushing.  We've seen countless problems arise from announcing something too soon.  Yet, the lesson isn't learned by some.  They expect rushing anyway.  No patience is a common downfall.  Oh well.  All you can do is point it out:  Toyota was smart the first round by waiting to see what the market offered and how it reacted.  Consumers overwhelmingly prefer to guzzle and the profit clearly isn't there yet.  GM celebrated their victory before rollout even began... hence yet another "over promise, under deliver".  The major price drop, repeated inventory pile ups, no demand growth, heavy dependency on incentives, and loss of loyalty upon lease expiration confirms the market is very weak.  It makes no sense rushing Gen-2 announcements.


Blind Hate, the pattern.  Seeing history repeat makes a bad situation worse.  Things fell apart as the rollout of the first Volt drew near.  Details confirmed Toyota was on the better path, in a far better position to capture enough market to self-sustain.  It put those who supported Prius that pointed out the situation well in advance in a difficult position.  The challenge to stir market interest simply wasn't there.  The same thing is happening with this next-generation rollout.  An essential requirement for becoming a mainstream seller is to not depend upon a subsidy.  The vehicle must be able to survive on its own.  Clearly, that's not going to happen with Volt.  There are no expectations of it being able to draw appeal from ordinary consumers without the $7,500 tax-credit available.  This is why asking Who? and demanding goals is so important.  The refusal to answer is confirmation of... for lack of a better word... failing.  Remember that pattern?  Evade was a dead giveaway there was a problem.  The expectation was much more than a $1,175 price reduction.  That magic $29,995 goal was set for good reason.  $33,995 is too much to be taken seriously by the masses.  They just plain won't be interested.  The incremental improvements aren't even appealing to the enthusiasts.  In fact, just about all of them are quite content holding onto their current Volt.  That certainly wasn't the case with Prius.  We saw a balanced mix of keep & replace.  We hear many positive things about Toyota's effort to keep costs contained.  GM chose to increase battery-capacity to 18.4 kWh to deliver 50 miles of EV.  Why?  Was there truly an audience for that?  Who are those people?  The data I've seen points to around 25 miles as the ideal balance for a plug-in Prius.  Trading off space, weight, and cost for the sake of capacity beyond need is a risky move, with that being the only choice offered.  We've seen this before.  Results were not good.


Blind Hate, the answer.  It's best to disregard the rhetoric and stick to principle.  Ask yourself what the goal is.  Stick to that... which is exactly what I did with my follow-up post:  Hyundai's decision to offer on-board recharging further reinforces the need to address more than just EV miles alone.  Think about overall efficiency.  When HV efficiency is traded for the sake of running the generator to replenish EV capacity, what happens?  It's an ability the other plug-in hybrids could also offer, but don't.  We get a hold mode to retain EV capacity, but battery recharging using the gas engine has been withheld to achieve better emission certification.  The choice to deliver greater flexibility to the customer really emphasizes that need to understand audience.  Who do they try to sell it to? How many do they intend to sell?  What place in the product-line will such a configuration hold?  When will we know if this is a compelling decision for other automakers to consider?  There are many questions.  All require the necessity to understand how plug-in hybrids actually operate and how each differs.  For my Prius PHV yesterday, from starting with a full charge in the morning, recharging at work (via solar), then meeting with a friend for coffee on the way home, the result was a 135 MPG average for the 42.9 total miles traveled.  Will consumers care that only 25 of those miles were EV and 16 miles HV?  (Note that the computer truncates to the next lowest whole number.)  Will consumers even understand that some of the HV miles took advantage of plug-supplied electricity but weren't counted as EV?  The answer is simple.  Consumers won't care.  They'll look at price, efficiency, and how much room the battery takes.


Blind Hate, the reply.  Reaction to my post was quite harsh by 2 particular individuals.  Their hate was quite intense.  An owner of a Volt who frequently posts on the big Prius forum came to my rescue.  He politely corrected the misstatements.  That was great!  Those particular people just plain don't try anymore.  I was plesantly amused by one.  He accused me of having no idea what I was talking about, sighted a source to validate his "6-mile" claim that was over 3 years old and clearly an early-rollout hype article, then closed with a personal insult.  The other hate response hypocritical, a blatant double-standard for the sake of bragging to evade what had actually been posted.  Both were childish.  It always make me wonder what readers of the blog think seeing that.  Anywho, my reply was:  The local EV club met on Thursday.  Those meetings are always a lot of fun.  There's a wide variety who attend.  We had everything from a custom EV convert to a new BMW i3.  That audience doesn't have any hang ups about an engine running briefly to supplement power during high-demand.  With them, it's all about having a plug and polluting less.  Heck, one of the owners even joked about his "coal powered" Tesla.  So from their perspective, I'm recharging a 4.4 kWh capacity battery-pack every time I plug in.  That electricity is used to both provide propulsion-power and to reduce the environmental impact of the engine.  There's none of the purity nonsense routinely brought up here.  Range doesn't matter.  Electricity is being taken advantage of.  That's the point.  I always got a kick of out those who pushed the "6-mile" range claim.  It was a dead giveaway they had no intention of being constructive.  Focus on bragging about EV didn't actually solve the problems we faced.  That's why the EV club here is quite welcoming to anyone interested in plugging in.  Volt isn't "vastly superior" there.  It's just another player on the same team trying to overcome the terrible challenges traditional vehicles continue to pose against our efforts to reduce emissions & consumption.


Blind Hate, the post.  There was an article published today that brought attention to the Sonata plug-in hybrid.  That was met with mixed feeling on that daily blog, where some fragments of disappointment still exist.  Coming to grips with the reality of being part of a group of vehicles helping to advance emission & consumption goals, rather than being the undisputed leader, is difficult for some.  So, when I read the misleading statement about Prius PHV, the choice was to patiently wait.  Sure enough, a comment was eventually posted to allow me to respond in-context: "I don't trust Ford, Hyundai or KIA with their AER or MPG "guesstimates"."  We know that even EPA estimates can be manipulated to misinform and there was just a reference made to Prius only getting 6-miles from plugging in.  I knew that sounding off about it would stir hate.  I'm still a scapegoat for Volt's failure to capture the market by storm.  So, regardless of how much effort is expended to focus on need, the blind hate for being correct about the market will persist.  I posted anyway:  That's why we need to include stating kWh capacity.  The whole misrepresentation issue with Prius PHV could have easily been avoided by doing that.  The 4.4 kWh capacity is clearly enough to supply 11 miles of EV.  And sure enough, owners consistently report getting 12 miles… a far cry from the supposed 6-mile claims from a few who clearly didn’t want to be constructive.  That and fallout from Ford & Hyundai are excellent reasons why taking estimates at face-value are not a good idea.


Poorly Informed?  Certain people are clueless, starting arguments solely on what they observe in a forum.  Not taking the time to study elsewhere, to really research what the situation is, doesn't happen often.  But even so, you want to wait to be certain.  Offending someone who simply didn't express themself clearly in a series of posts is good to avoid.  That means watching them, thread after thread, to confirm they really are poorly informed.  Then when you do, it's acceptable to pounce.  This was such an opportunity today: "What other Toyota vehicles are hybrids?"  That came from a Volt enthusiast strongly opposed to the idea of diversification.  Whenever I brought up the idea of a second model, something targeted at the masses, he'd get worked up.  He also continues to lie about Prius PHV battery-capacity, claiming it's only 6 miles and those who say it's 11 are intentionally being deceptive.  Ugh.  Oh well.  I got to respond with information that will give reason for pause.  Whether or not he understands how vital it is for a technology to be spread will remain a mystery though.  My guess is his obsession with the current Volt prevented him from ever stepping back to consider the big picture, the larger fleet rather than a single vehicle.  Whatever the case, this is what I posted:  There are more Lexus models available here, plus some European & Japanese.  But this is a list to show the variety, with different engine & motor sizes... FWD 4-cyl small hatchback - Prius C;  FWD 4-cyl hatchback - Prius & Prius V;  FWD 4-cyl sedan - Camry & Avalon;  AWD 4-cyl minivan - Estima;  AWD 4-cyl SUV - 2016 RAV4;  FWD 6-cyl SUV - Highlander (3500-lb tow);  AWD 8-cyl sedan - LS600h;  RWD 8-cyl sedan - LS460F.


Red Herrings.  That's when something seemingly important gets attention, but in reality is just a distraction.  We waste a lot of time on them.  It's because they are presented as somewhat constructive, an innocent question like: "What about those unexpected trips that last quite a bit longer than the range of the gas tank?"  That was asked by a Volt supporter about the small tank in i3.  If you don't take the time to think about what is actually being asked, you'll waste time posting comments that aren't helpful.  But if you take too much time to think about it, you end up wasting time anyway.  It's a lose-lose situation.  That's where the blogging comes in handy.  It gives you alternate time to think.  So when the topic reappears again later, and you know it will, you'll already be prepared to deal with it.  This was such a situation:  I honestly have no idea what situation that would apply to.  Some of us simply don't have distant friends or family or have unexpected trips.  Exceeding 150 miles of travel that wasn't planned without taking any time for a break isn't something that really ever happens.  When I travel up north (175 miles), there's always a break for food along the way anyway.  So, taking a few minutes to get gas isn't a big deal.  Carrying around extra tank capacity only for the sake of a rare circumstance is what we're trying to avoid.  It's wasteful if all you have to do is stop to refill, especially when you have the option of just carrying along an extra tank if that rare circumstance should ever actually occur.


i3 verses Volt.  BMW delivered what GM promised.  That still really upsets a number of Volt enthusiast.  So naturally, they are attacking BMW's new plug-in anyway they can: "For me, prestige isn't even part of the equation.  Convenience, reliability, and price are key.  For convenience, the i3′s pathetic 2 gallon gas tank is a non-starter."  I found that quite amusing.  This is the same person who told us Volt's engine was only for emergency purposes, after the battery-pack had been completely depleted.  He absolutely insisted a small tank is all that would ever be needed, even with just a 40-mile EV range, for Volt.  Yet for i3, with an even much larger battery-pack, that same logic doesn't apply.  It's sad to see such contradiction playout.  Oh well.  At least I can point out the hypocritical nature of the posting:  Calling it a non-starter directly contradicts what we've been told for years.  Think of how many Volt owners boast about going many months between gas refills.  Also, we've recently been told the increased range of the next-gen Volt to 50 miles will cover 90% of owners driving needs.  With a 72-mile electric range and around 78 miles of gas range (that's 2 gallons at the 39 MPG combined rating), it totally covers all but vacation needs.  How often would the 2.4 gallon tank actually be inconvenient?


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