Personal Log  #713

August 22, 2015  -  September 5, 2015

Last Updated: Tues. 1/12/2016

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Similarities.  I'm intrigued to find out what kind of responses I get.  This is what I posted the following on the big Prius forum, in a discussion about reasons not to buy a plug-in Prius...  Reading through this new thread turned out to be rather inspirational.  I hadn't noticed some similarities until now.  For example: PHV is a mid-cycle rollout to a limited market.  CLASSIC was a mid-cycle rollout to a limited market.  PHV calculations are done to see if it will save money.  CLASSIC calculations were done to see if it would save money.  PHV comments about how its design are based on assumption & observation and are often wrong.  CLASSIC comments about how its design were based on assumption & observation and are often wrong.  People didn't know what a hybrid was back then and most don't know what a plug-in hybrid is now either.  That makes me feel like we're starting all over again, which is great.  I recognize the potential.  It's a new audience, new market, and there's lot of new opportunity.


Remembering The Past.  How much detail is actually important?  Will anyone care that Toyota stopped production early to avoid having leftover inventory as the product-cycle end approached?  Will anyone care that GM got stuck having to clear out their leftover inventory at incredible price reductions because they didn't?  Will anyone remember the spin & rhetoric as a result of those business choices?  Those are the final glimpses of questions related to the generational end.  What about remembering the beginning?  What about those original goals?  Long story short, we encountered a lot of problems with the first-generation rollout.  It had nothing to do with the technology either.  It all came down to audience.  Who the heck were those vehicles for?  The intention for Volt was to be a "game changer", to crush Prius with sales so strong it would become a mainstream seller by the third year of sales.  That didn't even come close to happening?  Will anyone remember?  For that matter, will anyone care?  That failure taught us a valuable lesson.  A symbol of change does not mean change.  It became a "someday I'll get one" vehicle, rather than be a vehicle people actually purchase.  In fact, that distance effect grew so bad, Mitsubishi didn't even bother rolling out it PHEV to the United States.  48 other countries can purchase them, but not us.  It's a plug-in hybrid SUV offering a 32-mile range capacity!  You'd think in this land of SUV guzzling, that would be an ideal product to sell.  Instead, we get nothing here.  Fortunately, all the craziness in the market didn't impair EV advancement.  Thankfully, Nissan & Tesla have been pushing hard.  But cost remains a major barrier.  That's why gen-2 rollouts are so important.  That's why we need to find out who they are intended for... prior to rollout.  So, finding out directly from Volt enthusiasts that Volt will remain a specialty vehicle is an fascinating development.  No more undermining like in the past?  No more hype about strong sales?  No more changing of definitions, arguing semantics, or forgetting goals?  I wonder if they'll remember that a year from now when the new Prius sightings become common.  Hmm.


Modern.  The upcoming new look of Prius sure has stirred a lot of style posting.  I get a kick out of how people back themselves into a corner without even realizing, then sometimes step out with the greatest of ease.  Sometimes, all you have to do is point out what they did.  That's happening a lot with visual appeal.  The mindset is "a car must look like this", so why ever change.  Working in the computer industry and having to design & support user-interfaces, you learn quickly that people typically have no idea what options are available to them and that designs of the past were due to limitations which no longer exist.  Once they realize flexibility is at their discretion, new opportunities suddenly open up.  I've experienced that firsthand many times over my 2.5 decades of design for my career.  Seeing the same happen with the automotive industry is quite refreshing.  Anywho, here's what I chimed in with into the online discussion:  It's 2016 model year, time to abandon the shape & look of cars that has been shared since the 90's.  After all, these new models will be on the road in the 20's.  Think of how quaint it is to not have the screen on the dashboard and a fob in your pocket.  Some of us have moved on years ago. Many more may be waiting for the opportunity.  In other words, the thought of "modern" is changing.


Newbie Observations.  It isn't often I get to interact with Prius owners anymore.  Letting the less new answer the new owners questions is beneficial for both.  So, unless confusion emerges from lack of information, I just lurk.  Today, that silence was broken.  A discussion about when the engine shuts off and why got rather messy.  It was time to step in.  And I did, with this:  There are 2 electric-only modes.  STEALTH mode is what we got way back when Prius was first rolled out, it's a fundamental part of the hybrid system.  The engine automatically shuts off when the power from it is not needed, relying exclusively on the battery & motor from that point.  EV mode is what came later, but instead you get a button to engage it.  The difference is it trades off speed for power.  You'll discover climbing a hill is much easier; however, you cannot go as fast.  With the plug-in model, since more battery is available, the EV mode offers both more power and faster speed.  You still have STEALTH mode too, same behavior as with the other Prius models.


Design.  It's shifting from heavy engineering emphasis (to the point of business neglect) over to truly new styling.  It's about dang time!  The flexibility of LED lighting helps a lot with that effort.  No more Physical size & shape constraints is a big deal.  We're not stuck choosing among vehicles that basically all look the same.  Problem is, people are resistant to change and an increase in variety makes it worse.  The other problem is that automakers are struggling with MPG shortcomings.  That's a non-issue when gas is so cheap.  As soon as it goes up though, things get ugly.  If all the cars look rather similar, how are they going to attract sales?  Getting stuck with inventory that cannot be sold is costly.  So, why not embrace different looks?  What do you really wanting to be driving years from your purchase?  It's so obvious this change is coming.  You can see it beginning with the luxury vehicles already.


Styling.  This is a hot topic now.  I had no idea my contribution to it would get so many likes.  That's incredibly encouraging.  Change is usually slow.  The new Prius is breaking new ground, pushing mainstream to transform faster.  After all, how else do you advance forward?  Concealing technology into the familiar was already successfully achieved.  This is the next logical step.  Remember when the second-generation Prius was first rolled out.  There were no other midsize hatchbacks available.  Prius as all alone.  Now, there are many to choose from.  In particular, I liked this particular lookback at the situation: "This is the Prius that will get back at all those people that made fun of its older generations."  Between performance & styling, this Prius will be all alone too.  I joined in with:  The spin from those contradicting their own statements of the past will be entertaining.  For me, I'm still totally amazed how so many think the old-school car is the only thing considered attractive.  As time goes on, the divide will grow.  The unique shapes of exterior lights will draw wider audiences.  After all, the automakers can only do so much with the already refined car shape.  Something new is needed to interest buyers.


1,000 Times.  We've watched goals change... not from learning about market need... it was from finding out about shortcomings... promises not delivered.  Volt became a major disruptive force and we don't want to see it again.  Watching it follow that mistakes of Two-Mode was bad enough, but now with the market working to offer a diverse choice of reduced emission & consumption vehicles, we really don't want to go through that again.  It looks like we won't have to either.  Today, I read a "1,000 times" quote.  In it, this antagonist who fought me intensely recite my very words.  He's now in favor of what I had been saying for years (hence the count) about needing to offer more.  Back than though, my words were responded to with hostile posts.  It was amazed.  The assumption was that my intention was to kill Volt by diluting it.  The paranoia was remarkable.  I'm sure glad I took the time to document it in great detail as it was happening.  Looking back now, who would believe there would be such an intense reaction to something that should be so obvious.  Wasn't the goal to spread the technology?


August Sales.  Gas is cheap... so low, traditional vehicle sales are very strong.  37,592 sales of Camry for the month is a difficult number to acknowledge.  31,726 for Corolla is another.  This is why I was always so hard on those spreading Volt rhetoric.  It's a dose of reality to significant to accept.  When it's only $2.39 per gallon to fill your tank, why consider any type of high-efficiency vehicle?  Prius remains the leader.  10,450 sales is too distant though.  It puts Volt's 1,380 sales (with a $7,500 tax-credit and heavy overstock discounts) into a very uncomfortable place.  Comparing to 3,119 for Prius V and 3,844 for Prius C makes it even worse.  What does that mean for the future?  The next PHV will be rolled out nationwide.  The promotion of EV will advance.  The exposure of FCV will continue.  Automakers without anything competitive will have no choice but to continue to push their traditional vehicles.  Gas will likely remain cheap for quite awhile, since the over-supply of oil has no end in sight.  Change doesn't come easy.  The future is going to be a challenge.


Teaser Photo.  Just like with the previous generation rollout, Toyota is releasing teaser photos.  I was fortunate enough to host one all those years ago.  This time around though, the online world is quite different.  Photos have been leaked & shared.  We have many to look at already.  Oddly, it doesn't seem to affect the excitement & anticipation.  Today, from Toyota itself, we got a teaser photo of the tail-light illuminated.  That's all you can see.  It's just a line of red.  But the shape & length is so distinctive, it caused the internet to rumble.  There were posts everywhere, on any website even the slightest bit interested in automotive topics, exclaiming how "ugly" that was.  Knowing that the leaks have already informed those audiences of what the entire vehicle will look like, it's easy to imagine the backlash.  The message of change coming is crystal clear.  Prius is pushing the market again.  Racing ahead of the competition like that is good reason for supporters of those automakers to lash out.  What the heck will they compete with?  The only logic next step is to try to convince readers that new styling isn't appealing.  It's a paradox though.  The more attention brought to it, the less the impact... it becomes familiar... which is the very thing those antagonists want.  They self-deprecate, resulting in an endorsement for change rather than successfully holding it back.  That's very difficult to see today, just hours after the reveal.  But we've seen the effect play out over the past 15 years.  Toyota is marketing to the way we instinctively react.  It's human nature.  Change is coming.  We react accordingly.


Change.  The rhetoric began again.  Government measurement data was released today for the gen-2 Volt.  I watched posts for a bit, then posted this:  So... after all these posts... we've found out that the "leap frog" will be lower CO2 emissions and the "competition" will be H2 vehicles.  Volt has wandered so far from the original goal of attracting ordinary consumers and selling at a mainstream rate, what's the point of giving attention anymore?  We'll continue to see some make gallant efforts to try to promote, but there's a big difference between proving a technology viable and selling large quantities without assistance for a profitably.  Who cares about bragging rights?  That's not what pays the bills.  Automakers must produce something for the masses.  Volt isn't it.  The message is that simple.


Smooth & Quiet.  Using the word "luxurious" to describe Prius over the years would have been laughed at.  But secretly, everyone has always known there's no possible way a combustion or compression engine could ever be as smooth or as quiet as an electric motor.  There's no debate.  It's quite obvious.  The fact that Prius delivered those highly sought after traits luxury buyers desired has always been a source of irritation for antagonists.  They have no way to rebut.  A large motor with a large battery could deliver an unchallenged amount of torque as well.  Engines simply cannot compete.  Combine that with the necessity to reduce emission & consumption, the choice is blatant.  BMW has acknowledged this.  An announcement today stated within the next 10 years, "Virtually every BMW model would be converted to electric drivetrains, including range-extending engines and plug-in hybrids."  The upcoming carbon emission standards for Europe has been putting a lot of pressure on BMW.  Known for delivering basically nothing other than powerful guzzlers, we could see this as the first domino to fall.  17,793 sales of i3 worldwide last year may be an indicator of positive expectations.  If nothing else, it does serve as yet another endorsement for battery & motor acceptance and will introduce people to the smooth & quiet some of us have been enjoying for almost 15 years.


Market Issues.  Upcoming rollout of new hybrids and new plug-in vehicles is stirring online interest.  Every source is ramping up hype & rhetoric.  As usual, we've got GM attempting to gain attention.  It worked on me.  A presentation featuring Gen-2 of Volt caught my attention.  They stated customers wanted: more range, better fuel economy, and more power.  No mention was made seating or price.  Those countless complaints about interior space were simply ignored.  Instead, the "What we did" had 4 bullet points.  The first was "fun to drive".  The following three, all mentioned "powerful" as the first item of importance for battery, electric drive, and range extender improvements.  In other words, we have solid confirmation of who... even without addressing the cost issue.  With the stock market having dropped dramatically today (closed at 15,871) and a barrel of oil almost to the point it was back when the Classic Prius was still being sold (below $39 today), selling high-efficiency vehicles is becoming even more of a challenge.  Toyota is the other attention-getting, but not by actually doing anything.  This is all coming from leaks.  The specifications even appear to be legit... and exactly what will feed the spin.  Toyota appears to be right on target, staying true to the original mission of being practical & affordable rather than seeking trophies.  That's not exciting... hence the antagonists trying to shift focus over to Mirai (the fuel-cell vehicle) instead.  The next Prius will seek out ordinary consumers.  That goal of mainstream sales of high-volume isn't threatened the hype & rhetoric, simply due to the source.  We've got the nonsense coming from Volt and the continuing problem of understanding.  The real push for profitable & popular plug-only vehicle comes from Nissan & Tesla still.  In other words, it leaves Prius standing alone.  That doesn't make appealing to traditional buyers any easier, but at least market issues are being addressed.  Ford, Honda, and Hyundai all stand potential.  But then again, with gas so cheap and the oil supply greatly outpacing demand... their challenge is enormous.  Put shortly, we've got a messy market to deal with.


Human Nature.  You bet!  Having followed Prius since late 1999 and owned 4 of the models available since September 2000, I've heard it all.  There are a lot of hypocrites out there.  Some respond to the urge to resist & contradict, others are totally oblivious to their actions.  Whatever the case, the "ugly" claims will pass.  I remember when the minivan was first introduced.  Wow!  The number of "I wouldn't be caught dead in one of those" comments were quite abundant.  And sure enough, some of the people who made that comment ended up buying one anyway.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, you've got the auto enthusiasts who praise certain style, yet never actually buy one themselves.  They end up with an ordinary vehicle like everyone else.  Watch the "ugly" comments.  People are so vague, you have no clue what aspect of what they're seeing they don't actually like.  That's more of the human nature reaction.  Many simply aren't ready for change.  If it doesn't resemble what's familiar, they aren't interested.  Like countless stories of the past, owners ended up deciding to buy from the test-drive experience.  It's the practical design of Prius, combined with the affordable emission & efficiency technology, which ultimately wins people over.


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