Personal Log #714
September 6, 2015 - September 11, 2015
Last Updated: Tues. 1/12/2016
page #713 page #715 BOOK INDEX
The System. Amongst the pointless, we do get some constructive points across: "Toyota built a system that could be extended to a PHEV with minimal effort." That's a statement the stubborn don't want to acknowledge. Technically, GM built an adaptable system too. So should the need arise, with minimal effort, GM could exploit that with Volt. Although the system is expensive and inefficient, the battery-capacity could easily be reduced. The resulting weight-reduction would help improve efficiency as well as increase interior space. The lower production-cost could give it a chance to compete. The new look could attract more conventional buyers. After all, let's not overlook what's hidden in plain view. This new Volt was made to blend in, to look much like any other common car. In fact, the new exterior is so mainstream, it closely resembles a very popular we're all quite familiar with: Civic. (It also looks remarkably similar to a Kia Forte.) In other words, if things go especially sour later, GM does still have an option available for Volt.
The Disruption. My favorite example of disrupting the status quo is when Ford rolled out C-Max Energi. Some people on the big GM forum completely lost it. There was now another plug-in hybrid offering less than half the range-capacity of Volt. The fear of diluting Volt's heavily promoted "40 mile" necessity (range-anxiety campaign) was in jeopardy, so some lashed out to stop the posts anyway they could. Same thing we're seeing emerge here now… use misleading info, make it personal, change the topic, deny previous goals, etc. Ultimately, the person attempting to encourage taking the next step would get labeled as a Prius supporter and the group would return to the status quo. Now, with the advent of Gen-2 rollouts, that's happening again. Trouble is, business success requires looking at how Prius was able to attract consumers. That cannot just be ignored, especially since conditions have changed. Mitsubishi has had success with their plug-in hybrid, adding to variety of configurations on the market. BMW has had success with their range-extender, using the approach GM originally pursued for Volt. Toyota will be upping the ante with an upgrade to their plug-in hybrid offering. Combined with EV popularity and low gas prices, getting some type of coherent message out to consumer is a major challenge. What is that message for Volt now? The idea of a leaving it as a niche and focusing on making an affordable choice for the masses from some other vehicle seems to be the theme, specifically, to offer a model of Malibu hybrid with a plug instead. However, the thought of Volt not getting as much attention as a result really rubs certain individuals the wrong way. Placing blame on anyone who makes reference to Prius is somehow suppose to make the situation better. Whatever. Change is coming. The choice is to either participate now or react afterward.
The Failure. Gotta like this obvious desperate effort: "So based on sales, the Mirai & PiP must be engineering failures." It's quite telling when the subject is abruptly changed. But since you invited me to provide a response specifically about Toyota, I will. Mirai is a long-term project, an investment of profit which just entered the next stage in development… specifically: infrastructure. By getting a small number on the road, focus on fuel improvements can take place. At the same time, the technology can continue to be refined. And since we all know FCV and EV are not mutually exclusive, that they will co-exist, it makes sense to use profit for that now rather wonder if funding will be available later. PiP is a package-upgrade, rolled out as a mid-cycle release to a limited market. There was not a goal to make it a mainstream seller. With the next-generation Prius on the way, which shares the same profitable platform, simply waiting has proven a better business choice. After all, it is quite clear the market isn’t quite ready for plug-in hybrids anyway. As for that platform, the center-of-gravity of the hybrid-system was lowered, the weight of the vehicle dropped by 200 pounds, and the suspension system refined. Thermal-efficiency of the engine was refined as well. With respect to Prius in general, it is no longer held back by patents. They recently expired. How NiMH can be used is no longer restricted. As a result, the battery-pack is now smaller and more dense… allowing it to fit underneath the rear seat. In other words, it will be able to reach out to a wider audience at a competitive cost. The package-upgrade known as PiP will take advantage of cost-reduction from high-volume production of the platform and high-demand for the regular model providing opportunity to expand.
The Niche. There's a growing hate for the word niche. That's because there's no semantics to argue this time. The count is quite clear. No label will change that. What amazes me is the denial. The enthusiasts act as if none of this has ever been discussed before, that the numbers are completely made up and arbitrary. Acknowledgement of the same standard having been applied to Prius over a decade ago is impossible. They do everything they can to evade that reality. It's quite amusing, and yet another dead giveaway. I posted: MAINSTREAM has been clearly defined for well over a decade now in this market. It is a minimum of 60,000 annual sales, which averages 5,000 per month. That is why GM chose that as a target rate for Volt to reach by the end of the second year of sales. Many common vehicles (Malibu, Cruze, Equinox, etc) sell at a rate much larger faster than that. NICHE is simply a vehicle selling at a rate well below that. NICHE is also a vehicle requiring a subsidy.
The Surprise. Ugh. Watching this Volt fall
apart is amazing. No one really thought the same mistakes would be
repeated. Or would they: "This roll-out schedule of the 2016 Volt is not a
whole lot different than it was in 2011, so why is everyone surprised?"
I was beside myself reading that. For years, we had been told this new
Volt would be different. Now, those same people are surprised we would
ever believe such nonsense. This is yet another sign of trouble to
come. My response was: The expectation was set that the next Volt would be different, that it
would break away from being a niche. Instead, it continues on as vehicle set
apart from mainstream offerings. There are countless posts on this website
telling that. We heard that same message for years. Just wait
for gen-2. What is the point if we just continue to watch GM's other vehicles
overwhelm Volt sales numbers? Should the focus be set on popular
sellers getting Volt tech instead, like Malibu?
The Plan. You gotta like it when goal-posts are
moved... "That WAS the original plan." ...but there is no new plan.
How many times must it be asked for? Certain individuals leading the
rest of the enthusiasts really don't have a clue. You'll get
something, then contradictory statements will follow. It's a dead
giveaway that trouble awaits. No clear message of intent is a recipe
for failure. What should we be expecting? I replied with: The expectation
was ordinary distribution, just like any other vehicle from GM, so strong
sales would occur right way. Enthusiasts even boasted that those sales would
be even better than the second-generation Prius… which were so good, the
industry was taken by surprise. It's obvious that Volt is stuck in
the middle. GM needs to rethink approach. It cannot compete with the
small-capacity plug-in hybrids, which have the advantage of size & cost. It
cannot compete with the EVs striving to reach mainstream consumers, which
have the advantage of covering an entire day's travel with a single charge. How will the new Volt be promoted and to who?
Choice. It's easy to see Nissan has moved on. They just announced another model of Leaf will be available in May next year. This one will include a battery upgrade, as well as a range increase. The electrodes have been improved and the chemistry revised. That's the incremental progress we've come to expect from EV offerings. What's not is that the original will still be available. Not everyone will need or even want to pay for that extra 23 miles or be interested in the battery change. The key is having a choice. It's a good move on Nissan's part. As Leaf ages, shifting to a next-generation can be challenging... as we're seeing play out with GM right now. Toyota introduced their variety along the way too. New features in Prius could be found in their other hybrids first. That's how we figured the two-stage PSD would end up in Prius. It was in Camry already and had proven to be a worthy upgrade. Anywho, the market is adjusting. Inflexibility can be a problem on the commercial scale. It's nice to see that isn't a problem when in comes to the utilization of motors, batteries, and electricity.
Moved On. I was fascinated. Watching the same old rhetoric tried all over again didn't interest anyone. Arguments that were clearly a desperate attempt to mislead fell on deaf ears, this time. These blogs are filled with examples of that nonsense, so it isn't even worth the bother repeating them. We've moved on. Watching the final remaining enthusiasts go down without a fight is worth the time, but not enough to post. Curiosity about what excuses would be reused is difficult to resist. Who's going to bother to listen at this point though? I simply wanted to see what would happen. After all, we've seen promised fall apart before. This was no different... hence being so cryptic. The technology in Prius is extremely well proven. 15 years later (since rollout here) everyone knows its reliable. Generational improvements made it more appealing. It's much easier now to take the purchase into serious consideration. What else needs to be said? The antagonists have certainly run out of ideas.
Waste of Time. I originally joined that daily blog, all those years ago, looking for an ally and helping to end the spread of misconceptions. Today, I decided there's no sense even bothering. There was a clear effort there to create new material for undermining. I was actually rather stunned to see that. It was sad. The post that caught my attention was a reference using vague data. I knew it had been cherry-picked from the second-generation model. No one else would though. The part which got me was the claim that the fourth-generation would work the same way. I know the third doesn't even do that. Unfortunately, no one else would know that either. It was pure desperation on his part. He hoped to attract attention. Discussions have dwindled. That venue has shrunk down to just a small number of enthusiasts. It's just a waste of time... hence not even wanting to mention specifics. The same topics can be found on other websites.
Speculation. Even though expectations for change were set, I suspect many followers of Prius could speculate this way: "The fact that they announced nothing in terms of specifics leads me to believe that they are having a very hard time meeting the numbers they have touted of 10% efficiency improvements." It's more fallout damage from Volt. Ugh. The campaign to make MPG more important than anything else should have made that quite predictable. Some people just don't pay attention though. They don't notice. Other detail just slips by. Hopefully, my response will be found helpful: That requires an assumption that Toyota is marketing this generation of Prius to the same consumers as in the past, ones who deemed efficiency among their highest priorities. We've clearly been told that isn't the case. Attention won't be on MPG anymore. Read the quotes. "Prius set the global benchmark for hybrids, but now is breaking its own boundaries with more engaging style and fun-to-drive dynamics." & "What was once a rational purchase that for many customers focused on fuel economy, is now so much more. This Prius will invite new drivers into the category by delivering an impressive look and feel, built on the foundation of safety and eco-consciousness that define the vehicle's heritage." This new Prius is intended to draw a new audience, expanding even further into the mainstream. The technology is so well proven and so well known as this point, focus has shifted to other aspects of ownership. Those buyers simply don't care about the detail you've grown to expect in the past. They won't care if it's 9, 10, or even 11 percent. All they'll want to know is that the motors, engine, and battery have all been improved. The other part is just ordinary business. The reveal is just first step down a long road to attract customers. It makes no sense telling everything all at once when there are many major autoshows to come still. Why not build up anticipation each step of the way?
The Reveal. Toyota finally showed us the new Prius. It's a standout, very much like we had anticipated. We've heard lots of "ugly" comments already. But now there's this growing sense of they-will-sell-a-ton-of-them-anyway feeling coming from the outspoken anti-Prius crowd. I find it very appealing, especially the red color of the reveal model. The point is to draw in new buyers. That makes styling important. Heck, we have already seen how the recast of Corolla worked in its favor. Claims were made that Prius screamed "I'm green" and that's exclusively why people bought it. (Remember, those claiming that were also disputing the efficiency.) We know owners aren't that vain, that the practical nature of it being the only midsize hatchback back then was a major draw... as well as the efficiency & emission benefits. Irony is to now capitalize on that very premise. Why not? This evening's photos & video show Toyota is doing exactly that. What gets me is how people say they want a "normal" looking car but have a strong sense of fascination when new car styles are shown. What do they expect to fall in love with? Do they want something unique or something that resembles what everyone is already driving? What does "normal" actually mean? Those are mutually exclusive qualities. The beautiful super-model is not a normal-looking person. Of course, neither is someone ugly. You either stand out in a crowd or you don't. You can't have both. Needless to say, getting noticed is the choice that has been made. That's interesting, since virtually every other high-efficiency mainstream offering (including Volt now) has chosen to blend in instead. The exception is Leaf... which is still selling quite well, despite the model at the end of its product-cycle. Time will tell. I really like what I got to see tonight. More to come as the rollout itself approaches early next year...
BMW 225xe and 330e. There are two plug-in hybrids coming from BMW. The name of the same is "eDrive". 225xe will use a 3-cylinder, 1.5 liter, 134 horsepower engine connected to a six-speed automatic transmission for front-wheel drive. It will include a 87 horsepower electric motor powered by a 7.7 kWh battery-pack connected to the rear wheels. Apparently, this is what Dodge set out to build 15 years ago, but ended up giving up. Through the road connectivity is rather complicated. But then again, the technology nowadays is much better and there is a certain desperation to actually deliver. 330e uses a larger 4-cylinder, turbocharged, 2.0 liter engine that delivers 181 horsepower. It will also send power to both the front & rear wheels. The electric motor is the same, but the battery is 7.6 kWh instead. 25 miles of EV range is the expectation for both vehicles. Price has not been announced yet.
Delay. The expectation was that we'd be seeing the new Volt being sold nationwide soon. Instead, the word is that only select states will get them for the first few months. You can imagine the stir that news has caused. I posted my thoughts on that this way: Searching online, the current inventory is listed as 2,634. That's 2 months sales, based upon heavily discounted prices in August to clear out what's left. As the calendar advances, that rate will become increasingly difficult to match. Other automakers march on. Obviously, Toyota will be stirring the pot with Prius. BMW just announced their entire fleet will add a plug in some fashion, they even just announced 2 new plug-in hybrids on the way. Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid has been selling well outside the United States, which means we'll eventually get it here too. And of course, there's a variety of EV choices. GM's decision to delay prior to sales beginning will bring some interesting spin. Whatever the case, we things can happen beyond the automakers control. We also know the market still isn't ready... especially with gas so cheap. Heck, I saw it at $2.22 today. Ugh. The problem with Volt the first time around was lack of clarity. There were so many mixed messages, the chaos was a challenge to document. Though, it isn't difficult to remember certain goals being missed and weak sales. The original goals were set so it could become a high-volume profitable seller. This next-generation didn't focus on them. Why? We've been told production for the first year has been set to just 25,000. That's well below the mainstream minimum of 5,000 per month and pales in comparison to sales of other GM cars. In other words, even without any delay, what difference will it make? More is needed. The technology must be spread to make it feasible to sustain the business. Should hope for change come from Malibu hybrid instead?