Personal Log  #718

October 13, 2015  -  October 26, 2015

Last Updated: Tues. 1/12/2016

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Contradiction, statement.  This is what I ended up posting, on what used to be a daily blog for Volt:  There was a strong fight against the BEV, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid.  Don't remember how intensely those concepts were disliked?  The very idea that they are now being embraced is quite a shift, to the point of be contradictory or even hypocritical.  Voltec was the only approach to be followed.  Nothing else was needed.  We heard that sermon preached hundreds of times.  Nissan was looked down upon, with great emphasis on "range anxiety" fear.  Yet now, Bolt is accepted as a sensible move.  With Bolt and Leaf and Tesla becoming the choice for those wanting to abandon gas, it leaves us wondering what the appeal of Volt will be.  Why would you want a full size gas engine?  What the heck is the 8.9 gallon tank for?  How will ERDTT be explained as an EV feature?  Ironically, the lashing out at those who were correct about how this would play out is the very thing holding back progress.  Are they really going to repeat mistakes of the past again?  The most obvious problem is the evading of goals.  What the heck is the purpose of Volt?  How does that fit with the rollout of Bolt?  Why will Malibu hybrid be offered?  It's the supporters who make a difference.  Their purchase & promotion is what entices others to seek learn more.  No clear message about Volt hurt gen-1 sales.  It was a chaotic mess.  Ordinary GM customers simply weren't interested.  What will be the gen-2 draw?


Contradiction, observation.  The time to draw a conclusion has arrived.  We're seeing the next step forward take place.  But with progress, there comes winners & losers.  The EV was argued against intensely.  Volt was superior to Leaf, period.  It was perplexing to witness such self-deprecating arguments to take place.  How could the advancement of battery technology allow Volt to be competitive?   The inevitable cost drop would make the electric-only choice more appealing.  It was a simple matter of increased range.  No more range anxiety.  The approach Volt took was a dependency on batteries being expensive and low energy-density.  An improvement in either would favor the EV... as well as the plug-in hybrid, which use a smaller pack and deliver high efficiency even without plugging in.  Unlike BMW's i3, which uses a small engine & tank with a much larger battery, Volt was this odd configuration stuck in the middle.  We watched an identity-crisis play out.  Who would the gen-2 be for?  With Nissan, Tesla, and even GM striving for 200-mile ranges that are actually affordable for middle-market buyers, the audience for Volt remains a mystery.  That's where the contradiction comes into play.  We're seeing certain individuals now say that the Bolt was expected all along, that Volt's purpose was to usher in EV choices.  That most definitely is not what the said before.  Contradicting their own claims is an implicit admission of defeat and an effort to move on.  Cool.


Progress?  We're seeing hints of it emerge.  Comments like this are helping with the move-on process: "My main irritation with the Prius is the EV mode is completely anemic.  You can't accelerate at all (not even normal acceleration) in EV mode or it turns off.  There would be a lot to gain in MPG if they had a usable EV mode."  Dialog of that nature wasn't possible in the past.  Even now, it still comes off as condescending.  But carefully read, there's a little bit of a constructive element to work with.  So, I took it as an invitation to inform:  You just described the PHV model.  Having a larger battery-pack and plugged-supplied electricity increases EV power quite a bit.  I climb steep residential hills and accelerate onto the local highway (55 mph) without triggering the engine with my 2012.  Here's my stats: 65,124 miles; 890 gallons; 5,535 kWh; 73.2 MPG.  That's 3.5 years of ownership in Minnesota, where winters are quite harsh.  So as you could imagine, that 9% increase in hybrid winter-operation efficiency from gen-4 will be a nice upgrade.  Also, note that the gen-2 PHV will raise the top EV speed from 100 km/h (62 mph) to 110 km/h (68 mph).  Above that speed, you’ll still have the boost (electricity being used to allow the engine to run at a lower RPM for better efficiency).


To Summarize:  GM created Volt based on want.  Executives & Enthusiasts expressed their desires and many were fulfilled.  It was an engineering achievement worthy of praise.  Awards were presented.  Celebrating lasted for awhile.  Then, reality set it.  There was recognition that business need had been sacrificed.  No worries.  Gen-2 would address the goals which remained outstanding.  All we had to do was be patient.  To everyone's surprise though, the plan changed.  Volt would remain the premiere vehicle it was designed to be and other vehicles would satisfy need instead.  Suggestions to diversify would be taken, the very approach which had been strongly outspoken against would now become the plan.  Rather than focus entirely on a single solution, Volt would be complimented by an EV, a plug-in hybrid, and a regular hybrid.  Toyota stayed true to business need.  That's why Prius was constantly the source of comparison.  Even though Volt was declared "vastly superior", it could never escape being compared.  And now that details of gen-2 plug-in Prius are being revealed, Volt enthusiasts are doing everything they can to avoid discussing it.  That's quite telling.  Still only including the regular Prius, how could that possibly help Volt?  GM's own offerings... Bolt, CTS plug-in, and Malibu hybrid... will get more and more attention if that type of misleading continues.  People will see the omission and move on.  There's want & need, two very different things with very different priorities.  No amount of spin will prevent the facts from being discovered.  Let the data speak for itself.  Geez.  Different people have different priorities.  But one thing is the same for all, the business must sell vehicles in high-volume at a profit to continue paying the bills.  That's paramount to want.  Need always wins in the end.


VW Electrification.  The only true option Volkswagen has at this point is to embrace hybrids and plug-ins.  No amount of damage-control can help them beyond just recovering to status quo.  They need something to break pass that.  Even with a restored reputation, diesel simply cannot compete.  The Prius PHV that I drive now has been averaging 73 MPG over the past 65,000 miles.  It's quite obvious the automaker must take a step forward.  The question now is: how far?  We have already seen a variety of prototypes from VW.  Heck, they even sell a hybrid.  None of that was taken seriously though, since diesel was king.  But not much more can be squeezed out just an engine alone.  In fact, the current MPG was achieved by cheating.  It's quite clear to everyone that a dirtier system can be more efficient.  Sacrificing of gas for the sake of cleansing isn't something Toyota got much credit for.  But now with the mess VW created for itself, there's new attention to non-carbon emissions... the kind that contribute to smog.  Oh well.  Better late than never.


More Detail.  Those little tidbits of new information continue to trickle in.  The latest is finding out there's a MPH bump up with the top EV speed for the plug-in model.  True, you're better off in many cases using boost instead.  But nonetheless, the faster does offer greater flexibility.  For now though, it's mostly just speculation: "Or, if we take the PiP as the half-generation improvement, it's 100km/h to 110km/h  :)  I know, it doesn't sound as impressive.  It could also hint at the capabilities of the PiP since (it's safe to assume?) it'll use similar hardware to the Gen 4."  That's fun to ponder nuggets of knowledge we stumble across.  Eventually, we'll nail down fact.  But in the meantime:  At the local EV club the other day, we had an extensive discussion about tweaks Nissan did to Leaf over the years.  The 2015 drives much better & further than the 2012, despite being the same generation.  Engineers were allowed to release an array of updates along the way.  It's quite realistic for us to see a collection of performance improvements with the next Prius PHV.  Toyota never stopped research & development, despite what the naysayers spin.  Too bad so many people get hung up on maximum ratings.  As a result, they totally overlook actual utilization.  Put simplistically, what is the point of a 60kW rated electric-motor when you only have a battery-pack delivering 38kW of electricity?  Making the two better match is an optimization easily not recognized.  Yet, things like that are what contribute to overall improvement.  We already know the engine has been improved, delivering a 9% gain in the winter.  That's a big deal.  Some will complain anyway, focusing on the fact that the engine still runs at times... even though the resulting efficiency is noticeably better.  Both the regular model and plug-in will benefit. It's a well thought out, versatile design.  We have many things to look forward to.


This Week, plugging.  A meeting of the EV owners took place last night.  As usual, we had a blast.  That group is profoundly different from the troublemakers online.  They readily admit shortcomings and welcome feedback.  There is no brand loyalty.  The effort is to promote cleaner, more efficient transportation.  The fact that I have the smallest battery-pack doesn't matter, it's my effort to demonstrate how easy & affordable it is to achieve that goal.  Size doesn't really matter.  Heck, I'm typing this blog right now at the coffeeshop, which is 4.4 miles from home.  I can reach it and travel back, using a 55 mph road, entirely with electricity.  Goal achieved.  No need for greater capacity in this circumstance.  This group clearly understands how power & capacity will just naturally improve as the years pass.  Heck, there were a few who have upgraded from older models.  We heard stories of both Leaf & Volt differences over the years, despite being the same generation.  That leaves them with a very objective look at the next plug-in Prius.  They see the potential.  None of that arguing we experience online ever happens in person.  When we meet, discussions are about how to better educate.  Our preparation is paramount.  Quibbling over obvious shortcomings doesn't achieve anything.  It's all about recognition of goals.  They want the masses plugging in.


This Week, anti.  There are some who thrive on debate.  They really don't care what you say.  They're responses are to provoke discussion.  So, by their very nature, the language is vague & ambiguous.  That draws a lot of posting.  The most recent has been implying that if you're in favor of NiMH batteries, you're against Li-Ion.  Their intent is to polarize.  The idea of a variety of choices being available, rather than one being an obvious successor, is something they can't handle.  Diversity is not welcome.  That's sad.  Toyota is going exactly that direction too, offering choice.  They clearly despise that.  This week, specs of the upcoming batteries were revealed.  The regular (non-plug) Prius will be offering both NiMH and Li-Ion.  One is less expensive and more robust.  The other is cost more, but is lighter, smaller, and offers more power.  It's an interesting tradeoff consumers have never been able to decide between.  That's coming next year.  Coming next decade is the choice between electric-only and fuel-cell.  If you're in favor of one, the antagonists present it as you are against the other.  They hate the idea of co-existence.  The very idea of apartment & condo dwellers not having access to a plug infuriates.  EV is the only solution as far as their concern.  Hydrogen, regardless of source, is considered a waste.  That's sad.  What I find amusing though is the attempts to misrepresent.  Someone pointed out how I was against fuel-cells, but now in favor.  They absolutely refused to acknowledge that my stance was taken well over a decade ago, based on the technology of the time.  Things have changed dramatically since then.  That exclusion of when was obvious greenwashing and he got caught doing it.  Despite that, the effort to make that subject polarized continues.  Endless online debate is what some enjoy too much to allow it to end.


This Week, diesel.  Looking back, it was quite a week.  The disaster with VW continues to get worse.  Most of the diesel updates here in the United States will require extensive work.  Harm to reputation, not to mention resale value, is profound.  With so many cleaner and more efficient choices emerging, there's no real hope for diesel anymore.  There's simply no way to compete.  Part of the growing trouble comes from the proposed solution.  It involves the very thing I complained about many years ago: AdBlue.  That's the urea liquid product used to treat emissions.  Turns out, even the systems currently using it weren't squirting enough out to reach the level of cleansing required.  Having to bring in your car to the dealer more often is something VW was attempting to avoid.  Now, they'll have even more dealing with this new problem, since the diesels without that tank & sprayer need it too.  Things just plain did not add up in the past.  Finding out later that diesel owners who had harassed hybrid owners had been deceived is quite odd of a situation.  They didn't question the facts we had disputed.  They had cherry-picked data in their favor too.  The final victory is hurtful to those who didn't participate in that.  They are true victims.  So, it is best to simply move on... just like with all the other wins of the past.


Hypocrites & Greenwashers.  They really stand out.  With comments like this though, you have to wonder: "The Volt is a transitional vehicle that bridges the stark divide between gasoline engine cars and engine-less cars at a reasonable price while retaining all of the advantages of full power EV driving, a path forward for efficient carbon reduction, and fast refueling on longer trips without need for massive new infrastructure."  What the heck was he really trying to say?  Since it is sales which measure the progress forward, the purpose of a vehicle doesn't matter much if it only looks good on paper.  The difference is made in neighborhood driveways and local streets.  Without actual purchases by large quantities of consumers, what's accomplished?  I chose my words carefully:  Gen-1 Volt pointed out that "reasonable" price only applied to early-adopters, that even with tax-credit help sales were a struggle.  Gen-1 also revealed that full-power EV driving wasn't the big draw, that people were more interested in using as little gas as possible.  Gen-2 Volt offers greater EV range, but at the tradeoff of cost, weight, and size.  That makes it a harder sale compared to the larger plug-in hybrids offering less capacity and highly-efficient blending.  If you don't drive far enough to take advantage of Volt's entire battery-capacity, what's the sales draw?  Gen-1 PiP demonstrated that faster engine shut-off was what owners most wanted.  Their goal was to significantly reduce gas consumption, not to use as much electricity as possible.  Seeing the benefits of blending made that easy.  MPG was well above what a regular hybrid could deliver.  Keeping engine use brief was key.  Gen-2 PiP will deliver an engine even more efficient along with some level of increased battery-capacity.  That will draw interest.  Keeping cost as a high priority will allow it to be competitively priced.  We'll find out next year what the targets were.  The point is, it too is a transitional vehicle.  As always, the catch is how many the automaker produces & sells.  Technological achievement is validated by consumer acceptance, not engineering praise.  Put your way, the bridge is only effective is people use it to cross.  It must be used.  Automakers are in the business to make money... which is what Gen-2 is supposedly for.


How?  Rather than asking the "Who?" question anymore, it has now changed to "How?"  I expect much of the same behavior in response.  No matter how objective you try to be, the emotion clouds judgment.  That's too bad.  Oh well, at least I try:  Volt is experiencing an identity crisis.  It attempted to dethrone Prius by becoming a popular seller among GM customers.  That just plain didn't work.  So, focus was turned to conquest sales from outside the loyal buyers instead.  That didn't work either.  Gen-1 just flailed about, not drawing attention beyond enthusiasts.  That leaves us wondering what the changes are.  What should we expect?  Suggestions from devoted supporters were taken and a mix of them fulfilled by Gen-2.  That spelled trouble immediately upon reveal.  Even though performance aspects had been enhanced, the simple consumer needs of cost reduction (for lower price) and more interior space (rear leg & head room) were obviously not a priority.  We're seeing the fallout of that already in the form of disappointed posts by those supporters.  Meanwhile, marketing is a becoming disaster.  The compact size prevents it from competing with the very electric-only vehicles Gen-2 hope had been set on.  The upcoming competition (Bolt) is causing direct contradictions of what previous promotions had emphasized.  The design of the gas-engine & gas-tank conflict with the message that either will be needed in all but rare circumstances.  Meanwhile, the two types of offerings Volt was to prevent from being needed (hybrid & EV) are progressing toward availability next year.  It's a big mess.  How do you sell a vehicle that doesn't target any specific market?


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