Personal Log  #725

January 9, 2016  -  January 15, 2016

Last Updated: Mon. 3/21/2016

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What Is It?  Definition.  The really lengthy blogs are the result of change happening, finally.  With so many new-tech offerings in the works, all to reduce emissions & consumption in some manner, patterns are emerging.  That's when definitions become apparent.  You can see the categories and the vehicles which belong.  This was an attempt to provide some substance to the discussion: "As an analogy, it's like switching to LED light bulbs in your house.  Some people may obsess about going 100% LED, but the reality is that using incandescent bulbs for your refrigerator, clothes dryer, attic, etc., the amount of energy saved by switching these bulbs just doesn’t make sense.  That's why range extended EVs work so well.  And in 5-10 years, when Li/Ion prices drop to $50/kWh, well see range extended EVs that go 100 EV miles.  Think about that.  With 100 all-electric miles plus a range extender, how much gas would you really use?"  If you think about it, the trouble with Volt lost between categories becomes apparent.  I hoped to continue along that thought with:  That's why the EREV definition only uses a minimum-sized engine, the approach BMW took with i3.  Sorry, but it simply doesn't make sense having a larger engine, knowing battery energy-density will be going up and production-cost going down.  That's why the PHV designs are augmentations (package upgrades to add capacity and a plug) of hybrid models; they use a smaller battery-pack and will use the engine somewhat routinely.  That's also why clarification about Volt intent has been asked about, especially since the reveal of details for gen-2.  It's currently between categories.  Will it's battery-capacity increase and engine-size decrease?


Import From China.  How bizarre.  We just learned the upcoming CT6 plug-in hybrid will be produced in China and shipped over to the United States.  For an automaker recently bailed out by the United States government (some debt never got paid back and huge losses were taken from the stock purchase) to conduct business that way... what can the flag-wavers say?  The "American Built, American Fueled" looks even worse.  Of course, with the majority of Volt came from Korea and a substantial amount of electricity & gas coming from Canada, it was never an honest portrayal anyway.  Nonetheless, it was the message conveyed.  Now, that precedent stands in direct conflict with this next-step by GM.  Initial comments posted expresses anger, dismay, and disappointment.  For me, I'm intrigued.  The move is quite unexpected, even from the automaker who keeps changing plans, is often ambiguous, and is known for sending mixed messages.  I'll take the apparently "lame" approach from Toyota instead.  At least the results have been fruitful.  Who knows what this will result in.  Bizarre is the only way I can describe it, here.  For there, local production & sales in China could be a very good thing.  With pollution so unbelievably bad there, this does offer a glimmer of hope.


VW Plan Rejected.  The news is big, really big.  EPA says it's not enough.  CARB says it's vague and too slow.  Supposedly, solutions have been in the works since 2014.  Cleaner systems on a few of the other VW diesels show the automaker was well aware of design & approach differences.  Yet, we keep hearing that this was a misunderstanding.  How?  Some of us Prius owners were questioning claims for years.  It just plain didn't make any sense how both power & efficiency could be so much better than competing diesels.  There wasn't even any reason to mention the extra effort Toyota took to make Prius quite a bit cleaner by trading off power & efficiency.  Why didn't Jetta need urea treatment?  Something didn't add up.  The other automakers selling diesel had smart engineers too.  The difference was troubling.  Now, we know what the true story was.  The federal & state governments here don't like it either.  Steps beyond retrofitting those vehicles are now getting a lot of attention.  Talk of buybacks is growing.  Compensation in the form of rapid EV sales is a possible consideration, but that really doesn't seem realistic either.  Damage to reputation, as well as the environment, is enormous.  Downplay has dwindled away.  Now, the die-hard supporters are attempting to raise doubt that the fixes may not impact performance or mileage.  How could they not?  What sort of miracle are they hoping we'll believe.  It will be expensive and it will have an impact.  This isn't rocket science.  Cleaning emissions requires tradeoff.  Not having a battery-pack available means altering the way the engine operates is the only option available.  Exhaust will be altered enough to be cleansed properly by an after-treatment.  Needless to say, this is seriously souring the appeal of diesel cars... which were already struggling to compete.


Change.  Last week, there were technology reveals at CES (the big tradeshow in Las Vegas).  This week, there were more technology reveals at NAIAS (the big autoshow in Detroit).  From both, we learned about upcoming vehicles.  The effect has become quite apparent.  After reading a surprising number of posted related to the tax-credits available to GM on that daily blog for Volt, I joined in with this:  Dramatic change as a result of Bolt details being revealed.  Interesting.  The mere mention of $7,500 tax-credit dependency stirred much anger among Volt enthusiasts... back when EV was the very thing Volt was designed to prevent the need for.  Now, it's being discussed... in a somewhat civil manner.  Solving "range anxiety" was the goal for Volt.  The hope was cost would drop so much prior to gen-2 rollout, that would make it a top-seller.  Instead, it remained so expensive to produce that gen-2 would continue the dependency.  Catch is, the system as a whole is expensive.  Cost of just the battery did indeed drop... so much so, the once unaffordable EV with substantial range is becoming affordable.  That has left Volt in a position of uncertainty.  In fact, many here have given their endorsement for Bolt.  Their support is now for the very thing that had once been shunned, what Volt was supposed to compete against.  In other words, Bolt is so appealing, it is getting even the most staunch advocates to rethink goals... which brings us back to tax-credit dependency.  What are the goals?  Year-End sales results brought the automaker total for Volt, ELR, and Spark EV to 95,403.  That doesn't leave a lot going forward.  In fact, it seems fairly realistic to see the phase-out being trigger by the end of 2017.  That's only 2 full years of sales, then the tax-credit gets reduced to $3,750 for 2 quarters.  Following that, just $1,875 for 2 quarters.  In other words, nothing by 2019.  How will sales be then, especially with the pressure Nissan & Tesla will be dealing with?  Their tax-credits will be used up sooner.  Their innovation to overcome having no more subsidies available will be even harder on GM, since the Nissan & Tesla responses won't be known until then.  What will be the response to that?  Let's not forget about the upcoming plug-in hybrid from GM either.  That could bring about tax-credit expiration even sooner.


Chrysler Pacifica.  We just found out Chrysler will be offering a plug-in hybrid... only they will be calling it just a "hybrid" to avoid confusion.  Ironically, that will likely be the source of many misunderstandings.  It will indeed have a plug.  The system will include a 6-cylinder 3.6-liter gas engine, two electric motors, and a 16 kWh lithium battery.  The expectation is that it will deliver 30 miles of EV range.  The anticipated rating is 80 MPGe.  Will people really understand?  Who knows.  It's a minivan.  Concealing a fairly large battery-pack below the seats isn't too terribly difficult.  In fact, it fits entirely below the second row of seats.  The third row will retain the stow & go ability (folding down that seat to make a flat cargo surface).  There's enough room still for that.  So, there is no practicality tradeoff... quite unlike most of the plug-in hybrids we've seen so far.  Prius choose a smaller pack for the sake of not giving up storage space for large cargo.  C-Max Energi certainly did.  Volt gave up seating room.  The sedans have tiny trunks.  So, this new offering is a welcome addition.  It will be available late this year... around the time Prius PHV rolls out.  Makes you wonder when we'll finally get details on that.  I bet it around Earth Day.


Who?  Pointing out the problem of audience can be fulfilling.  Hopefully it will from this: "I think we all had hoped that the gen IV would blow us away..."  Since it's so easy to lose perspective on a dedicated forum, a dose of reality is helpful if nothing else.  My guess is some simply have no idea what the ordinary person thinks.  Being well informed from online sources has the consequence of forgetting what it's like not to know.  Anywho, I replied to that with:  That's the confusion.  We have already bought into Prius.  We don't share the same priorities.  We don't matter.  To appeal to others, expansion of reach requires consideration of their criteria... not ours.  Look at it this way, growing the market means appealing to those not already in it.  The greatest potential is snapping up those shopping the showroom floor.  They are people who couldn't care less if gen-4 delivers more than a solid 50 MPG.  As far as they're concerned, that benchmark is so far above the efficiency they currently experience, more doesn't matter.  Put a check in that box and move on.  The criteria they'll focus on is what it looks like from the curb, which clearly the new Prius excels at.  Do they want a blend-into-the-crowd ordinary look or something that looks sleek & modern?  They'll look at what the driver sees behind the wheel.  There's 2 impressive screens up on the dashboard, clearly an advanced interface for those drawn to electronics.  There's a big screen that's fast and will interact with their phone.  There's a wireless charging-pad for the phone too.  Also, the cargo capacity & convenience is outstanding, no battery interference whatsoever, just a vast open area with fold-down seats.  Aren't those aspects that will stir interest with only a brief look?  Then there's the driving experience.  The refinements to the hybrid system combined with the obvious body-stiffness and suspension improvements won't leave potential customers on the fence.  Isn't this upgrade what they've been wanting all along?  Other vehicles sell well for similar reasons.  Why wouldn't appealing to those same traditional buyers the same way not attract them to Prius?


Diesel Disaster.  The nightmare for VW keeps getting worse and worse.  Last week, the estimate of unfixable vehicles here in the United States was revealed as roughly 325,000.  That comes from taking into account the cost of the vehicle verses the cost of the upgrade to make it clean enough to meet regulations.  That got people talking about buy-backs.  Recently, that guess of quantity came to about 141,000 vehicles could be eligible.  That would offset the environmental impact, but what about the other vehicles?  What about those who get the upgrade, which will come at the penalty of reduced efficiency, reduced power, and reduced cargo space?  Needless to say, the situation is a disaster.  In fact, it's so bad, diesel for use in passengers vehicles is quickly dying.  There's no appeal, especially with gas so cheap and diesel more expensive than gas.  That plug-in hybrids absolutely devastate MPG in comparison anyway.  A diesel cannot even remotely compete in that respect.  Emission levels are obviously much lower overall with the plug too.  A week from now, we'll have a ruling from CARB about the proposed solutions.  That should be quite interesting.


Contradictions.  We get them routinely, especially from those who have posted for many years.  It's rare though to actually catch that happening on the same forum topic less than 2 hours apart.  I'm very curious what his response will be after having been called out on it.  This is how it started on the big Prius forum: "I don't see the Prius as expanding reach.  Hybrids have acquired a 3-4% market share, years ago, and then plateaued.  It is the king of using gasoline efficiently.  But has not been able to expand the market share of hybrids for years."  When I pointed out my disappointment in his lack of confidence, I got this: "Really? I've been cautiously optimistic and have even stated a hope that the gen 4 would help break hybrids out of the 3-4% rut they are in."  He first says is doesn't see it; then he states a hope that it will.  What is that hope based upon?  You'd think someone so active in online forums would know that sending mixed messages causes a world of trouble.  But then again, that is what stimulates discussions.  They aren't productive though.  My guess is he'll just dismiss this as not understanding what he meant anyway.  It sure is nice to have such a great example though of how problems online come about.


MPG Mindset.  The automotive enthusiast magazines embraced Prius because it drew in readers.  Online publishing was new.  So was Prius.  Rather than horsepower, it was technology that sipped gas.  People gobbled up the articles their writers provided.  It was a draw source to help a struggling industry... especially back then, when the price of gas kept breaking records.  Now, times are quite different.  The mindset isn't though: "---- , you should be ashamed of yourself .  So how many MPG did you receive during your drive with the 2016 Prius?  The main reason why consumers will purchase a 2016 Prius.  You never told us did you."  That was from a Prius forum member, who tried to shame the magazine publisher for not continuing to capitalize on the old single-mindedness approach.  I wonder if he'll realize how absurd that was to do.  We want change.  He unknowingly was holding it back, insisting on the status quo.  Ugh.  Somewhat befuddled, I ended up posting:  Haven't noticed the change yet, eh?  MPG is not the highest priority anymore.  This market has other preferences finally being addressed. It was really unfortunate how hybrids got stereotyped as delivering MPG by sacrificing of other appealing ownership traits.  With all the other automakers jumping on board to offer there own hybrids and MPG being all over the place anyway (since driving circumstances vary dramatically from person to person), other aspects of the vehicle are now getting attention.  Expansion to reach more consumers requires it.  Toyota has embraced this.  Drawing in a wider audience is what's needed at this stage.  Once 50 MPG is achieved, increasing appeal by upgrading driving dynamics is a no-brainer.  Now, you've been told.


Tired of the Nonsense.  Some of us are tired of the few troublemakers working so hard to upset.  We're starting to take a terse stand in response.  Why should we have to put up with that anymore?  For example: "YOU expected 3rd generation pricing and sales from gen 1 Volt, nobody else did."  That's such a blatant distortion of history, I couldn't resist jumping on the chance to rebut it.  From another, this got my goat too: "It appears that getting the mainstream public comfortable with the idea of plugging in will take longer than any of us expected."  His claim of appears is a joke.  We knew about that a very long time ago, with quite a bit of confidence too.  I climbed up on the soapbox with this single post to both of them:  Any?  Only me?  That's called denial.  Look back.  This blog is loaded with daily topics where gen-1 shortcomings were eventually acknowledged and hope was shifted to gen-2.  There was a some group of us who pointed out the concerns before Volt gen-1 rollout.  We got labeled as Prius supporters and were outright dismissed.  When we pointed out what gen-2 needed for successful high-volume sales, we got attacked for disturbing the "be patient" crowd.  Ironically, it was the original posts which did the disturbing, not ours.  But there isn't a label for an internal-troll, someone interested in retaining the status quo rather than embracing change.  The disruptive nature of their activity is conveniently overlooked.  Thankfully, GM listened... somewhat.  We got the diversification which was long sought. Branching the technology to a variety of choices is a win for all. Hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and pure electric will all work to entice the switch from traditional to something with a battery.  Unfortunately, Volt cost didn't get lowered to the mass-appeal level as hoped.  The choice was to push it even further into the specialty category.  The outcome is already becoming apparent.  It will please enthusiasts.  They'll thoroughly enjoy that configuration.  Ordinary consumers will look elsewhere though.  I had to endure countless posts boasting over the years about how gen-2 rollout of Volt would absolutely squash Prius gen-2 rollout history.  That meant 54,000 sales the first full year, following the first few months of initial rush buyers.  The second year here in the United States drew 107,900 buyers... without a tax-credit.  Notice all the resistance to numbers now?  That's a dead giveaway those boasters see that volume goal will not be met.  As for "my" supposed expectation of gen-3 prices for the gen-1 offering, that's a crock.  No one talked about gen-3 back then.  For that matter, gen-2 wasn't even discussed until the huge disappointment that came about from the announcement of gen-1 pricing.  Until then, enthusiasts seriously thought the "nicely under $30,000" price goal for MSRP would be achieved... hence the vaporware fights.  Some of us clearly stated how unrealistic that thought that was... hence the hostility toward that topic now.  It's nice that recognition of the trouble adopting plug-ins is being addressed now.  But we already knew all those years ago why it would take so long.  Cost & Capacity should have been obvious barriers to mass-appeal.  A small pack is very appealing if the cost is competitive.  A large pack is worth the extra expense if capacity will cover driving range needs with certainty.  Attempting to deliver both is much greater challenge than many cared to admit.  There was a few of us though.  That can't be denied.


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