Personal Log #748
May 30, 2016 - June 10, 2016
Last Updated: Tues. 6/27/2017
page #747 page #749 BOOK INDEX
Next Steps. The response to my post was civil. How about that !?! Seeing the opportunity to capitalize on a seemingly constructive audience, I followed up with: 4,185 of the RAV4 hybrid were purchased last month. Even with many awards, reduced price from tax-credits, and HOV incentives, sales of Volt haven't been able to compete with that. It should be overwhelmingly clear what GM's next step should be.
It Finally Happened. The enthusiasts are now saying what I posted years ago. It's an agreement without acknowledgement. The problems I pointed out that Volt would have to deal with came to be. They weren't any profound prediction. They were just pattern recognition. Knowing that history repeats itself and seeing the same thing beginning again made that easy... to point out. To get any type of constructive discussion... not a chance. It was they didn't want to hear. So, I got everything from undermining to hostility in response. That's all over now. Phew! They see it now too. I posted the situation in today's daily discussion as: Remember all the warnings about focusing solely on great engineering? We all know we can create & build incredible vehicles. That doesn't mean they will actually sell well though. The continued struggle to achieve sales is further proof that the business aspect should not have been so neglected. It's amazing how negative the response was back when that same message was posted. Sure glad that perspective has changed. The underlying problem still exists though... how to sell more. I see Volt trapped in a niche. People simply aren't interested in a small, sporty car. We see the high demand for compact SUVs. Wouldn't it make sense to just leave Volt as is and focus new resources on delivering a plug-in Equinox using the tech Volt established?
Clueless Salespeople. It rather frustrating to find out that a salespeople has absolutely no idea what they're talking about. Rather than research how something works, they just make assumptions based on anecdotal evidence. They don't even bother observing it firsthand. Some literally just make up stuff based upon hearsay. Finding that out is quite disturbing. Here's an example of one such encounter: "When we test drove the dealer cautioned me that using the adaptive-cruise-control in town that it will stop for the car in front of you, but if there is no car, it will drive you thorough a red light if you aren't paying attention! Do'h!" Talking about not understanding how the system actually works. Ugh. Annoyed, I injected this into the conversation: That's an interesting misunderstanding of how the system actually works. I wonder if that assumption will turn into a misconception... The safety part (radar detection to prevent collisions) is always active, even when you aren't using the cruise-control. You do not have to turn anything on, ever. When you are driving around with the normal accelerator & brake pedal use through town, that protection feature is running. It's disturbing to hear about stories where salespeople don't have correct information. Spreading false beliefs, especially with a feature that's been available for years, is not a good sign. I've had mine, in my 2012 Prius PHV triggered several times from ordinary driving without using cruise. I remember the first in-town experience, when someone abruptly decided to hit the brakes to make a left turn. Another time was when a turkey jumped out in front of the car. In both instances, the system sounded an audible alarm, flashed a message on the screen, retracted the shoulder restraints, and applied the brakes. It was impressive to experience.
Avoid or Acknowledge? I tried to get the situation out in
the open. It didn't work. The post was diverted, as usual.
However, there is the reality of a new audience emerging. It's been
interesting to witness the change. That daily blog for Volt has been
everything but for almost a year now. The reveal of the new generation
ushered in change. Whether they liked it or not, membership online
would never be the same. Just like with Prius, new owners means some
old owners don't participate anymore. In other words, I should stand a
change of getting a different response from those remaining. It didn't
work. The avoidance we saw in the past continues on. Ugh.
Oh well. At least it's well documented of what was witnessed as the
events were unfolding. Looking back at this unwillingness later
certainly will be interesting. History is often seen as "obvious"
when looking back long afterward. But as it's happening, the outlook
is from anything resembling acknowledgement. There is some flat
out denial still... despite the writing on the wall already. I
returned to the discussion with: That has nothing to do with 2017 model
production. The reason you're obviously avoiding is the limitation
being heavily influenced by the number of tax-credits remaining.
We've all seen how 200-mile EV offerings wrecked the "range anxiety" selling
point. That puts Volt in an awkward position. The hope is to discuss
next steps and proper setting of expectations. That won't happen without
Step Back. I provided some encouragement to give it a try: Realistically, just about here has the wrong perspective. They look at what they think is the big-picture by identifying the gen-0 thru gen-4 Prius models, Prius PHV, and Prius Prime. Then they compare to what other automakers offer. That overlooks a vital aspect of the market. Step back even further. What do you see? Most people have no experience at that scale. You need to have the type of career that involves projects which take a decade or more to really get established for you to understand all that's involved. For me as a senior software developer, I have to deal with many cycles of upgrades before finally reaching the intended audience. There simply is no way to go any faster with such an incredibly diverse and change-resistant set of users. In other words, the market is really at the "just getting started stage". Heavy reliance on tax-credits and the continued emphasis toward HOV privileges should make that obvious. Unfortunately, there's the "criticism from within" that's preventing the bigger big-picture from actually being seen. It's the belief of "more is better" that muddles thinking. Consider how long it took for most consumers to finally abandon desktop computers. The next step to portable devices seems so obvious. Yet, there was a major effort to remain status quo for a very long time. Think about just one aspect, hard-drives: spinning verses solid-state. Mainstream acceptance really isn't determined by just having enough capacity. In other words, more is not necessarily being better. Toyota has worked really hard over the past decade and a half to deliver a system that addresses the wide array of consumer preferences, attempting to strike the right balance rather than emphasizing any specific trait. Remember, mainstream buyers have little in common with those of us here.
Grocery Store. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to post this today: In less than 3 weeks, a giant new grocery store just 0.6 mile from my house will be opening. It already has 4 chargers available. I'll be taking full advantage of that, stopping on the way to work for a quick top-off of the battery-pack while picking up something fresh for lunch. That opportunity to plug in for free while shopping is a nice draw for people like me. Others will see there are plug-in vehicles in their own neighborhood. That sounds like a great way to promote the technology and attract business.
Burning Desire. Witnessing the change of attitude has been interesting. Loyalty to Volt has become a long, forgotten memory at this point. Even the most stubborn have abandoned it in favor of Bolt. They still like that plug-in hybrid, but it is now referred to as a great engineering achievement from GM proving electric-only is the way to go. The very idea of "range anxiety" is a distant memory of the past. There's no point of having such an elaborate approach when affordable 200-mile EV choices are no too far away. In fact, the wait is only 6 months now. Interestingly, it leaves Toyota well positioned. Understanding the purpose of Prius Prime will be so obvious, it will be a much easier sale than when Volt was confusing the market. Prius Prime will deliver 22 miles of strong EV performance, then revert over to a highly-efficiency hybrid after that plug-supplied electricity is used up. Looking to GM for comparison will result in comments like this: "GM doesn't have a burning desire to sell that many Volts. The Bolt EV gets more ZEV credits and the tax credits are an issue. I'm not saying that GM wouldn't sell more Volts if the orders came in, but at this point there are downsides to higher sales. If the tax credit changes I think we'll see a different approach." That was from a former antagonist. Things certainly have changed.
No More. There was quite a bit of trolling bait dropped today. That daily blog for Volt has become a discussion source for everything but Volt. Even so, there is still the constant belittling of Prius. That never ceases to amaze me how some people absolutely refuse to be constructive. So many others have moved on. Only a few stubborn antagonists remain. No more arguing. Debates when no where. I let them have it with this: Reality is, the market has come to an impasse. The 100-mile EV offerings have been eclipsed by the upcoming 200-mile EV offerings. All attention has shifted over to the longer range potential. That doesn't mean the 100-mile EV will vanish. It just means sales will only happen if they can be affordably priced. Right now, even with $7,500 of tax-credit and HOV incentives, that looks to be quite a challenge. That situation puts the supposed EV competition in a very difficult position. If Volt really is to be the more desirable choice, it somehow must have a cost advantage. Current pricing hasn't proven to be a compelling draw. Sales of gen-2 are only modestly better than the average for gen-1. Enough battery-capacity to make Volt perform as an EV most of the time is expensive, both in terms of cost and physical tradeoff. Even if GM can demonstrate that 53 miles is enough and the size & weight aren't a penalty, the range needed combined with a full gas-engine and transmission sacrifices any competitive edge. Owners would have to drive with the pack depleted routinely to justify that premium. Why carry so much extra if it is rarely ever used? Other automakers are keeping plug-in hybrid battery-capacity lower to keep cost lower. You'll end up using the gas-engine more often as a result. But if the MPG is quite a bit higher than traditional vehicles anyway, the advantage is not lost. It's still competitive. Like it or not, Toyota is taking that approach with Prius Prime. It's not intended to compete with EV choices, despite offering full EV driving. Owners will see the battery-capacity being depleted entirely (no waste, since all is used), then watch the system switch to delivering 50 MPG. It's a business formula for survival after the tax-credits are gone. Think about how easy it would be to use that same approach for RAV4 hybrid, which is seeing strong initial sales. Notice how GM is attempting something similar?
Greenwashing. The effort emerged again. It was pretty intense too. There was an attempt yesterday to belittle the supposed Volt competition by calling them "traditional PHEV" offerings. In other words, Ford's Energi plug-in technology is making the news again. Remember how intense the initial rollout was? That brought out the worst in some enthusiasts, separating any of their activity from genuine supporters... since they turned to greenwashing. Subtle misleading turned into outright lies. The example today was: "Plug-in Prius…..it didn't even have an EV-only mode, so conversation stops there." This followed: "Prius Prime? Toyota decided to slap on an "EV mode" button, but it'll be limited similar to the current Ford Energi twins." From that point, it was hopeless. The message degraded into a vastly superior declaration, which concluded with: "Consider yourself educated." It never ceases to amaze me how blatant some people become. They just plain don't care. Spreading information intended to deceive is just what they do. There's no moral basis for that choice anymore. They just do it. That's really sad. Oh well. At least it provides the opportunity to share detail about what the situation actually is. I posted: Huh? That's loaded with inaccuracies, claims that aren't the slightest bit correct. Way back in 2009, the EV-only mode was introduced for Prius. When you pushed the button, you'd get an increase in power over HV mode electric-only. It was limited to 25 mph though, since 1.25 kWh battery-pack had a very limited amount of power to offer. When the plug-in model Prius was rolled out in 2012, battery-pack size was increased to 4.4 kWh. That extra capacity provided extra amps, which resulted in a EV-only mode speed increase to 62 mph. When Prius Prime is rolled out this fall, even more power will be available from the 8.8 kWh battery-pack and a clutch to disconnect the gas-engine will be introduced. You'll be able to drop the pedal to the floor to accelerate using only electricity and the EV top-speed will increase to 84 mph.
Better. We got another ranting session from a gen-1 Volt enthusiast. Thank goodness the gen-2 enthusiasts don't act that way. In fact, most are quite civil and often work really hard to keep discussion constructive. As for this rant today: "Still, the Volt, not being a traditional PHEV – does much better. Floor it at the stoplight on those short trips, and the gas engine doesn't ignite. As long as you have charge in the pack, you can drive worry-free that the gas engine will stay dormant." I was beside myself about all else that had been posted. It was blatant greenwashing, surprisingly worse than some of the nonsense of the past. That goes to show how things have changed. Anywho, this is how I chose to respond: The rest of that post was loaded with misleading & outdated information… not worth the time to bother addressing. So, I selected just the one statement above to ask about: What is a "traditional PHEV" ? It simply appears to be just another way of referring to gen-1 offerings. The upcoming Prime matches that "better" criteria listed. What does that make it? The lack of clarity begs the question of purpose. What is it? Wasn’t the goal originally to alleviate range-anxiety? If so, the 200-mile EV offerings have overcome that. So… what is the purpose now?
Hybrid Fans. The latest spin is to make claims of disappointment, but evade any type of audience identification. The who is stated in terms of a stereotype, rather than any particular individuals. It's the generalization we've seen with all the other generations: "Compared to the Gen4 LB, the Prime absolutely delivers less of everything that today's conventional car buyers want in a car (passenger space, cargo space, likely affordability), and more of what today's "hybrid fans" crave (MPG, true AER, techno whizbangery)." Change doesn't come easy. This is yet another example. Oh well. What can you do? I deal with it this way: Simple, again. You're falling into the same trap countless other have done over the many years Prius has been available. You're assuming buyers are unwilling to accept any type of change whatsoever, that the word "compromise" means giving up something rather than seeking a balance. There are quite a few consumers who expressed interest in a plug-in Prius, but didn't find the first offering compelling enough. They wanted more power and more capacity. That's it. There was no request for jaw-dropping acceleration or anything that could cover their entire daily driving needs under all conditions. They just wanted a souped-up Prius. In other words, they weren't really a "hybrid fan", since the purchase step was never taken. They were interested. Not becoming an owner left them as a traditional supporter though. They chose to remain status quo until something better came along. Prime is that something better.
Audience & Goal. It's becoming easier to respond. Reasons for choices are obvious, at first. Given time and an open mind, they can be seen though. I found this interesting: "If you listened carefully to the launch event comments, it seems the Prime is a Prius intended for well-heeled Toyota hybrid fans who want to set themselves apart from both the rabble in the C, v, and LB on the one hand, and the fogeys driving Avalon Hybrids on the other hand. I can see how marketers might have talked themselves into this, but can anyone really think all that's going to translate into a big win in the marketplace?" Coming from a hybrid fan whose expectations were not met, I was intrigued to find out what kind of reaction I'd get from this: Simple, Prime is not for hybrid fans. The launch event was for hybrid fans. Misunderstanding market is easy when you don't take audience into account. Expansion means reaching out to new buyers. The ordinary mainstream consumer hasn't said anything yet, since Prime isn't available. Their opinions won't emerge until after rollout. When pricing and test-drives are available, then their judgment will begin. Repeating the same formula for Prime as Prius or any of the other hybrids won't result in growth. Being able to appeal to new customers requires trying something different. Remember, the ultimate goal is to replace traditional vehicles with clean, high-efficiency choices.