Personal Log  #757

August 14, 2016  -  August 20, 2016

Last Updated: Sun. 10/02/2016

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Consumer Objections: new unproven technology.  This one requires time.  Reaching the masses is a long process anyway.  We attract whomever we can when they are ready.  No amount of convincing points will sway some.  That's just the way it is.  They will figure it out on their own, in their own way, on their own schedule.  So, all we can do is provide information and how for the best... as I attempted:  That's a tough one, for now.  Basically, if they feel uncomfortable, it's really an excuse to not consider the purchase for awhile.  In other words, nothing you can say will convince them.  However, you can eventually win people over simply by driving the vehicle.  After enough are seen on the road, their concern will fade.  Some don't like anything new.  That's a reality of the diverse market we have to deal with.


Consumer Objections: won't pay back.  Ugh.  How do we deal with this?  Most supporters fall into the trap of trying to explain the numbers.  That hasn't been effective in the past.  Why do they think repeating the same failed approach will work now?  I don't bother.  My attempts are to refocus effort, to provide a new perspective on the situation.  For example:  Number crunching results for overall expenses aren't of much interest to the typical showroom floor shopper.  With them as an audience, there's a paradigm shift.  The old arguments simply don't work.  These buyers look at the bottom line, how much their monthly payments will be.  That's why tax-credit benefit doesn't mean as much; they'll expire mid-cycle anyway.  So, it's depending upon other draws instead... like a test-drive in EV mode.  Remember, the audience is someone looking to purchase another traditional vehicle, not people already determined to get something with a plug.


Consumer Objections: engine is redundant.  This is an interesting one.  Many haven't noticed the change yet.  Industry realignment is a slow, painfully slow.  People get hung up on argument points, missing those signs as a result.  My effort now is pointing out how things are different.  Looking around doesn't work either.  They just see more of the same.  It's the result of treating the "market" as those who are only interested in purchasing a plug-in vehicle.  That makes the overall goal of eliminating traditional vehicles harder.  Taking smaller steps seems like a big waste... to those with the knowledge & money to purchase more sooner.  Mainstream consumers certainly aren't in that category.  That's why they praise themselves for buying a smaller, more efficient SUV with only an engine, rather than actually considering a hybrid model.  Thank goodness RAV4 hybrid is doing so well.  That's a good sign when considering the addition of a plug later.  As for right now, it's dealing with the situation this way:  Do we really believe that EV purists will shoot themselves in the foot by continuing to fight against PLUG-IN HYBRIDS at this point?  I'm not seeing it with my encounters.  Sure, it was easy in the past to find examples of the smug, but ordinary consumers couldn't care less.  That was always isolated to enthusiast groups.  Simplicity and cost-savings is obvious.  That's still a challenging argument though with EV price at a premium.  The mainstream isn't concerned yet.


Consumer Objections: dual powertrain too complex.  This was the next listed.  It's what we heard long ago, when people first discovered hybrids.  They were clueless as to how their own vehicle was actually designed.  That made it very difficult to rebut.  The simplicity of the power-split-device in Prius replacing the surprisingly complex design of modern automatic transmissions was beyond their grasp.  They just assumed what they are currently driving wasn't a reliability concern... despite evidence to the contrary.  New engineering approaches... as we have seen with Prius... were attempts to overcome those problems of the past.  Convincing ordinary people of that was an incredible challenge though.  Their belief stems from the assumption that sacrifices are being made to achieve higher efficiency.  That isn't the case.  Hopefully, these new rollouts combined with knowledge of the past will help resolve those misunderstandings.  I replied to that with:  One of the biggest favor factors for Prius Prime is the fact that Prius has already proven the "dual" argue doesn't have any merit.  With 3 generations of Prius confirming reliability, the addition of a plug for charging a larger battery-pack is no big deal.  FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) is extremely difficult to spread at this point.  Other PLUG-IN HYBRIDS don't have this direct advantage, but realistically that shouldn't matter.  The category is established & understood.


Consumer Objections: not enough electric range.  That was the first issue addressed.  People just instinctively use numbers as their basis of measure, using the "more is better" as the method of judgment.  I know from having been involved in the personal computer market from the very beginning that mindset never applied to mainstream consumers.  The typical buyer would look for a balance.  Even though greater capacity was available, that isn't what they'd purchase.  The same has been true in the automotive market.  Speed, Size, Power... things like that were always the focus of advertising.  Yet, that isn't what people would actually buy.  Why do plug-in enthusiasts think that won't be true for EV capacity, especially if you have an engine available?  Needless to say, I have much to say about this particular point.  However, it's best to keep most posts on it brief:  This isn't really much of an issue anymore.  Conversations with random strangers about the 22-mile range for Prius Prime come with an automatic understanding of there being a gas-engine to take over when the battery-pack is depleted.  No big deal.  They recognize what PLUG-IN HYBRIDS offer and the minimum seems to cover most routine driving well.  With the upcoming rollouts of 200-mile EV choices, that isn't much of an issue either.  No concern.  They get it.


Consumer Objections, finally.  Those terrible days of "vastly superior" are over.  I'm still amazed just how bad it got.  The claims of targeting the mainstream were a massive waste.  The niche was so obvious.  There simply wasn't any effective way of dealing with such a fundamental mistake though.  Poor assumptions were made that couldn't be backpedaled from... though they certain tried each time something else went back.  Anywho, that's finally history.  It's over.  Now, we move on to what I've been pushing for a very, very long time... the market for ordinary consumers.  The following entries are my thoughts on that now, starting with:  It's nice to see that most of the gen-1 rhetoric has subsided, now that gen-2 rollouts have begun.  Finally being able to address the actual competition is great.  Traditional vehicles have been absolutely crushing sales of PLUG-IN vehicles.  Constructive discussion on the challenges we still face is long overdue.  This topic contributes well to that effort to overcome them.

8-19-2016 Food For Thought.  I liked reading & responding to this: "Just food for thought. Ultimately, automakers know their situation far better than armchair pundits ever will."  It came from the moderator of the daily blog.  Hopefully, others will sound of with something constructive.  I tried to help that process along:

The local plug-in owners group in MN met last night.  Discussions there are far more in depth than any type of exchange online.  Representation is wide too.  Like you, some of the members have traveled else to see vehicles & infrastructure now available here.  We focus on the true competition, traditional vehicles.

What I added to the discussion was how the impression of the big automakers doesn't match what they are actually doing.  Toyota was the example.  It seems as though they aren't interested in EV, yet there are subtle signs to the contrary.  The biggest is lithium battery usage.  Not seeing any plug-in vehicles available makes it seem there is no effort to advance taking place.  But in reality, all but the base model of Prius has switched over.  That's a lot of lithium.  There's also the industry-leading advance with heat-pumps coming for Prime.  This will be the first vapor-injected offering to market.  Also coming with Prime, though exclusive to Japan, is the option for CHAdeMO charging. It appears odd to have such high-speed recharging ability for such a small battery.  But when you think of future applications, the limited real-world rollout early will prove to be a wise move.

Look at how well the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid is selling.  Just think if they did that with Toyota RAV4 hybrid, leveraging upon what they established using other rollouts prior to that.  A plug-in model could do remarkably well, here... in the land of SUVs.

We also had a discussion in length about charging infrastructure.  There's a very real problem looming of how to deliver more than just a handful of charging-stations in each parking lot.  There's also the look into how to provide much higher power recharging than what the current super-chargers deliver.  How?  Who?  When?

We also talked about how to get dealers more involved, along with stirring support from utility providers.  It goes well beyond just the vehicles themselves.  The technology is only the first step.  That's why I was so hard on the Volt enthusiasts to look beyond what's in their driveway.  Stimulating interest from both consumer & salesperson presents major challenges still.

With the case of Toyota, the hope is to capture those showroom floor opportunities.  Rather than seek out someone looking to purchase a plug-in vehicle anyway, the hope is to draw their own customers over.  Getting them to take a close look at a Prime before considering a Camry or a Corolla is a major challenge.  Heck, even getting someone interested in Prius to take a closer look at what a plug has to offer won't be easy... and we certainly know the pundits aren't taking the situation serious.

It's those quick impressions that are very difficult to overcome.  What is the approach for gen-2 Volt?  What will it be for Bolt?  Think about what the upcoming gen-2 Leaf announcement will stir.  And of course, the momentum for Tesla continues to grow.

The situation is complicated, even without having the problem of cheap gas and expiring tax-credits to worry about.


Likelihood.  Shopping difficulty is a challenge to understand.  Neither the buyer, nor the seller really know what's wanted.  Need can be determined, but that's not enough.  It's the emotion which sways the person to finalize the deal.  It's based upon what is often unanticipated.  It's can be unlikely.  That's why this caught my attention: "What is the likelihood that they happen to have the exact car, with the exact features, with the exact colors that a person wants?"  The not really knowing is why I put so much emphasis on the showroom floor experience.  That can be an exploration of desire.  You sit behind the wheel to maker firsthand discoveries.  After all, who is aware of what new features are available until doing some poking around?  Some salespeople really do try to help with the process.  Others are clueless, but you find certain things appealing anyway.  Think about how much a person researches before such a major purchase.  Surprisingly, most do very little.  Toyota knows this.  That's why targeting Prius Prime at those who are simply curious could end up to be a well thought out approach.  Not everyone will bite.  In fact, most may not.  Enough probably will though.  We'll find out next year.  In the meantime, think about this perspective:  It's very, very likely.  Ordinary consumers simply shop current inventories, with the help of salespeople who direct them to choices immediately available.  That's why Prius Prime is configured to be compelling, sharing some traits with Prius but still standout'ish.  Think about how easy it will be to capture a potential buyers interest just by taking a test-drive.  That to-the-floor EV, yet still a hybrid, will be a draw.

8-16-2016 Who?  That question is finally being asked by others.  It isn't about Volt anymore either.  That past was about preparing for this future, the present, in which this question emerged: "Here we are talking about selectable EV, heat pumps and the ability to charge on the fly while it is reported that most buyers do not even "get" the need for a plug in hybrid.  Toyota serves those people, too.  That is why I don't quite understand your saying that the Prime is for a different market.  Aren't we the market for the PHEV?"  I replied with:

No, we are not.  History has taught that lesson all too well.  Back in 2009, a entire year before Volt was rolled out, I began pointing out how the "40 mile" promise would fall way short.  The enthusiasts attacked, claiming I was attempting to undermine GM's vehicle.  They just plain wouldn't listen.  No matter how much I pointed out the realities of winter, they didn't want to hear it.  The fighting was pretty intense... until they got confirmation on their own, discovering I was right all along.  The resistance heater consumed even more EV miles  than I had predicted.  Warming the cabin in Winter resulted in a significant plenty.

I tried to set realistic expectations.  This time around, we are constructively discussing the situation even before rollout.  That's profoundly different.  We aren't the market.  We are the educators.  Our knowledge & experience will help inform "most buyers" of the importance.  It's meaningless in this format.  They'll have no clue what the difference is between a resistance heater, a regular heat-pump, and a vapor-injected heat-pump.  But they will figure out that the one is somehow better than the other, that not as many EV miles will be sacrificed for warming.

Prius Prime will attempt to overcome the market we represent, punching through to reach the untapped masses... those who know little to nothing about plugging in.  That's a major challenge.  How do you entice someone with no engineering background whatsoever?

Try explaining "charge on the fly" to some random stranger.  How will you get them to not only care, but to also want to know more?  You'll be able to hold their attention for a maximum of 20 seconds.  By early next year, you'll know how.  Reports like this... getting 28 miles from a battery rated for 22 miles... is how it starts.  That's the attention getter.


For All We Know.  The speculation is interesting, especially when looking back years later.  What seemed so important at the time can later become so trivial, it is sometimes almost totally forgotten.  That's why I like documenting quotes like this: "Toyota's already working on a 5 seat Prime even before the 4 seat Prime even hit the market."  Saved for the sake of learning from history is valuable.  If it was mistake, much can be learned.  If it was pointless, how was that recognized?  In this case, I wait with anticipation to confirm my thoughts:  You have already fallen into the same trap Volt enthusiasts did when GM said something.  You heard what you wanted.  The engineer stated he looked forward to doing that work.  He designs things and finds the process very rewarding.  No where was there any promise of actually delivering it on a Prius Prime, nor was a timeline even given.  For all we know, it could end up on a different plug-in hybrid.  Think about how Prius v could use that.  You get one Prius oriented to offer nicer features and other that delivers an extremely practical configuration.  After all, your logic of being responsible makes more sense with that approach.

8-14-2016 Prius Plug-In History.  I posted these thoughts for consideration: 

Shortly after the 2nd generation rolled out, we were already discussing what potential the ability to travel up to 100 km/h using only electricity had to offer.  Unfortunately, back then all that was available was NiMH batteries, which were robust & affordable but lacked enough energy density.

Lithium chemistries emerged a few years later, showing realistic battery-pack opportunity.  Toyota began testing.  When the 3rd generation was later rolled out, we could see the power-split-device had been improved.  Higher RPM from the motors was available.  That would be conducive to more efficient EV driving.

6 years ago, I got to drive one of the prototypes.  It was equipped with a 5.2 kWh lithium battery along with a heat-pump for cabin-warming in the Winter.  Both features ended up being scaled back.  The larger pack meant a raise floor.  The heat-pump meant very short EV distances.  Neither were supportive of being a PLUG-IN HYBRID anyway.

Blending was key.  The system would take advantage of the gas engine whenever it presented an efficiency benefit.  Maximizing EV travel simply wasn't a goal of Prius PHV.

Soon, we'll be seeing Prius Prime.  That brings back the 2 design attributes previously dropped.  It also introduces "to the floor" acceleration in EV.  All of which put emphasis on electricity use, not taking advantage of the gas engine at times.  The larger battery has become key instead.

True, the hybrid system will still be remarkable efficient, but the optimum balance of features will not.  That alteration of priorities changes the consumers targeted.  Toyota says that's ok though, since some of their long-time customers have changed anyway.  They grew up with Prius.  Now, they seek something different.  There are also customers of Toyota who owned a Camry or Corolla, found Prius interesting... but not compelling enough.  Prius Prime is intentionally different.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to expand the market.  That growth cannot be achieved by continuing to appeal to the same audience.  That catch is, appealing to a different audience means not pleasing the other.


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