Personal Log  #760

September 4, 2016  -  September 9, 2016

Last Updated: Sun. 10/02/2016

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Constructive Discussion.  It's finally happening.  I responded to this: "Electric range is the primary reason why anyone would buy a plug-in hybrid in the first place."  The post immediately disappeared.  I wonder if something technically had went amiss.  So, I posted it again, from a different computer.  Same thing happened again.  Since I couldn't get any feedback, I waited.  Sure enough, the moderator had taken the advice.  It was his topic detail I was making comments about.  Those references had been revised.  That was great.  He was making a sincere effort to keep things constructive.  I was thrilled to see discussions being aimed away from the rhetoric we've had to deal with in the past.  Here's what I posted twice, both of which were hidden shortly afterward:  The plug-in owners group here is working hard to make sure data is up-to-date and complete, so statements like that can be as constructive as possible...  Ford's EV range is listed at 19 miles.  That's old.  It is now 22 miles.  BMW's i3 tank capacity is listed as 1.9 gallons.  That's old.  It is now 2.4 gallons.  BMW's i3 range for EV is missing entirely.  The newest model offers  112 miles.  Remember, the ultimate goal is to replace traditional vehicles with plug-in choices.  That means being thorough, especially when encouraging competition from within the plug-in market.  It shows consumers how far along the market for vehicles carrying battery-packs has progressed.


No Heat Pump.  Turns out, the second-generation Volt didn't actually get the upgrade.  Older designs had the shortcoming of losing effectiveness in the extreme cold.  That meant if you were driving in temperatures well below freezing, you'd get warm air in the cabin rather than hot.  The traditional resistance-heaters overcome that, but the tradeoff is much higher electricity use.  They give Toyota a very hard time for side-investing in fuel-cell advancement... never paying attention to the reality that those vehicles employ new technology that the hybrids will be able to take advantage of... like the advanced heat-pump Prius Prime will be getting.  Not only is it capable of delivering heat in much colder conditions, it also includes vapor-injection.  That's a feature used in commercial heating for increasing efficiency.  Prius Prime will be the first ever mainstream vehicle to use that too.  When technology reaches personal use, you know good things are to come.  Well, you do anyway.  Those enthusiasts are still clueless.  They're the same one obsessed with battery-size.  It clouds their judgment, preventing them from seeing what advancements are needed for acceptance by the masses... like the move beyond resistance heating.  Ugh.


Electronics 101.  Sadly, the rhetoric immediate ensued.  I was annoyed.  I knew MPGe would be brought up, even though I had intentionally excluded it.  Unfortunately, the reason why was totally elusive.  The enthusiasts just plain don't take the time to figure things out.  That's why they are enthusiasts, rather than supporters.  A true supporter will take the time to ask questions and consider outcomes.  An enthusiasts just parrots talking points.  Anywho, I decided to keep my response simply, by conveying some basic education on the topic:  KWH >> BTU.  Some heaters require more electricity to deliver the same amount of heat.  That's why Volt was upgraded from a resistance type heater to a heat-pump.  That's also why Prius Prime will use an even more efficient heater, a heat-pump with gas-injection.  Electricity can be wasted.  Not all designs are the same.  The level of efficiency is not measured by just distance traveled.


Wasteful.  The state of California is considering a new set of incentives for the purchase of a plug-in vehicle.  They want to encourage continued growth of the clean & efficient choices, but simply don't have any more HOV stickers available.  That option is totally exhausted.  Not everyone has to deal with the heavy commute traffic anyway.  Unfortunately, we still get replies like this from Volt enthusiasts: "The rebate should be based on the battery size."  That obsession with bigger always being better is a challenge to deal with.  I want to expand discussions beyond the usual rhetoric.  That means countering the posts, but presenting new perspective.  After all, I know they'll try to fallback on EPA rating.  The AER (All Electric Range) focus got them nowhere.  Understanding MPGe is still an issue.  Fortunately, that opens opportunity to look at other aspects of being clean & efficient.  The biggest is winter heating for the cabin, something they outright dismissed for years.  It is now finally getting some attention.  Perhaps this will help that along:  Why not base upon efficiency results instead?  There are measurements available to gauge use of electricity.  For example, a plug-in vehicle with a resistance-heater will be nowhere near as efficient in cold-weather driving than one with a gas-injected heat-pump.  In other words, the less efficient will require a larger battery to deliver the same outcome.  Using more electricity in that manner should not be encouraged.  We don't what to provide larger subsidies for wasteful plug-in designs.


Solutions, part 2.  That post was great.  I was thrilled such a well thought out reply had been provided.  It was nice being able to rectify his thoughts too, confirming his careful study was what others have also concluded.  This was my response to that:  Bingo!  It never ceases to amaze me how some don't notice that bigger picture at play.  The audience is completely overlooked.  Toyota has stated many times how they want to expand the market by offering new choices to appeal to new audiences.  Prius Prime is most definitely one of those new choices.  RAV4 hybrid is another.  That's why I get annoyed by arguments about Prius shoppers being turned off by the cabin & cargo arrangement for Prius Prime.  It's a red herring.  The purpose of appealing to those thinking of electrification should be obvious. It's not a hybrid relying solely on gas for power.  Different alternatives to traditional vehicles will have different tradeoffs.  Direct comparisons simply don't make sense.  The industry mindset has been conquest & cannibalize.  That actually works for initial rollouts, especially when large subsidies are available.  When you want to phase out older products, that is a terrible approach.  You have to find a way to entice those who have yet to show any interest, not to get those who already have to upgrade.  It's what economics is all about.  You have to look beyond engineering & accounting.  Marketing to non-Prius owners presents new challenges... which means old solutions won't work.


Solutions, part 1.  There has been an on-going discussion about target-market for Prius Prime.  Some current Prius owners are baffled by their assumption of it being for them getting disputed.  Since Prius PHV was a natural progression from hybrid to plug-in hybrid, finding out that isn't the case for this second generation has stirred many posts.  I find it odd how so many threads have included acknowledgement of Toyota's effort to reach out to new consumers is met with such confusion.  My theory is they believe that only applies to other Toyota vehicles, that Prius itself would never attempt new focus... despite the plug.  The true supporters have paid close enough attention to notice the market shift and recognize Toyota's adjustment.  After all, design flexibility accounted for such a need.  A good friend of mine stated the situation this way: "I thought the Gen 4 was meant to keep Prius owners (and some upgraded from their Gen 2).  I don't think the Prime is destined to mainly attract Prius owners.  Current owners who want to move forward would've bought a Leaf, Volt, or if they have the means, a Model S.  They want that EV experience.  The Prime will probably have to be marketed to non-Prius owners who are thinking of electrification.  They have to market the fact that the Prius Prime will have the Prius name to back it up.  It looks less weird/out there than the Gen 4 (or past Prii) and they have to push the currently unknown factor of MSRP."

9-05-2016 Sales Struggle.  Painting a rosy picture for Volt is less of a problem now.  In fact, there's a degree of constructive discussion now.  This caught my interest on a daily thread discussing August results: "As someone else posted before, the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV will cut into Volt sales, since it is a full battery-electric vehicle (no range extender needed), with sufficient EV range for almost everyone, and a much larger and comfortable interior for five adults."  It was a discrete admission of change, without recognition of who had pointed out this was coming quite a number of years ago.  Oh well, better late than never.  I chimed in with: 

Bolt is a nice step up from Volt.  Many have said that, including me.  No doubt it will sell better as a result.  We certainly have not seen the Volt sales growth that was expected from gen-2.  Focus has already been shifting to Bolt.

The big worry is not having any specific target audience identified.  Remember what was among the biggest criticisms of Volt?  It was the lack of promotion from GM.  Clarity needs to come prior to rollout who intended buyers are.  Pushing the "200 mile" capacity for Bolt means sacrificing the "range anxiety" strength of Volt.  Some won't like that, but they will be in favor of the positioning that puts Bolt it for competing with Tesla Model 3.

There's the reality of tax-credits hitting phaseout quickly as a result of sales success.  GM will have around 95,000 available.  Retaining the trend of a little over 2,000 sales per month for Volt and achieving the 2,500 monthly rate (half mainstream minimum) for Bolt means year-end for 2017 would have consumed all but 30,000 of the full tax-credits available.

Phaseout would get triggered in the second half of 2018, if Bolt sale remains a niche.  Achieving the popularity supporters are hoping for would mean sooner.  That's mid-cycle, far too early for a major cost-reduction upgrade.  It's also when pressure from the other automakers will become intense.  Nissan & Tesla aren't going to just abandon efforts when their tax-credits expire.  They have the added benefit of not rolling out as soon as Bolt too.  Delay can be advantageous.

We want advancement of plug-in choices, but they must be sustainable.  Challenges await.  We all see them coming.  This isn't a "wait for the next generation" situation anymore.  What should happen to prevent future sales struggle?

9-05-2016 Lithium Support.  Unwilling to give the antagonists any opportunity to respond, I immediately followed up my previous post with:

I fit well into our local plug-in owners club, despite owning a plug-in with such a small battery-capacity.  The reason why is simple, my endorsement and heavy support for lithium batteries.  With all the promoting I do for Prius PHV online through forum & blog posts, driving videos, and my own website, it's ok for me to self-promote a little... since the reason why is helpful to others.  They can see my support extends beyond just Toyota.  It's the advancement of the batteries that I'm really pushing favor for.

At the meeting last month, the topic of Toyota's high-volume production of lithium batteries due to Gen4 Prius was brought up.  The automaker is considered a giant no one is paying much attention to.  They are quietly building up capacity, the ability to deliver affordable choices with high reliability and consumer confidence.

Think about how many of the 1.4 Million hybrids Toyota sells this year that will have shifted from NiMH to Lithium batteries.  Do consumers have any idea that the battery-pack is different from that in the past?  Would they even care if they did know?  The point is that they are being used by new owners, the market is expanding.  Toyota is penetrating the market outside enthusiasts, something all other automakers continue struggling to achieve.

We'll see more of that progress with Prius Prime.  That's a plug-in vehicle configured to entice showroom floor shoppers.  How many other plug-in choices specifically target those consumers?  They are the who profit on-going profit for the business.  Enthusiasts certainly don't fulfill that role.  Automakers are unwilling to take on huge risk.  Toyota found a way to reach further into the mainstream without having to do that... and get criticized as a result.  Why?  Think about how many lithium battery cells they will produce in the next year.

9-05-2016 EV Criticism.  The attitudes of a select few who upgraded from Prius to a plug-in vehicle is that of antagonists.  If they don't see dramatic change, they exhibit a deep negativity.  They don't try to be constructive.  They don't care about taking small steps.  They only want an announcement to play along, even if the act doesn't amount to anything.  I'm growing tired of it.  How does that help?  They are turning into greenwashing, portraying an image of abandonment.  I'm unwilling to just watch that happen, especially having witnessed this history play out already.  So, today I posted this on a new thread created to discuss Toyota's take on the EV market:

The same criteria still persists.  Toyota's want to deliver a product for the masses.  If it cannot reach the mainstream, becoming profitable & high-volume within a product-cycle, they'll keep the technology in a research phase.

With Prius PHV, we saw that in the form of only rolling out limited quantity in select states.  They held off until that affordability threshold could be achieved.  Prius Prime will be that product realistic for ordinary consumers.  With Mirai, we will continue to see extremely limited availability for many years to come.  It simply makes no sense offering the technology to a wider audience when that business move cannot self-sustain.

There's a lot of resentment toward Toyota by a small group of individuals for not making EV announcements like the other automakers, even if those other automakers actions are nothing but token gestures.  That's annoying and unproductive.  You don't advance the masses by not actually changing.  To make a difference, we need choices that are actually competitive with what showroom floor shoppers would otherwise purchase.

As of late 2016, there are not any EV offerings capable of competing with traditional vehicles.  That's ok, if they are able to drop cost enough prior to tax-credits expiring to retain interest.  Otherwise, the very same problem with hybrids will also happen with EVs.  Notice how the typical consumer couldn't care less about reducing emissions and is unwilling to pay a premium to use less fuel?

Leadership means striving to deliver a product for the masses.  Look no further than Volt for an example of claiming leadership, but not actually fulfilling that criteria.  Cost of what was delivered was far too high to produce & sell it in large quantity.  Simply delivering more miles of EV alone is not enough.  That's why aspects, like spacious seating, have proven favor for Tesla and what GM hopes to capture with Bolt.  That's also why Prius Prime will deliver outstanding MPG once the plug-supplied electricity is used up.

Notice how other EV offerings, like Ford Focus EV, VW e-Golf, and Hyundai Soul EV all sell in tiny numbers, yet the automaker gets praise for embracing electric vehicles?  It's a reality some choose to disregard, embracing the "me too" approach rather than pushing for showroom floor competition.  That's sad & unfortunate.


Too Little, Too Slowly (revisited).  I found this declaration posted yesterday ironic: "After 5 1/2 years people are finally discovering Volt, the greatest car in history..."  Prior to the rollout of Volt, the concern was raised about GM falling into the trap of delivering a vehicle not able to reach the mainstream.  That originated from the group overseeing the bankruptcy recovery, expressing the problem caused by a rollout of something unable to generate profitable high-volume sales.  Well, all these years later they have been proven correct and all those who ratified the concern vindicated.  Volt was a disaster... because it did indeed pursue that goal, but failed to achieve it.  There will be a lot of spin & excuses, looking back.  None will fix the current problem though, looking forward.  The second generation has climbed to the potential of possibly reaching half of mainstream minimum.  Sales that low for a vehicle facing heavy challenge from within is a problem.  Asking repeatedly what GM intends with Bolt has been met with disregard initially, then turned to resentment.  No one likes to answer the difficult questions.  Pressure from having a limited quantity of tax-credits cannot be ignored.  Toyota halted Prius PHV rollout in the United States as soon as it became apparent the market had shifted.  GM did not.  As a consequence, Toyota has many more tax-credits (around 155,000) still available and 35 states without any legacy sales to deal with.  Volt enthusiasts mocked Toyota for that move and attacked supporters.  Now, they have the reality of roughly only 95,000 tax-credits available when the rollout of Bolt begins and new marketing & education to provide for all 50 states.  That division of resources and information conflicting with the past is a direct result of not having capitalized on Volt back when it had a monopoly on the plug-in hybrid market.  Gas was very expensive back then too.  More & Faster could have made quite a difference.  What happens now that so much is stacked against Volt?  See why I documented so much history as it was playing out?  This situation was foreseen.  Concerned was expressed.  Recommendations were not taken seriously.  Finally?  Greatest?


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