Personal Log  #808

May 6, 2017  -  May 11, 2017

Last Updated: Tues. 6/27/2017

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Promoting Safety.  This topic comes up a lot now.  Thankfully, it actually has substance.  Remember 15 years ago when "bigger is better" was the approach for safety?  Rather than avoid having an accident, as we see the desire for now, it was figuring out how to survive the impact.  Ugh.  People were gullible.  Fear was a powerful motivator.  Concern for those you squish with your vehicle was absent.  People didn't care.  I sure am glad we are past that ugly stage in automotive history.  Phew!  This is what I have to say about the situation now:  Safety is a good way to promote the automaker's advancement.  People end up noticing subtle aspects of the technology that really impress.  That builds reputation.   For example Toyotas' DRC isn’t actually just radar.  Over the weekend, I smashed into a bug while using it.  At 80 mph, it's nice to find out how intelligent the system is.  A warning popped up and cruise disengaged, informing me the camera had been obscured (direct hit by the bug) resulting in a safety compromise.  I pulled off at a nearby ramp, squirted the windshield and wiped a few times, then resumed my cruise on the highway.  Most people don't give much thought about what's actually needed to deliver tech like that.  That bug smash was a great example highlighting of what was delivered.

5-11-2017 Why Indeed?  I was intrigued by the possible response answering this question could result in: "Why can't GM offer a Bolt with electric adjustable seats, as one example?"  So, I jumped into the discussion with:

On Tuesday, we had a gathering of the local plug-in owners... Tesla, Nissan, BMW, Ford, Toyota, and of course GM were all represented.  There are only 4 known Bolt owners in Minnesota so far.  The one there I got to chat with for quite awhile had made her purchase in California and had the vehicle trucked home.

That comment about lack of content came up a lot.  GM's effort to make an affordable EV offering faced the same type of tradeoffs as Toyota with PHEV.  The catch is, Prime's design allows it to have a much lower production cost.

So, I got to show off the 11.6-inch screen (which is really sweet when you enable the multi-split feature and bring up info, like live weather radar), the color HUD (heads up display), and power seats which Bolt EV simply doesn't offer.  There is the carbon-fiber hatch and dual-wave window as standout features.  Other nice offerings, like heated steering-wheel, are often overlooked or not thought of at the time of purchase.

The complaint we heard quite a bit from Volt supporters about GM was the lack of advertising.  There simply wasn't anything done by the automaker to draw interest.  Toyota learned from that and has capitalized on that opportunity by making safety something to stir attention.  All of the following are now being heavy promoted as standard in all Prime offerings, even the base model:

- Dynamic Radar Cruise
- Pre-Collision Braking
- Lane-Departure Detect with Assist
- Automatic High-Beams

That's something GM needs to do too.  Their focus on conquests sales now has that obvious weakness.  Safety is a strong selling point.  New tech features like that are exactly what plug-in buyers seek.

Perhaps the 2018 model will have some package changes to make Bolt more balanced.  Focus on EV and practical seating/cargo is not enough.  There's more to purchase priorities for ordinary consumers.


34.3 Miles of EV.  I'm watching the range estimate for EV driving as the temperature rises.  No longer dealing with freezing levels, the system runs more efficiency.  Even the battery itself works better (reduced internal resistance).  There is obviously no need to run the electric heater anymore either.  6.4 miles per kWh was the resulting average from my commute to work this morning.  That provided an estimated return of 34.3 total miles from EV driving.  I don't know if that's what I'll actually experience upon returning home, but seeing 52 percent of the capacity remaining for that trip is encouraging.  Unfortunately, traffic doesn't flow as well that time of day and hills are less in my favor.  Of course, even if it just comes close, that's really encouraging.  It means next month the entire trip could be without recharging at work.  But then again, so little gas is used when the engine actually runs, does it matter?  There is a certain thrill from witnessing MPG well above the low 50's estimate.  It's much like the battery being rated for 25 miles, but returning actually EV miles well above that.  It is the "under promise, over deliver" we get from Toyota.  Yeah!


Missing The Point.  Wow!  Talking about completely missing the point: "Most Prime buyers are previous Prius or Toyota owners. Not the same for Volt buyers."  It's somewhat bizarre trying to have a constructive discussion with a person who doesn't understand purpose.  Sadly, that's quite common.  Our terrible self-centered nature makes that far too easy.  Fortunately, not everyone is that blind to what should be obvious.  The goal of high-efficiency choices from automakers is to find a suitable replacement to their traditional offerings.  Sadly, many get caught up with conquest, forgetting about change for the rest.  Anywho, rather annoyed, I responded to that with:  That fundamental shortcoming of Volt not appealing to GM's own customers was supposed to be dealt with by gen-2.  That didn't happen.  GM continues to struggle.
Toyota halted gen-1 Prius plug-in, limiting it to just the initial 15 states after having recognized was the market truly wanted.  Gen-2 stayed true to being affordable while delivering upon need to appeal to their own showroom shoppers.  The goal is to replace traditional product-lines with high-efficiency choices, not conquest sales.


Stale Gas.  There are many, many reports from Volt owners who clearly purchased the wrong type of vehicle.  They point out how a single tank of gas has lasted nearly an entire year for them.  Rarely ever traveling beyond that battery-pack's capacity is a clearly indication an EV with a larger one would have been a better choice.  That's why the gen-1 Leaf is still selling so well.  It's 107-mile range makes more sense than lugging around a system with have the range and an engine almost never used.  This is why GM has moved on to Bolt.  Proving the EV is quite capable with 238 miles of range makes selling one with a smaller capacity easy.  Why bother with Volt, as a car anyway.  In SUV form, that's a different matter.  Volt forces a maintenance-mode, running the engine from time to time to use old gas.  Letting it get stale can be a problem.  That's far less of an issue for Prime, so much so, I doubt we'll ever here much owners.  When the engine in Prime runs, it much more efficient than Volt.  So, it's not as big of a deal.  So of us actually travel too.  Of course, some Volt households have old traditional vehicles for that.  With a Prime, no need.  I just proved that last weekend, in fact.  The trip was 1,711 miles.  So, no concern about gas from me.  80 mph for a bulk of that travel.  Faster passing at times.  103 mph briefly, because resistance was futile.  50.1 MPG overall average displayed, without any recharging.  It was totally worth it.  Celebrating the twins first birthday isn't something you'd want to miss.


Charge On Highway.  I had a chance to play with Charge-Mode again.  Cruising along at 80 mph, on that long highway stretch across South Dakota, turns out to be a great opportunity to replenish EV miles.  I wondered if there would be a power penalty or a big efficiency hit.  Nope.  The charging process just goes about its business without any interruption to the driving experience.  It's really impressive how refined the hybrid system has become.  I was hoping for that type of response.  There's nothing like flying down the highway witnessing it firsthand too.  That's a good time for it, when maximum horsepower isn't needed.  There's excess available, which can be optimized by balancing load.  Remember how dynamic the power-split approach really is.  The flow of energy adjusts constantly to take advantage of efficiency opportunities.  That included sending some electricity to the battery-pack anyway.  Switching to a more aggressive recharge mode isn't too much of a stretch to imagine.  It's basically just refinements to the existing system.  In this case, it worked very well.


80 MPH with Heat.  The return trip home, crossing all of South Dakota at very high speed, was cooler than on the way out to celebrate two birthdays with family.  We ended up using the heater.  What a contrast to using A/C a few days either.  Heat would be more efficient, since waste energy from the engine can be used for warming, rather than having to generate it specifically for cooling.  It meant that engine-only travel would be better.  Turns out, there was a fairly strong wind blowing in a favorable direction too.  It was somewhat pushing the back driver corner of the car.  Not a tail wind, but it's still an improvement.  Crosswinds are what we normally see along that horribly long stretch.  Those are nasty in the Winter, causing surprise gusts and patches of ice.  Anywho, the resulting average was a little over 50 MPG for that 80 mph travel.  Sweet!


Camera Obscured.  While quietly enjoying the 80 mph cruising, the sound of an alarm broke the mode.  It was an audible alert followed by a message on the screen, informing me the visibility for the camera had been obscured so cruise was disabled.  It hadn't occurred to me at that very moment that the Dynamic Radar Cruise also used the camera.  Observing lines on the road is a standard part of that.  It requires a clean windshield, specifically that small area in front of the mirror... which had just be struck by a bug.  Squash!  Fortunately, there just happened to be a ramp close by.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to grab my camera fast enough.  Coming to a stop for a thorough window squirting & wiping was all it took for the "Radar Ready" notice to pop back up.  It's amazing how sophisticated the system actually is and how much effort Toyota expends to keep the interaction simple.  That unexpected message that appeared on the screen (which sadly, I wasn't able to get a photo of) informed me of exactly what the situation was... something I need not be burdened with, unless necessary.  That's much more like a computer than the generic problem like we all grew up with in vehicles.  It reduces the learning curve significantly.  You don't have to know everything to be able to drive now.  Smarter vehicles, like Prius, having the flexibility of provided detail as in comes up due to having those 2 dashboard screens, in addition to the bigger one.  Long story short, I squashed a bug.  Eww!


Hypermile?  This request didn't make sense: "We still would like to know the hypermile value average."  Even if that was truly constructive to provide, what would it actually tell an ordinary person?  I've never been in favor of sighting extremes.  Most of the time, that's due to data being cherry-picked when attempting to mislead.  But even if it wasn't, how does that set a proper expectation?  I ended up rather annoyed trying to figure out the benefit, so I went with:  What does "hypermile" mean now?  That term was coined in a post arguing with me about how hybrids weren't up to the chore, a very long time ago.  Over the years to follow, the definition changes quite a few times.  Now, it doesn't make any sense.  There is no interplay of power sources available to squeeze out greater efficiency.  You just drive it.  The only thing I can think of that could qualify now is taking advantage of charge-mode, forcing the engine to produce electricity for EV use later.


Necessary Step.  It was interesting to see the message of influence finally sinking in.  This was encouraging to see emerge from that: "Maybe GM will finally take the hint now..."  I don't expect a moment of sanity amongst the chaos to make any difference right away, but I do suspect the pattern of painfully slow growth for Volt & Bolt along side strong demand for Prime to be a wake-up call.  Eventually they'll notice the struggle to progress and figure out why.  It's really sad that the solution was provided long before the problem manifested, but late is still better than never.  Not liking it was the issue.  They'd have to compromise on principal to reach the goal.  Enthusiasts hoped that somehow wouldn't be necessary.  They were wrong.  It is necessary.  I chimed in with:  Faster & Further became GM's obsession with Volt a full decade ago.  Their own "nicely under $30,000" price target was abandoned in favor of pleasing enthusiasts.  It's a simple matter of not wanting to take the necessary step to attract mainstream buyers.


Precedent Set.  The world of plugging in seems somewhat divided, at first glance.  Over time though, that impression fades away.  It's not a matter of having an engine not having one.  It always comes down to how much gas is consumed.  Virtually none of the plug-in supporters actually mention how much electricity is used.  I pushed for quite awhile when Prius PHV first rolled out to get people to post KWH values.  There was a lot of resistance.  Now, it's next to impossible to get that information... upon the revelation that some plug-in vehicles use electricity far less efficiently that others.  And yes, Volt is among the worse offenders.  You could see that coming.  From the very beginning, I knew the trophy obsession, that primal need for faster & further, would create a blindness toward waste.  As long as the energy source was electricity, they couldn't care less how much was actually consumed.  That's sad and still quite true, even today: "Thank You!! – and very well said. I also have a gen 2 volt, and in 18 months and about 21K miles have only used about 55 gallons of gas. It gets old getting negativity from the EV crowd."  Notice how solidified the precedent has been set.  All we ever get for data is how much gallons were consumed.  Knowing that would continue to be a problem for years to come, that's what Toyota now reports as a primary gauge for efficiency.  You can of course look up the Miles/kWh data and see impact climate settings have.  But it ultimately comes down to showing MPG, since that's what the others insisted upon for an overall summary.  They did it.  Actions of enthusiasts had a much greater influence than they will probably ever come to realize.  To think they argued it was impossible to get an automaker to listen to requests, that all they could do was hope for the best.  Ugh.


Reality.  The real problem revealed: "Most of the comments I read from Volt owners is how they are able to stay on pure electric for their full commute and not really wanting to use the ICE."  It's a self-deprecating position enthusiasts have taken since the very beginning.  They've pushed the idea of EV purity since way back when Volt was still being developed.  Volt ended up a hybrid though, not the "range extender" it was intended to be.  Now we have BMW i3, which truly is a range-extended design, and Bolt EV.  The very weak marketing for Volt has all but vanished as a result.  EV range is too short.  EV efficiency is too low.  EV charging is too slow.  So, competing with an EV is unrealistic.  HV efficiency simply cannot compare to Toyota or Hyundai.  So, competing with the gen-2 PHEV market isn't realistic either.  Pressure from competition, along with the reality of tax-credits running out soon, has brought about a reality shock. Volt is without a large audience and the enthusiasts have nothing left compelling to promote as a draw.  Significant rapid growth is required and Volt is still dealing with flat sales.


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