Prius Personal Log  #893

October 1, 2018  -  October 4, 2018

Last Updated:  Sun. 10/07/2018

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BMW i3 REx.  It looks like the increase of battery-capacity for i3 to 153 miles will hit a threshold of EV enough to make the gas-engine generator of little interest to the market in Europe.  So, BMW will be dropping the option there.  Think about how different driving situations are from here.  Carrying a backup power-source simply isn't worth the value we place on it in our circumstances.  In other words, they don't drive as far.  It may also becoming a reality that charging-stations will emerge as common enough to worry of getting stranded simply isn't what we have.  I suspect the next upgrade will end that offering here too.  After all, why is that much considered necessary anyway?  The newest model of Leaf delivers a range rating of 151 miles.  That's enough for many Nissan customers.  Why not BMW too?  It's a very good question to ask... and quite timely, as we see the phaseout trigger approach for GM without any clarity what future for Volt or Bolt will have to come.  Will there be a more affordable version of Bolt be offered, using a smaller battery-pack to reduce the price currently unreachable for the masses?  Volt isn't selling well, even with the $7,500 tax-credit.  What makes the complicated & expensive design it requires a good approach for ordinary GM consumers?  Needless to say, we will see much close evaluation of value in the very near future.


Back To Basics.  Within the crazy banter expected from disappointing sales results for others, we get some refreshing questions simply asking for more information about how Prime operates.  This one stood out: "Car is "heavy" and unlike other "pure EVs" doesn't have that quick off the line zip in pure EV mode."  Naturally, there is no direct question actually asked.  It is usually just someone trying to understand more by sharing their observations with the hope of getting constructive feedback.  My contribution to that was:  Compared to most pure EV choices in this market, yes.  Compared to the traffic you'll actually encounter routinely, no.  Prime is quite a bit faster off the line in ordinary driving.  The reason why is simple.  You drop the pedal with a traditional vehicle, the engine roars and everything shakes... so you avoid ever doing that.  But with electricity, it a always smooth & quiet.  So, you quickly become accustom to taking advantage of that.


Concern.  Thoughts about how to compose a final response took awhile.  I simply didn't care what this particular antagonist had to say, but still wanted a wrap-up of some sort.  The concern of "too little, too late" turned into the frequent asking of "Who is the market for Volt?" over the years.  There was no progress and no audience.  That meant nothing had be achieved.  So much opportunity was wasted, not to mention tax-credits.  It was a ironic twist of resting on laurels.  They claimed GM would not do what Toyota would do.  Turns out, what actually happened was the very opposite.  No need to point out any of that detail though.  I referred back to the beginning and summaried as follows:  In those old times, there was a refusal to acknowledge the market for Volt was not GM's own loyal customers, those who shop the showroom floor looking for a new GM vehicle to replace their old GM vehicle.  It was all about conquest sales then... which are not business sustaining.  You should be concerned about that not having changed yet.


Too Complicated, part 2.  I continued with a second post:  There's a catch, of course.  It must also be affordable.  This is the primary reason Volt was doomed from the start.  The approach taken was far too expensive.  So, even though it worked fine from an engineering perspective, that high price-tag screamed "too complicated" to potential customers... scaring them away... which the dealer sees as a very real problem they don't want to have to deal with.  So, many didn't bother, choosing to not carry Volt.  You'd be amazed how much of an influence MSRP makes.  Enthusiasts of Volt learned that the hard way, spending years arguing "it is worth it" to an audience just plain not interested in spending a premium for efficiency.  Look at the simplicity of Prius Prime.  From hybrid to plug-in hybrid is basically nothing but dropping a larger battery-pack into the hatch area.  Shoppers naturally equate increased capacity to an increase in electric power.  How it happens makes no difference to them.  It just makes sense... simplicity at its finest.  They consider the option based on price-tag, not engineering.  Like it or not, legacy automakers are in the business of making profit.  That means appealing to dealer & consumer, not enthusiasts.


Too Complicated, part 1.  This is what happens when you don't bother to consider the big picture: "Honestly, I don't understand plug-in hybrids.  They are too complicated.  You already have a BEV but instead of adding to the size of the battery and be done with it, you add a whole ICE power train.  It's like two cars, one on top of the other.  You double the problems."  It is yet another example of "not seeing the forest" cliche.  They just cannot figure out why that single tree is having issues.  Ugh.  All I can do is point out the perspective they are not seeing with the hope there will be a glimmer of recognition of the true problem.  Today was yet another attempt:  Spoken like countless others here... enthusiasts focused entirely on engineering and not considering what's involved on the business side.  It's a fundamental mistake we have watched play out by GM twice with Volt, both generations falling well short of expectations.  The problem was indeed not understanding plug-in hybrids.  They are perceived as more complicated than traditional vehicles, despite the fact that their transmissions & operation can be elegantly simple.  Neither dealer nor potential customer recognize this.  That belief of "too complicated" makes traditional vehicles an easier sell.  This is why the "coasting entirely on name" argument against Prius success is often used by antagonists to justify lower sales of their own preferred plug-in.  Their hope is to conceal the reality that Toyota found a means of overcoming the "too complicated" concern.  They simply proved the reliability by demonstrating it.  The name became attributed to quality.  So even though it wasn't actually more complicated than a traditional vehicle, there wasn't any reason to make that argument.  People felt comfortable with the choice... which is why dealers stocked the hybrid models and consumers purchase so many.


Narrative Pushing.  It looks just like this when slipped into an article about the evolved plug-in industry: "You mean to tell me that Toyota has been dumping all of its EV budget into hydrogen cars for nearly two decades now?  I find that hard to believe."  Certain groups want you to believe Toyota is only in favor of fuel-cell technology, turning its back entirely on battery vehicles with the hope of a hydrogen-only future.  It's a frustrating narrative to have to address, since people hear that and accept it as is.  The lack of critical thinking on the part of listeners is sad.  They have no idea they are being manipulated, nor to they care.  It's a feel-good attitude they seek, rather than actually working to find a true solution.  I punched back with:  That's because it isn't true.  Anyone with knowledge of EV design can easily see the investment Toyota has made in electrification.  Look at Prius Prime... 25 kWh/100mi efficiency rating... vapor-injected heat-pump... carbon-fiber hatch... aero-glass window.  How are those not serious investments in EV design?  There's also the reality that all but the ECO model of Prius has been switched over to lithium batteries.  This is a push into high-volume production, exactly what you need to achieve profitable sales that are sustainable.  The hype involving hydrogen interest from Toyota also requires turning a blind eye to the reality that Honda, Hyundai, and GM are investing in development of the technology too.


Know Your Audience.  I kept fighting back with that as my lead in.  This followed:  For many years that message of dealers being the true customers, not who ends up with the vehicle in their driveway, fell on deaf ears.  Enthusiasts were so obsessed with the engineering, they fought tense online fights trying to convince others that's all it takes to achieve high-volume profitable sales.  They believed a sustainable demand was driven from end-user influence only.  The topic of carrying supply as ready-to-purchase inventory was attacked as an attempt to undermine.  The importance of the business was brushed aside as unimportant.  This is still way MSRP is such a touching subject.  Enthusiasts don't want to face the reality of the sales so far really only being low-hanging fruit.  Faced with the big picture of 60 million new vehicles being put on the planet every year, it's too large of a problem to not take seriously.  Yet, the "EV market" blinders are still being used.  That's all a bit of a downer.  But until those here not addressing the affordable market and recognizing the role dealers play in that sales process, more opportunity will continue to be wasted.  Think about how a middle-market consumer goes about making a purchase decision. It isn't anything like what those of us here do.


Spewing Insults.  There wasn't a pleasant mood on the blogging website for all plug-in vehicles.  Insults from Volt enthusiasts started up.  There's obvious anger without an outlet for expressing it anymore.  That daily blog where they would attack outside opinion is gone.  Now, they must remain civil.  So, we get this: "If it were the Clarity PHEV at #1 I could understand it, but the Prime is coasting entirely on name and is not as good of a product as the Volt or Clarity."  That resulted in a reply adding this: "The Prime has more standard features (AEB and ACC) and optional features (sunroof and a HUD) than the Volt."  It set off an emotional outburst including "distinctly inferior" and "underwhelming".  Things feel apart from there.  I ended up chiming in to that mess with:  Who is that supposed to impress?  Mainstream consumers couldn't care less about what enthusiasts have to say.  What Toyota achieved with Prius Prime is what GM continues to struggle to deliver for Volt.  It delivers efficient EV driving with efficient HV driving at an affordable price.  As for what an enthusiast believes the competition to be, there's a rude awakening coming around the corner.  That low-hanging fruit is almost all gone. Those purchases with government help don't in any way represent what the masses will face.  Think about how many sales must be repeatedly achieved to really make a difference at reducing the number of traditional vehicles offered by dealers.  Insults directed at Toyota are a waste.  The real problem is what shares the showroom floor with Volt.


Well Deserved Rant.  Sometimes, you just have to give a purist a dose of reality.  It was well deserved too.  Some of us are working hard to bridge the divide.  Getting posts counter to that effort are frustrating to have to deal with.  They forget the overall goal.  I'm more than happy to give them a terse reminder in the form of a rant:  60 MPG from a low-emission hybrid system is considered a gasser?  That's some serious cherry-picking.  It's becoming easier to see the Reverse FUD problem. T ry to open your mind.  My last tank was 89% electric.  Who cares if some gas was used.  That's a remarkable step forward into the world of plugging in with such a supposedly small battery-pack.  Put another way, GM has some serious marketing problems to address.  We've seen countless former Volt owners turn on the very approach they praised for years once a selection of EV choices became available... especially since many didn't stay loyal by choosing Bolt.  Think about how much switched over to Tesla.  I know quite a few previously outspoken Volt enthusiasts who now own a Model 3.  The goal at this stage is to replace traditional vehicles with those offering a plug.  So what if it becomes a "gasser" on a occasional highway trip.  Most of the time that vehicle is driven, it will be using electricity.

10-02-2018 Move On.  I asked: "What are you suggesting the "move on" to should be?"  Knowing the reply will be just like in the past, a vague reference to what I had posted followed by some lame excuse, there wasn't much to expect.  Basically, I was just looking for closure and took advantage of the timing.  Quarterly results, the very last just prior to phaseout, was the perfect opportunity.  So, that's exactly what I got by posting:

That is a sincere question.  After 10 years of the course change, what do you think should happen now?

Throughout the original development of Volt, it was promoted by enthusiasts as having an engine for backup purposes only.  That gas-powered source of electricity would be sized for efficiency, to serve as supplier of energy for those rare occasions when you needed range extension.  This is why a 3-cylinder engine was considered for gen-1, then delayed due to cost until later for gen-2.  Neither got that; however, the BMW i3 did.

That "REx" system BMW delivered is exactly what had been the hope for Volt.  The gas-engine is tiny, just enough to maintain a steady cruise while on the highway.  Specifically, output is 25 kW.

The definition of Volt's system, given the "EREV" label, changed upon the discovery that gen-1 would indeed have a direct mechanical link to from engine to wheels.  That was never supposed to be.  It made the system a "parallel" type hybrid rather than the hope for "series" type.  GM took it a step further for gen-2, making the feature enable over a larger span of power & speed demands for greater overall efficiency.  That blending of engine & motor power made enthusiasts furious, since it made Volt more like a Prius and less like an i3... hence another definition change.  Now, it means you get "full" power with both HV and EV modes.

That is, of course, rhetoric spin.  No label can change how the system actually operates.  Enthusiasts can push an automaker in a particular direction though.  Proof of that is the innovator's dilemma they contributed to for gen-2 design. Enthusiasts pushed for more range & power.  There's no reason they couldn't push for something different now.

Prius Prime has become the antithesis of Volt, due to its superior efficiency in both HV & EV modes and its much more affordable price.  With temperatures in the low 40's and speeds varying between 60 and 70 MPH, my 175-mile trip up to Northern Minnesota last weekend delivered 61.5 MPG while leaving 90% of the battery for my travel later at the destination.  Efficiency for the electric-only drive averaged 5 miles/kWh throughout the summer.

In other words, what direction do you wish the technology in Volt to take?  Should it become more like i3 or more like Prime?

Think about how consumers view the EV driving experience now.  Will they really be open to paying a premium to get a gas-engine tuned for power rather than efficiency at this point?  With so many other green choices coming to market, you have to ask fundamental questions like that.

Then, think about how uninformed most consumers are about plugging in.  We know that people have become mentally lazy.  The lack of critical thinking is frightening.  How much are they willing to pay to upgrade their garages when they have no clue what's involved or what doing that will actually deliver.

Put another way, how will you promote whatever it is that you choose to suggest?


Mistake Repeated.  It was inevitable: "You spin those platitudes at odds with GM's HEV work, whereas I and the auto industry recognize GM’s seminal HEV work as a well-done engineering achievement."  The trophy-mentality is what fed the problem all those years ago.  Seeing it return for the renewed attacks was inevitable... as well as reassuring.  There's more data available now.  I have a collection of 4K videos to refer to.  So, that's what I do.  I also suggested what the antagonists should do:  Go ahead.  Do it.  Continue focusing solely on engineering achievement... just like countless many in the past did here too.  It's quite remarkable to watch that same mistake repeated over and over again.  That obsession with seeking praise is the downfall.  You should move to helping promote what was delivered, rather than forcing the topic to first-year physics.  Reality is, GM engineering achievement still has not been taken to the next step... actually implementing it in a vehicle GM's own customers would be interested in.  Paying no attention whatsoever of that failure to advance the business is the mistake.  There is nothing left to prove.  Let it go.  For example, I drove 2,674 miles using 7.896 gallons of gas over the past 11 weeks.  That worked out to 338 MPG.  What else do potential buyers need to know?


Renewed Attacks.  With third-quarter sales on the way, it's easy to see why recent posting activity has included renewed attacks.  Those few troublemakers who feel a need to defend GM have emerged.  Their daily posting nonsense is long gone, just a terrible memory.  But when actual results are posted (on the quarter, monthly are only estimates), it's easy to understand their timing.  This morning was an obvious effort to mislead about BMW i3 operation: "Limping on the right lane at less than 50 MPH..."  Having already been through this with him, there's simply no excuse.  Comments like that are intentional undermining.  I turned it around using this:  The gas-engine easily generates enough electricity.  Cruising at highway speed takes very little kW draw.  That's how Prime is able to deliver an EV speed of 84 mph.  Not much electricity is actually needed. In fact, that is why even at 70 mph you still have some power available for passing.


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