Personal Log #936
April 21, 2019 - April 28, 2019
Last Updated: Sun. 5/12/2019
page #935 page #937 BOOK INDEX
Dead. Sentiment over the circumstances was posted as follows today: "Volt is dead and they don't seem to care much about maintaining a good relationship with Volt buyers anymore." That turn on GM from enthusiasts was found on the dedicated forum for Volt. I have been watching the shift take place, observing change as the final sales wrap up. There's a limited quantity available and no hope whatsoever for a future plug-in hybrid offering. Even the future of the Volt antithesis... Bolt... remains uncertain. It was always a strange offering. Gross overkill for speed & power from a compact wagon certainly was out of character for anything normally offered by GM. It's easy to see how some dealers simply didn't want to bother. What message did it send about GM's future or their commitment? This is why Toyota's dedication to hybrids was so important. So what if it wasn't bleeding-edge technology? Mainstream consumers don't want that anyway. Their interest is something of good value, meaning it was safe, comfortable, and reliable for an affordable price. Volt died because it failed with that vital criteria of being affordable. It was far too expensive... but didn't need to be. Remember all that suggestion made by so many all those years ago? It was to offer a configuration of Volt that had a significantly smaller battery-pack. That would have greatly reduced cost, while at the same time free up interior space and lighten the weight. It was a viable solution. Sadly, what seemed a winning combination was never tried. GM never tried to spread the technology to an ordinary vehicle either, something their customers would actually purchase, in Equinox. Remember all that same suggestion for Prius? Remember how Toyota did exactly that, rolling out both Highlander & Camry models using the hybrid system? That later got spread to quite a variety of other vehicles too. It was a winning formula that proved successful. Yet, GM never tried. Many now feel that lack of effort in their sentiment. Why didn't GM try?
Co-Exist. Every time an article comes up about the delay of EV rollout, someone brings up conspiracy theories about fuel-cell vehicles. They absolutely refuse to acknowledge the reality of economics; instead, it's always turn a blind-eye to token efforts giving them unending forgiveness for selling at a loss. It's no wonder that their short-sightedness would stir cries of lobbying and market manipulation for the sake of killing EV efforts. They just plain don't want to accept a world where many clean solutions could exist side-by-side. It's really sad when so many lose sight of goals. Have they really forgotten what we want to achieve, for who, and when? Unwilling to put up with more of this nonsense... the endless bickering that doesn't achieve anything... I just punched right back with: Are you so naive to think that the oil industry could simply be shut down, that battery-only vehicles will dramatically just end our need for them? That's as gullible as the one-solution-for-all chats we keep hearing. It's not going to happen. Breaking the status quo on that magnitude requires compromise. Deal with it. The best way to get them to stopping fighting change is to give them something else to produce. Taking advantage of the infrastructure they have in place is key. So what if the conversion to hydrogen isn't as efficient as storing electricity in massive battery-banks? At least it is both carbon neutral and clean. Fleet & Commercial vehicles can exploit that opportunity to get us off the dirty, non-renewable fuels. Why do you have a problem with your Amazon delivery coming from a truck using fuel cells?
New Audience. Realization of just how much of a barrier enthusiasts of Volt had created is becoming quite clear. As the dust settles from the end of its production, that death reveals an entirely new audience. These are the smaller, quieter voices of mainstream consumers... which are drawn to Prius Prime, exactly as Toyota had predicted. In fact, we even now have evidence of just how closely they were monitoring that early-adopter market. I always said the replacement of the unused-by-most middle seat in back with a nice armrest & bucket seats was to test appeal. It's undeniable now that the shift to SUV platforms as family-mover vehicles is well into the final stages. Sedans are vanishing and hatchbacks are needing to evolve. What did that mean for Prius Prime, which is now a bit more upscale to keep it relevant? Not much, apparently. That middle-seat will be coming back. Toyota took the risk, quite contrary to claims of antagonists. The 2020 model will bring that layout back, along with the much hoped for (including by me) visor-extenders. I simply bought a set online. Next year's will have them built in. Switches for the seat-heaters will be moved to a more predominate location as well. It's all about listening to potential customers, not enthusiasts. Toyota isn't dumb enough to fall into the trap GM did. Innovator's dilemma is a well known business conundrum that a legacy automaker as experience as GM should have been able to avoid. That's why Toyota was willing to also take risk with the battery. The original gen-3 prototype had a 5.2 kWh capacity. That pack size was large, making the floor taller... exactly as it is now with Prius Prime. The decision back then was to reduce it to 4.4 kWh to make it fit better. Toyota decided with gen-4 to try the larger. Since a mid-cycle update provides opportunity for change, we may be seeing that floor drop to provide more cargo capacity. That would keep Toyota's mission true to staying affordable and targeting mainstream consumers... who may prefer that over increased capacity. That's why so much real-world data is collected during the first 2 years of rollout... giving Toyota key insight to what the more favorable configuration would be for the new audience... the one that much be profitable without tax-credit dependency able to achieve high-volume sales competing directly with traditional vehicles. That's a tall order, but realistic if you understand who. Based on my observations of recent posts from new Prius Prime owners, we seem to have reached the point of non-enthusiast interest. I had no idea the problems Volt had created for market interest would fade so quickly upon its death.
Ford Announcements. It was interesting to hear Ford strike an partnership agreement with electric truck startup Rivian... after finding out GM turned down the chance. Ford was happy to provide a $500 Million equity investment to make that happen. It will add to the growing portfolio Ford has for new choices on the way. It's odd to hear there will be 16 full EV vehicles and 40 electrified vehicles coming worldwide through 2022. Many could be limited market and limited volume; nonetheless, Ford is being given a nod of approval while Toyota is getting attacked. So what if Toyota is planning fewer choices? They stand a better chance of being widely available and more affordably priced. Enthusiasts don't want to hear that. They are enthusiasts because that are not mainstreamists. Endorsing something for the common person goes against the very nature of being a fanboy... which none of them will admit to being. It's a fundamental flaw in their approach... which they hope no one will ever call them out on. Thank goodness Ford has been able to avoid most of that rhetoric. We're expecting to see some new hybrid and plug-in hybrid choices. That will be great... and not "late" as so many attempt to spin. Timing & Technology is coming to a point where the choice will be realistic for the masses. I'd say, that's just right. So, these announcements we are getting now seem to be a good plan.
Tesla Trouble. Yesterday's financial report painted the picture most fanboys feared. Tesla's gamble to stay in front of the massive risk being taken isn't working. Profitable quarters turned into the most recent posting a massive loss. The planned 35 GWh capacity from the Gigafactory in Nevada is only at 24 GWh. Ramp-Up isn't financially realistic either. It looks like a deal with Panasonic to ship cells from Japan is the plan now being explored. That compromises the "Made in America" promotion and faces possible import tariffs barriers. Ugh. Another possibility for elevating production bottlenecks is to move vehicle production elsewhere. Building a Gigafactory in Germany is an option now being explored and construction of the one in China continues. Negative net of $702 million for the first quarter of this year makes those efforts easier. Pain of growing beyond niche is a sign of progress for Tesla that will either establish a true foothold in the industry or bring about surprises. Acceptance of EV is an achievement we all benefit from already regardless. This is yet another reason why Toyota sees no reason to rush to market. Rough times from having to grow beyond initial market are never easy. Trouble confirms you are still in the game.
Who? Watching the lack of excitement for Earth Day this year has been compelling. Financial struggle for Tesla and the absurd self-inflicted problems GM now faces has setup the market for lots of uncertainty. Supposedly, we'll be getting a variety of plug-in choices from both VW and Ford within the next few years, but all that's been shared are snippets of plans without any detail. It's all so vague, there's no real sense of progress actually being made. That's not stopping those who see Toyota's actual progress as a force to fight though, which we do our best to counter: "No matter what Toyota produces some people will still see negatives: "CVT gearbox, "self charging" hybrid nonsense, not fun to drive." Unfortunately, most rebuttal posts are long and drown out. They tend to go no where as a result. Much of that struggle in the past was due to the trolls forcing a Prius narrative. No matter what you posted, they'd spin it to be about Prius. I got quite a kick out of that. Post after post would be nothing but GM. Someone would inevitably change the topic to Toyota and blame me. I always found that desperation both reaffirming and tantalizing. It validated their lack of evidence to actually prove their point. Mine was always simple. I asked who. Knowing that a business could not thrive on a single product, the doom GM would face with Volt was only a matter of time. No diversification prior to tax-credit phaseout being triggered meant it would die... and, that's exactly what happened. Seeing Toyota strive to deliver a variety of choices means a very different outcome. They know their audience. Who is their entire fleet, that large collection of very different buyers are pleased with their own particular purchase. It's not just about Prius. It never was. They refused to accept that. I keep reminding them: With the Corolla and RAV4 hybrids so non-Prius like, who would that be?
Not Realistic. It's somewhat bizarre how the death of Volt has turned into what is basically a push of the reset button. It failed to move beyond niche. No successor means something else will fill the void. What that will be isn't obvious though. My pointing out of the "450 mile" expectation has blown some people's mind. Their attempts to explain why such a large range isn't necessary has fallen on deaf ears. Mainstream consumers have come to expect more, period. Not realistic isn't a consideration. They have that much now and see absolutely no reason to settle for less. That's how we got into this mess with the SUV obsession. More was always promoted as better. Whether that makes sense or not is irrelevant. Vehicle purchases are more often than not based on emotion. It's that want verses need problem. That never goes away. Denying it only makes the situation worse... as the Volt enthusiasts learned in a very painful manner. They dismissed clues, refusing to take the situation seriously. It cost them dearly. Now, the rest of us try to figure out how to overcome collateral damage caused by that denial. Conveying the situation is a challenge. I'm keeping my effort to that affect short & sweet: Agreed; however, that's the way it is. Automakers could easily save money & weight by simply using a smaller gas tank. They don't though. Explaining why less is better won't change that. You're fighting the status quo, which isn't always logical.
Ask Again. One effective way of confirming you really are dealing with a troll and just not someone poorly informed is to watch other thread. If you provide an answer on one thread, then they ask again on another, you have your confirmation. That repetition of questioning the same thing over and over is a dead giveaway. They don't like what they got in return and hope somehow stirring the same pot again will result in a different outcome. Yes, that's the definition of insanity... but online posts can resemble that type of being out of touch. I find the repetition annoying, but it can be tolerated. You find ways of being short with responses and getting others to participate in something constructive. In other words, don't feed the troll by denying them an audience. Remember that daily blog? Loss of an audience helped kill it. That website went from being a premiere "fake news" source to a collection of mistakes which had a profound influence on a history most people won't ever be aware of... hence not ever allowing questions to be asked again and again. Those lessons learned should be shared, once you've confirmed you really are dealing with a troll. Take advantage of those teaching moments.
Intelligent Debate. The moderator stepped in when
bait from that troll got out of hand. He posts so frequently, often
without actually quoting what he's responding too. Sadly, many of his
claims are misinformation derived from snap conclusions draw on little to no
actual data. Like most trolls, that identification comes about simply
from the desire for attention. That's why facts make no difference.
It's act of participation he seeks, not constructive dialog. So, I
have to carefully watch what the moderator desires for next steps, to get us
back on track. In this case, it was spin about lies. He never
bothered to do any research or even try to derive how the quoted value came
about. I immediately understood what the "average" comment
was referring to and how it translated to a monetary value. I shared
Intelligent debates would require actually reading for context. In the case of that quote, notice how everyone just blew past the word "average" without even bothering to consider what it actually represented?
Think about the capacities for an "average" vehicle. They have a 15 gallon gas tank and deliver about 30 MPG. That's a range expectation of 450 miles... which most of us would recognize as quite typical. More of a guzzler would have a larger capacity to compensate, to deliver roughly the same range.
Think about how big the battery-pack would have to be to match that expectation of 450 miles. Knowing the "average" vehicle is much heavier and much less aerodynamic than a Prius, you have to use something like Outlander as a somewhat practical measure of EV efficiency. Ratings of 45 kWh/100mi are about what a vehicle like that would deliver. Anyone else see the problem?
45 kWh * (450/100) = 202.5 kWh
202.5 kWh * $150 per kWh = $30,375
Then when you add in the longevity capacity buffer, since you won't be stressing the battery-pack by charging to 100% and discharging to 0% to achieve that 450-mile range expectation, the value easily matches up with what had previously seemed a wild estimate of $34,000.
So much for intelligent debate.
Spinning Lies. Our new resident troll is pushing harder and harder. After attempting to mislead about profit by pretending there's no tax-credit dependency and volume doesn't matter, he moved on to: "While I generally agree with this statement, it doesn't justify lying to try to persuade 'who'? I'm not quite sure who Toyota is trying to convince." It was an obvious effort to disrupt the discussion any way he could, to the point of even frustrating the moderator. Seeing an end coming from such desperate acts, I summed up the situation with: Know your audience. The perception of lying comes from listening to spin and not recognizing who is being targeted. We saw this done extensively by Volt enthusiasts attempting to portray their vehicle as something for the mainstream, a high-volume profitable seller intended for a GM's own loyal customers. That couldn't have been further from the truth; yet, it was the mantra accepted by those spreading a message of change. That was a false hope, just like the demise of Toyota. Reality is, this publication is exploiting the opportunity to draw attention to itself by milking the spin. They directly benefit from the online activity their articles stir. If you take the time to really consider what buyers of each automakers own vehicles seek, you'll see that Toyota is doing exactly what they should to deliver a reliable, affordable, and responsible platform in large quantity... without disruption to dealers... a vital component to change of the status quo most enthusiasts refuse to address. Again, it's important to understand who.