Personal Log  #938

May 2, 2019  -  May 7, 2019

Last Updated:  Sun. 5/12/2019

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Superior.  There's a small amount of rhetoric still, but not much.  Overly generalized claims like this are all that's left: "Volt proved GM could make a superior Prius."  Watching the endgame play out has been interesting.  It was undeniable that they long hoped for miracle wouldn't happen.  Rather than actually change the status quo, the outlook of enthusiasts was conquest.  Their focus on bragging-rights was shallow and self-deprecating.  Such a perspective cannot be sustained.  Realities of business eventually become too much to evade.  It's like building up debt.  You can really enjoy yourself for awhile, but at some point it all falls apart.  Some take much longer to learn that lesson than others, as I was happing to point out:  That definition of "superior" is one of only enthusiasts.  Checking with the true customer, GM dealers, you get a very different reply.  They'll point out importance of the vehicle having a competitive cost.  Volt was never affordable, period.  GM's pricing goal of "nicely under $30,000" was never reached.  Toyota, on the other hand, nailed it with Prius Prime at $27,600 nicely loaded for the base 2020 model.


Opportunity Missed.  Some people just never learn.  Ugh.  It's not even worth quoting the nonsense anymore.  Here's my reply:  Yes, repeating the same mistakes...  Volt was never targeted at the masses, even though it was marketed that way.  The configuration was too expensive, overkill for what was actually needed.  Hope was the "it's worth it" reasoning would catch on.  Affordability is a requirement that enthusiasts turned a blind-eye to, hence so many problems... notably, the way to market Volt.  The nonsense of EREV really screwed up the message to consumers.  Simply sticking with "plug-in hybrid" would have been a wise move.  It's over now.  Voltec didn't get diversified prior to tax-credit phaseout being triggered.  That opportunity was missed.


2020 Timing.  Accurate predictions come from careful & meticulous study.  Both the 2001 & 2012 rollouts were mid-cycle upgrades, though they could easily be labeled as generations.  People don't recognize change easily, so that's a rather pointless debate.  I was an active participant with both though, so my perspective is quite different.  I recognize how Toyota performs their study and what they look for.  Knowing their goal of sustainable high-volume profitability being of major importance, it's easy to see beyond rhetoric.  They don't find disruption to dealers acceptable.  Dumping a profoundly new technology without any clear direction, as GM did with Volt, upon them is totally against what they've demonstrated over the past 20 years.  That's why I saw a mid-cycle upgrade as a very realistic expectation to set.  Limiting availability and the obvious burn down of inventory should have made it obvious to everyone watching, or at least those actively participating online.  Instead, I got quite a bit of pushback from sharing my observations and declaring a prediction of a very short 2019.  It made sense that Toyota would stay clear of GM fallout, being well aware of tax-credit dependency and the long-term damage that results.  1 day after 1 month of phaseout sales, we get news of the upgrade.  Today, we got news that the path is wide open for what looks to be a wait of just a little over 1 month until 2020 deliveries begin.  Sweet!


Listen.  Even though some new voices are obnoxious, far more are simply looking for somewhere to share thoughts: "It sounds like Toyota is betting that they can quickly turn something like a Prius Prime into a full electric quickly rather than investing in all-electric design now."  Stuff like that is welcome.  They tend to stay open-minded, asking for more information so they can draw their own conclusions.  For them, I'm happy to contribute little nuggets of detail to help that process along.  In this case, I could even do in with respect to the sound theme:  Listen to the whisper, not the rhetoric.  That all-electric 152 hp drive system already in use by Mirai would make a nice setup for the next-gen Prius.


Facetious.  I was really hoping this new member on the big Prius forum was just being facetious.  That kind of obnoxious behavior, showing no interest to consider what others are sharing, is frustrating to deal with.  When I got this, I was done: "You expect the customer to write the spec for you?"  He simply didn't care.  I posted and moved on:  To complain without providing any constructive feedback is a waste of everyone's time.  Ever notice how the act of asking what a consumer actually wants will often result in something that isn't well articulated?  It simply makes no sense for you to assume the provider will be able to accurately guess what you expect.  That's why extensive study of consumer behavior takes place.  Toyota, just like other providers, will collect and carefully observes massive amounts of real-world data with the hope of figuring out what you don't bother to take the time to explain.  With over 25 years of experience trying to understand what the user actually wants, verses what they claim to want, I can tell you that anyone who makes an effort to describe what their need actually is will get taken seriously.  Those who don't are just looking for an audience to vent upon.


Leapfrog.  It's remarkable how many times you see someone make a statement like this without any follow up: "So instead of barely, almost, kind of catching up Toyota should have leapfrogged."  I posted my response just 12 minutes after it had been posted.  So, I'm quite curious if I'll get anything constructive in reply.  In this circumstance, the comment was about Toyota's choices related to the infotainment system.  It could have been anything.  We see examples all of the place routinely.  I posted:  That term "leapfrog" has become meaningless rhetoric.  It's easy to understand why too.  Just ask anyone who's serious about improvement what improvement actually means.  That absence of detail and lack of agreement make it all too clear the path to an upgrade is a very real problem.  Want a different example of the same problem?  Look at the mess we have with public charging-stations.  After all these years, there is consolidated message about how they should be used and who should use them.  You'd think the answer to that would be obvious.  Digging for information, you end up with many conflicting messages.  Please tell us with a level of clarity, as if you were funding the effort, what you would like.  As a software engineer, I've discovered asking that question tends to end complaints.  The user comes to realize they don't actually have solid requirements for me to program.  This is why partnership with business customers is so vital.  You need an ongoing exchange of information.  With the case of Toyota, this is why they have employed a phased rollout.  That approach really irritates some enthusiasts... to the point of them acting in frustration like trolls... but it is a proven method for achieving actual progress.  Watch for detail and try to pass it along.

5-04-2019 Doing It Right.  That didn't take long.  I wondered if the wait for an incoherent argument in defense of Volt would come soon.  There simply isn't anything left to support a plan that made no progress after all those years.  With every possible excuse exhausted, a feeling of defeat is taking over.  Phew!  What a waste of opportunity.  So much could have been accomplished.  Oh well.  Now it is time for true leadership, not conquest.  I was happy to provide the detail:

Timing & Circumstances tell us the real story.

Volt-1 failed.  Hope had been that it would become a huge sales success, a technology to "leap frog" the leader, Prius.  Sales just barely scraped along (averaging 1,600 to 1,700 monthly).  So, effort to postpone that victory began. Volt-2 fizzled too.  Sales remained flat.  Reach never grew beyond early-adopters.  GM's own loyal customers simply weren't interested.

Hope to become a technology to replace traditional offerings faded quickly.  Spin was that GM remained a leader, despite heavy dependence on tax-credits and an abrupt change of strategy.  All that work to promote "EREV" as a solution was abandoned in favor of its own antithesis.  Bolt never achieved that needed growth either.

Since way back when the Two-Mode plug-in prototype was being promoted, we had expected GM to diversify their technology to offer it on a platform they could actually sell in high-volume.  That would be an Equinox or Trax using Voltec.  It never happened.  The government subsidy for that very purpose was squandered on conquest instead.

This is why the approach Toyota used to transform Prius to plug-in Prius is so important.  It's an affordable design that can be easily applied to its other hybrid offerings.  In fact, later this year, it will happen for Corolla hybrid.  So, it's reasonable to expect we'll get a RAV4 hybrid with a plug in the not-too-distant future... which would indeed draw interest from Toyota's own loyal customers.

Toyota is taking the time to do it right.


Victory.  Sadly, there are a few who keep pushing that narrative of early-adopter sales representing what mainstream consumers will buy.  That's because they only see the numbers.  The cost of dependency or value of loyalty simply doesn't come into play.  They don't consider that an factor to measure.  So, comments like this continue to persist: "Again, Toyota has fewer sales of a less-expensive car in a more crowded market.  I don't see how that's a victory."  It makes you wonder how long that will continue.  With the audience for Volt now gone, asking "Who?" isn't necessary.  The vehicle, nor its technology, is being produced anymore.  It died... exactly as predicted.  GM's obsession with conquest handed victory to whomever was willing to stay true to purpose.  Toyota set goals that didn't depend upon subsidies and didn't depend upon attracting outside buyers.  Starting with hybrid technology, there was a persistent effort to change their fleet.  What could be found on their dealers' lots would transform over time... which is now quite apparent with so many highly efficient, affordable choices available.  We'll see them become more and more electrified over time.  It will make the decision for carrying more of them and fewer of the traditional choices easy.  That's how it should be done.  That is what we are now witnessing.  Yet, some refuse to see it.  I'm happy to point that out:  There it is.  The same mistake so many others made... not recognizing who the market is.


Long Term.  Dealing with enthusiasts always meant a forced short-term perspective.  They simply didn't care what happened next.  It was all about establishing a foothold.  Cost of doing so wasn't a concern.  That was their downfall.  In addition to the obvious monetary sacrifices, they were giving up chances to do more along the way.  Most notably was their dismissal of the importance of having an ally.  Pride got in the way, causing the loss of purpose.  They really would lose sight of what was truly important.  That's why I pushed on a regular basis for goals.  From time to time, I'd get an answer to my question.  Sadly, the objective stated always varied.  It was a moving target without any clear progress forward.  This summed it up well: "The Volt was the best-selling EV in US history until it was cancelled.  On what basis do you claim that the Prime is a "long-term winner" with even worse sales than the "terrible" Volt?"  Looking backward without anything truly being achieved (measured by the lack of any actual change) makes it all too clear there wasn't any real understanding of what the technology would or should deliver.  What were the plans?  Not having a vision for the future is a very real problem.  In terms of business, that's a warning.  Something of substance must be accomplished.  All the efforts we saw ended up just being for show.  When the tax-credits hit phaseout, GM simply reverted back to old practices.  We have a nice selection of guzzling SUVs now and a mid-engine sports car on the way.  What kind of long-term plan is that?  I'm growing tired of the rhetoric, but fortunately don't have to deal with it too much longer.  This nonsense is coming to an end.  The voices of enthusiasts are fading and the queries of newbies being to sound like a chorus.  I certainly welcome that change.  But there's still some reflecting upon what happened to do:  Volt never attracted GM's own showroom shoppers, had a MSRP far too high to survive without subsides, and wasn't able to diversify prior to tax-credit phaseout.  Toyota is clearly making efforts to avoid each of those mistakes.


Clues.  Some people simply won't ever get it: "The nutty thing is that they could increase the size of the battery and range at -no cost- to the customer.  The federal tax rebate is partially based on the battery capacity..."  Of course, some of that could come from calling it a rebate.  That implies everyone will get one.  In reality, you must have enough tax-liability to collect the full tax-credit.  Some people won't.  Consequently, they'll only be able to claim a partial amount or none at all.  The passing along of such misleading information is a clue that purpose may not be understood.  I watch for clues like that... and pass along my observations:  GM proved that gaming the system for short-term gain was a terrible idea.  Volt ended up becoming a vehicle for conquest sales as a result, never actually changing the status quo.  Loyal GM customers kept purchasing the same traditional vehicles and Volt died without a successor when the tax-credits were used up.  Remember, intention of that subsidy is to help each automaker alter their own fleet, making it greener for their own customers.  That's why each automaker got their own allocation of 200,000 to use on their own timeline.  Adding capacity wouldn't do that. It would simply make Prius Prime too expensive after that 200,000 limit is reached.  With a starting price of $27,600 and that base model loaded with a surprising number of features, Toyota has a long-term winner in the works.  It's a design we are already seeing carry over to Corolla hybrid.  The same could easily happen with RAV4 hybrid too.


Press Release.  This is what we got from Toyota today:  "New upgrades for 2020 include:  New 5th seat for even more room.  Standard Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM and Amazon Alexa compatibility.  Two additional 2.1A USB ports for the rear passengers.  Black interior accents to replace previous white accents for a more premium feel.  A new sun visor extender.  A relocation of seat heater buttons for front seat passengers for easier usability.  New grade strategy that offers LE, XLE, and Limited Grades."  That collection of refinements is exactly what I had expected to hear about.  What I don't expect to be told is a change to the battery-pack.  There's no reason to draw any attention to cell/stack arrangement.  It should go without saying that continuous revision takes place.  That's a reasonable expectation.  On-Going improvement is how progress occurs, not profound overnight change.  Toyota tests the market with limited rollout.  Knowing the entire industry is shifting to SUV, where the preference for larger vehicles has already taken hold even though there is still some denial, Toyota took the risk to find out if a change to interior layout would be embraced.  It wasn't, so they adjusted accordingly.  It's ironic how antagonists claim Toyota is unwilling to try anything new, yet turn a blind-eye when evidence to the contrary is presented.  This is why change is perceived so differently for different people.  If they don't pay close enough attention, they'll never notice something like the 4-seat arrangement was tried.  For that matter, they'll never know that Toyota took the risk with a raised cargo floor either.  That's annoying, but quite understandable.


2020 Prime.  To my delight, the announcements of the mid-cycle upgrade for Prime came right on schedule.  Summation of what was to come and when was dead on.  That shows I am carefully & comprehensives observing the factors at play and have correcting recognized the patterns.  After 20 years, I should have a clear understanding of Toyota business practices and how they reflect upon the industry as a whole.  Influence of other automakers actions plays a big role is Toyota decisions.  Unlike what enthusiasts expect, Toyota does not operate in isolation.  That's why "EV Market" reference should not be taken seriously.  What happens on the larger scale is what matters, not the motivation of enthusiasts.  That's why I posted this in reaction to the press-release we got from Toyota just an hour ago:  Commuting in mine is entirely electric.  I enjoy the EV driving experience and see how Toyota's effort will appeal to the masses.  No tax-credits or gimmicks.  It's just the next-gen advancement of their hybrid system.  1,259 miles from my current tank, with a 1/3 of it still left.  That works out to 198 MPG.  In other words, the feelings expressed from a few uptight enthusiasts unwilling to accept Toyota's focus toward offering an affordable solution for their own loyal customers and showroom shoppers really don't have any impact.  Toyota is targeting the mainstream market.  Prius Prime clearly for that audience.  Think of how Corolla and RAV4 hybrids also offering a plug will change the landscape, as well as the posting here.


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