Prius Personal Log  #964

August 30, 2019  -  September 2, 2019

Last Updated:  Sun. 10/06/2019

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9-02-2019 Properly Selling It.  That infotainment upgrade is stirring a new category of discussion.  Most people have no idea how to market something.  Enthusiasts of the past I battled with for over a decade learned that process the hard way, in a very painful manner.  It's not like I did try countless times to share insight.  They just plain didn't want to listen.  So when I see that same behavior playing out again, I have to wonder what the outcome will be this time.  Today, it was: "Android auto is amazing.  I use it on my phone which is mounted next to the useless 11-inch screen..."  It went on from there, but lacked substance.  I provided this in response:

You see what makes Android-Auto better, but misrepresent the built-in screen to promote it.  How is that actually constructive?  The preferred means of conveying that better message is to point out why it was worth waiting for. What improvements does the interface switch from phone-centric to car-centric bring to make it a compelling choice to say goodbye to the existing interface?  This is very important when it comes to upgrades, since some existing features people like will change.  You want to make the tradeoff so appealing, the user welcomes it.

Fundamental shortcomings in the way people promote change is a very real problem faced in the automotive market.  Look at how disastrous Volt was.  The way GM handled that technology upgrade basically doomed it from the start.  They had no clue how to draw interest.  That "230 MPG" campaign collapsed almost immediately.  The "40-mile range" campaign fell apart when real-world data was finally revealed.  The "1000-mile tank" campaign lacked any type of cohesive message.  And of course, the campaign to claim superiority to Prius depended upon outdated information.

See what was in common with each of those failed campaigns?  None of them stated provided a clear ultimate goal.  What exactly is the overlying purpose of that technology?  Without understanding that big-picture intent, it just becomes a boondoggle to the consumer.  Don't forget how powerful that "good enough" attitude can work against you.  Why would they bother when it appears the existing system is working just fine?


Horribly Inaccurate.  Makes you wonder what the intent was upon reading an article so inaccurate.  Was the misleading content intentional or did the writer research so poorly he was basically clueless?  This was the title that caught my attention: "Is the plug-in hybrid beginning a long goodbye?"  It posted July counts and arbitrarily compared them to 6 months ago.  That's a bizarre metric.  Seasonal cycles distort number naturally anyway.  That's why everyone else uses annual comparisons.  Anyway, this is what made me sigh: "The plug-in hybrid came to Americans' attention in 2008 with the introduction of the Chevrolet Volt.  Unlike prior hybrids like the Toyota Prius, which relied on a gas engine with a battery backup, the Volt reversed the formula and depended first on an electric motor that refilled by plugging in.  That battery could power a trip of about 25 miles, after which a supporting gas engine would kick in."  It was a long-winded claim with false information.  Ugh.  The year was 2007 and the promoted distance expectation was 40 miles.  It was the following sentence that clarified the writer's purpose: "Fast-forward to this year, with all-electric models like the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt gaining traction, and the outlook for plug-in hybrids is hazy."  That's not a fast-forward.  If it had been, mention of the much anticipated mid-cycle update of Prius Prime would have been included.  Also, Bolt sales have been terrible, dropping not gaining.  Nothing about Leaf sales struggle is a dead giveaway either.  This was clearly a propaganda article.  Cherry-Picking like that makes it un-debateable.  The clincher, though, was the close of the article: "In July, Tesla Inc. sold more than 13,000 Model 3s, more than four times as many as the next most popular electric car, the plug-in hybrid Prius Prime."  Lack of regular 2019 inventory to make way for the updated 2020 model is good reason for sales to be lower.  Though, some select dealers took advantage of the clearance opportunity, so there was actually a very short-term spike.  It all comes down to sustainability in the end anyway.  Volt was doomed due to it limited reach.  There were only so many early-adopters interested in a conquest purchase.  Tesla had a much larger audience, but there is uncertainty of what level sales will settle at.  A single offering isn't enough to sustain the business as a competitive automaker either.  Tesla could end up relegated to being a specialty vehicle without a diverse product-line.  Toyota, on the other hand, is quite different.  We already see Prius & Corolla as plug-in hybrids and expect RAV4 to eventually become one as well.  Needless to say, I was quite annoyed with the propaganda stir.  It's some of the same old nonsense emerging, yet again.


Understanding Software.  More and more, it appears most people complaining about the lack of Android-Auto from Toyota didn't include any real thought about what that actually would require.  That's based on the assumption I keep encountering with regard to navigation.  People expect that to be the heart of the infotainment system... hence the seamless integration everyone desires.  Doing that would mean customization to get the HUD (Heads Up Display) to present driving instruction.  Those distance & arrow illustrations would be lost without some extra programming to work with the projection hardware.  This is why first waiting for the software switch from phone-centric to car-centric was so important.  Work could not even begin until that new platform was delivered.  It simply made no sense trying to adapt deprecated coding.  I kept my response less technical though, attempting to provide a simple analogy to help with the understanding of the software involved:  Let's not forget how new large data plans are to most people.  Being restricted to just a small amount or not even having data, was the norm prior to the last few years.  In terms of vehicle ownership, that's extremely recent.  So, there wasn't really as big of a market as those sounding off about falling behind actually made it out to be.  People simply weren't in the mindset of bridging to their phone yet, which meant the benefits of doing so were still an unknown to them.  Experience with Bluetooth should make that clear.  Notice how many here complain about Toyota's software only to find out their phone is extremely old?  Knowing that, it makes no sense rolling out any faster.  You end up paying for it from having to deal with fallout from that older tech.  My own experience is finding people at home having issues because they are still using a very old router.  So even though their modem is providing great speed, the signal over Wi-Fi is severely impaired, resulting in a terrible user experience.  As a software engineer for over 25 years, I'm well aware of how painfully long adoption of applications truly takes.  You may get the user to upgrade, but that in no way means they will actually use the new features you provided.  In fact, more often than not, they won't.  Toyota is obviously also aware of that problem.  Most customers embrace change very, very, very slowly.


Android-Auto.  The process is beginning.  2020 Camry will get it, but detail hasn't been provided yet.  There was only a vague mention, enough to stir discussion.  I suspect that is in preparation for the upcoming Auto Show circuit.  Those types of "it's coming" announcements are common practice to raise awareness that preparation is underway for reveals.  I get frustrated at times with those online who pride themselves for being well informed, but don't actually bother to demonstrate critical thinking.  They fall into the trap of assumptions.  Ugh.  Usually, it's the quest for detail that drives participation online.  But sadly, fallout from propaganda of the past... like Volt hype... lowered the bar so much, there isn't much call for merit anymore.  Vague is accepted as enough.  That's why I get attacked when pointing out assumptions.  People don't like when you draw attention to the fact that they made have made a mistake.  In this case, it's an oversight related to what is actually included in the infotainment suite.  The assumption continues to be that navigation will be the centerpiece of the system.  No where has that ever actually been stated.  That's a problem.  I pointed out that missing detail asking how the HUD would be integrated:  Navigation instruction not provided via the heads-up-display would then appear to be a rather major oversight.  Those not understanding why Toyota didn't switch years ago now have an additional complication to consider.  Loss of a feature, especially one that useful, isn't a good thing.  We all know Toyota waits to do it right, rather than rushing to market like some other automakers.  It's like any other type of upgrade.  There are tradeoffs.  Short-term gain can result in a long-term setback or an additional cost later.


Unrealistic Expectations, hype.  You want a great example of it?  Go no further than GM's homepage.  Oh my!  It's all loaded with hype.  There are several promotions for AV (Autonomous Vehicle) and EV (Electric Vehicle) technologies, making it appear as though that's the dominant product for the automaker.  When you try to get actual vehicle information by clicking on the "Brand" link, a photo of Bolt covers your entire computer screen.  (On a phone, you have to scroll down to see the rest of the image.)  Then when you finally click on "Chevy", you see nothing but guzzlers... Silverado... Corvette... Blazer... without any trace of efficiency offerings.  In other words, if you go directly to the Chevrolet homepage instead of GM, there's no trace of Bolt.  I found that discovery fascinating.  I tried the same for Hyundai.  What a profoundly different experience.  It was a variety on the homepage, a wide selection displayed up front.  I tried the same and got the similar results with Honda, Toyota, Ford, VW, BMW, Nissan, and Chrysler.  The hype we get from GM is very much a standout.  That's why when I recognize the pattern repeating, I point out those red-flags right away.  Enthusiasts of GM have been the enablers, allowing ambiguous releases to fuel hype, resulting in unrealistic expectations being set.  This is why I pushed so hard for goals over the years.  Enthusiasts would declare victory, sighting success on measures without any accountability.  They simply claim that measure achieved had been goal all along.  When it reality, it fell well short of what had been hoped for.  That formula for disenchantment is what doomed Volt from the beginning.  That's why there is concern now about the same emerging for EV merit.  Rather than consider what mainstream buyers will actually buy, they fixate on values are somewhat arbitrary.  Remember the "40 mile" expectation?


Unrealistic Expectations, familiar.  My response to the nonsense (lack of critical thinking) was as follows:  That sounds painfully familiar.  Remember 12.5 years ago?  There were similar categories of criteria, setting expectations for a paradigm shift.  If this could happen, this would result.  Unfortunately, that placed the bar too high.  There was no way it could realistically happen.  And as we all witnessed, GM fell well short of that criteria.  Seriously, how is the situation with VW any different?  A small, expensive car doesn't stand a chance in this market, the land of giant guzzlers.  Success in Europe means what for the VW business here in the United States.  For that matter, how will success be measured?  There's a profound difference between appealing to enthusiasts and actually changing what loyal customers purchase.  Seeing a real effort being made with ID now is what was said about Volt prior to rollout.  It was to be the start of real change; instead, it became a popular niche among early-adopters.  The end result was production ceasing and no change at all to the status quo.  Keep in mind how much effort there will be to fight plug-in progress.  The technology achieving certain specifications is far from enough to get people to switch their purchase preference.


Unrealistic Expectations, criteria.  Here we go again: "If they can bring EVs with 200+ miles range, 125KW, and prices in the low $30+K range..."  I know this is going to anger some Volt owner.  It's inevitable.  Goal setting was a fundamental problem for them.  They'd measure success with arbitrary values.  What are they basing those requirements on?  300 miles has been the distance to match for over 2 decades... since that was the basic minimum back in the 90's.  I remember being satisfied with 300 back than and blown away when hitting 500 with my first Prius.  Now, automakers include a massive tank to deliver similar range.  (18 gallons at 30 MPG is 540 miles.)  As for the charging speed, most consumers have no idea what that number means.  Heck, even many EV owners really don't know what that equates to in terms of time needed for a full charge... or even partial.  Price?  Really?  How are you going to convince someone looking for a sticker-price in the 20's that spending so much more up front is really worth it?  That's incredibly difficult if the person simply scans the showroom floor to reveal there's only 1 plug-in choice offered.  That's not a good endorsement.  Think about what RAV4 hybrid is selling so well now.  Everyone knows about Prius, but many would prefer the technology in a different body style... and such a popular SUV presents a golden opportunity.  That's the ideal for attracting those who would not have otherwise been interested.  Paying a little more up front delivers effortless efficiency gain, without requiring the exchange of any knowledge.  The consumer already knows a plug isn't required.  That's why adding a plug to Prius first sets the stage so well for a plug-in hybrid model of RAV4 later.  It's the same pre-education effort... the very thing that was recommended to GM with Volt.  Just think about how popular a plug-in hybrid Trax could have been .  Oh well.  That is what happens when you set unrealistic expectations.


1,000 Posts.  End of tomorrow will mark 3 weeks since he hit the 80,000 post count.  This morning, it was already up to 80,966 total posts.  That's an average of submitting 48 responses per day.  He's posting so frequently, content is beyond lacking.  It's just mindless clicks at this point.  No one else comes even remotely close.  I get really annoyed when quantity is valued over quality, especially at such an extreme.  More is not better.  All that activity on his part takes away opportunity for others.  It's one of those lessons which should have been learned in kindergarten.  You know, sharing.  Ugh.  I'm glad others notice how much he was altering the dynamic of participation.  (That's a polite way of stating he has become a troll.)  Overwhelming a forum with thoughtless banter brings down its value.  Those looking for a venue to actually gain from the sharing of observations & experiences have a harder time finding it when so many posts contribute nothing to the thread.  I know, my complaints do little.  He clearly has no intention on posting with any type of critical thinking.  However, there is an ignore feature.  So those that do find so many unconstructive posts a pain to deal with can simply make them invisible.


Ford Explorer Hybrid.  The 2020 model will introduce hybrid tech to a platform which should have got it well over a decade ago, following Escape hybrid.  After all, Highlander had a hybrid model, even as the platform continued to grow in size.  In fact, next-gen about to rollout in February.  Efficiency bump is anticipated to be in the mid-30's too.  That makes today's reveal from Ford a bit of a head scratcher.  25 MPG is the combined rating for the AWD model.  How is that competitive with anything?  It's somewhat bizarre how the automaker thinks premium for a hybrid system is worth that.  Of course, this is for the domestic market here in the United States.  Over in Europe, a plug-in hybrid model is on the way.  With a 99 horsepower electric motor, it won't be as EV centric as Prius Prime with a 91 horsepower, since Explorer is so much larger of a vehicle.  Oh well, at least it's something.


True Growth.  How many times you seen a variation of this: "ICE sales are in the early stages of collapse, a situation that will not be helped by any upcoming recession.  EV sales are booming with a growth rate..."  The understanding of statistics has been a fundamental problem with hybrids right from the very start.  So, it goes without saying plug-in vehicles will face the same challenge... if not more so.  Still to this day, 20 years later, many people have no idea the MPG measurement is fundamentally flawed.  That's why most of the rest of the world doesn't use it to measure efficiency.  In fact, that's why the "kWh/100mi" rating for electric-only operation was introduced here... to overcome that flaw.  Sadly, many EV owners don't understand it still.  Anywho, those are common examples of how numbers can be misinterpreted.  Data alone isn't enough, as I attempted to point out:  Don't allow percentages or subsidies distort expectations.  It's more informative to look at actual quantities instead, especially those post tax-credits.  The initial boom is low-hanging fruit, catering to enthusiasts.  Shakeup of some sort as that stage comes to a close was anticipated.  Tesla will likely plateau.  GM and Nissan are already there with their EVs.  GM's entire plug-in hybrid appears to be dead in all but the market for China.  And we are in a holding pattern for VW.  As for legacy automakers seeing a threat from EV, that doesn't make any sense.  It's the need to end dependency on oil and the need to reduce environmental impact, not battery operation.  In fact, the reverse is likely.  Growth opportunity in the plug-in market will be their path to survival.  How some legacy automakers travel that path will be interesting.  Each will end up taking a different route.  There's a massive potential for reaching deep into the mainstream to come from Toyota.  Plug-In hybrid models of Corolla and RAV4 present strong potential, as Prius Prime is about to soon demonstrate with its mid-cycle update rolling out right now.  It basically comes down dealer appeal.  If you can draw showroom shoppers with very little effort, without sacrificing profit, you've got a winner.


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