Personal Log #971
October 10, 2019 - October 18, 2019
Last Updated: Mon. 2/10/2020
page #970 page #972 BOOK INDEX
Void. There's nothing anymore. It's a strange sort of silence. Without any news or rumor or even hype, posting has dropped off dramatically. Loss of another 25% of tax-credit money for the final two quarters has killed what they had always leveraged as an expectation. It was foolish to expect subsidies to last, but that was the gamble they took. No miracle to save their flawed plan happened. I watched so many enthusiasts jump ship. Then when it finally sank, the few remaining kept the dream alive rather than face reality. At some point, no one will even know what I'm posting about anymore. There will be a discussion thread highlighting some recent plug-in news and I'll make reference back to that history... you know, stuff beyond the void, documented here so there's a record of just how stubborn & close-minded some people can be. They'll obsess with deliverable to a point where they become blinded to the original goal, unable to remember what they originally set out to do. That void can be helpful. You don't have some of the past to compete with anymore. Failed ideas are much easier to overcome the next time around when you have experience to better identify and better suggest what happens next.
Frustrating. It is fascinating to watch a former foe, one who fought so hard to get me banned, now totally at the mercy of fate. His protective venue is gone. That daily blog for Volt died a slow death, where one by one the enthusiasts became disenchanted and left. 4 months ago, posting was shut off. There has been nothing since. Today, he tried to join a big EV blog discussion by venting frustration about GM having basically abandoned the EV market here. The mid-cycle updates for Bolt did not impress. I ceased the chance to provide some exposition, along with some comment: Frustrated. Really? All those years of not sharing the "too little, too slowly" concern expressed about tax-credits being wasted on conquest sales weren't frustrating? Rather than spreading Volt tech to a popular vehicle, like one of the SUVs, it was shoot the messenger who pointed out the opportunity being missed. GM was well aware that they catering to a niche. Volt clearly wouldn't ever appeal to mainstream consumers. Enthusiasts refused to acknowledge that painful reality though. Instead, they endorsed that race in the wrong direction, hoping for some type of miraculous market change. It was a monumental mistake. The lesson learned is know your audience. Understanding priorities of ordinary shoppers by clearly stating goals directly targeting them is how to avoid repeating the same disastrous outcome. What does a person walking the showroom floor of a GM dealer truly consider important in the purchase decision?
At Home Upgrades. Seeing the bigger picture often requires a nudge, especially with a comment like this: "Sure beats buying an L2 charger and having an electrician come out to wire a higher voltage line to my garage." I suspected the poster hadn't actually given it much thought. Providing detail is what I do. So, I did: L2 charger installs are currently the focus of electricity providers, with many scrambling to offer rebate programs. That charging infrastructure you establish in your house will become their profit focus in years to come. Having that means of selling you more electricity is a major win for them, hence finding a means of providing a subsidy for you. In our case, we got $500 for each line (2 Primes = $1,000). That's a big deal for any household planning to purchase more than just a single plug-in vehicle. Think about it. Most people only have capacity for just one 12-Amp draw overnight. This is why all the current sales during the tax-credit stage is really just low-hanging fruit. Those early-adopters look at the situation very differently from how mainstream consumers will consider plugging in. It's easy to get someone really excited about the technology to make due with L1 charging just one vehicle. But to truly change the status quo, it's getting the reluctant & second vehicles to embrace the idea.
Electric Pickup. UAW (United Automobile Workers)
negotiations are not going well. Lack of agreement with GM management
for nearly a month has avoided getting contentious, but that is expected to
change. Something must happen. No one can afford work to be
halted for so long. Word has emerged that a settling point could be
for an upcoming electric pickup to be build in a Detroit assembly plant
planned to be sold. This was a comment made in an article on the big
EV forum about the situation: "It's kind of a pity that GM wasn't able
to make a more smooth transition from the Volt (retired in February) to a
new plug-in electric model." I wasn't about to let that
opportunity for contributing my own insight:
Recall the facts. Way back in early 2009, the automotive task-force assigned to oversee GM's bankruptcy recovery efforts raised a "too little, too slowly" concern about Volt. They wanted GM to actually do something with the technology. Even back then, there was the impression Volt would become a showcase vehicle without any type of planned succession. And sure enough, that stumble to go nowhere is exactly how the situation played out. GM flaunted their conquest sales without ever making an effort to spread that "EREV" technology to any vehicle in their fleet. When Volt died, so did any chance of a plug-in hybrid becoming mainstream for GM.
Looking forward, how should an "electric pickup" be approached? That very same concern applies. Just building a small number of them for early-adopters to snatch up really doesn't accomplish anything. What type of pickup? Will it be a basic model which people rarely actually use the truck as a truck or will focus be on true heavy-duty abilities? Think about the audience differences. How many will be produced? There's the issue of profitability too. When should we expect high-volume production?
It's very easy to see GM messing up yet again. After all, they already went through this with hybrids. Remember what Two-Mode was supposedly designed for? GM never gave us any clear direction. Intent remained a mystery even after rollout began. That lack of any real plan carried over to Volt, hence the origin of that concern. Don't forget about the "over promise, under deliver" problem either. In other words, watch for the vague & ambiguous announcements. They were first raise red flags about something coming up short. Watch for the lack of accountability too. No concise goals is a dead giveaway.
In short, false hope is very easy to build. Don't give pity for what has been a series of pitiful outcomes. Look forward and insist upon detail.
Juggernaut. I'm on the offensive now. So this was thoroughly enjoyable to post: RAV4 hybrid is Toyota's juggernaut. Throughout the hype years of Volt, focus by enthusiasts was always directed to Prius. No matter how much I pushed to draw attention to how much more powerful of a hybrid system Camry had and the enormous potential RAV4 had, there was this underlying denial. When the need for diversification of Voltec was brought up, the response was to attack the messenger. Allowing the message of technology spreading meant acknowledgement of GM's failure to actually do anything to change their status quo. Their dealers wanted no part of anything requiring a move away from profitable guzzlers. Now, here comes that spread of technology from Prius to RAV4... from a hatchback to an AWD crossover. If anyone believes moving forward from a 28 MPG model (AWD LE) to a 40 MPG model (AWD LE Hybrid) for just $850 isn't an easy decision, they've lost their mind. This sets the stage for a massive migration away from traditional offerings. Why wouldn't you get the hybrid model? At that point, stirring curiosity about the model with a plug becomes a simple matter for salespeople to promote. You just plug it into the existing outlet in your garage overnight for a full recharge. In other words, for those of you who attempted to undermine Toyota by using "behind" or "laggard" labels, it's time to face reality. The quiet giant is about to awake.
Serious. Much was said about
the upcoming RAV4 plug-in hybrid. Ultimately though, there's always
going to be a purist unhappy with anything but an absolute: "Toyota does have a lot more credits left....but they
are now selling multiple PHEVs that will use them up. I guess they just
don't think BEVs will be a serious thing." Knowing this was just
another troublemaker, the response was easy to provid:
Taking BEVs serious means working hard to change what their dealers offer. Pushing a variety of PHEV choices is a clear effort to move the entire fleet forward, supporting a very real impact for sales to their own loyal customers. Working bottom-up is an extremely effective means rapidly phasing out traditional vehicles. You appeal to those who are most resistant to change.
Watching GM pander to enthusiasts, wasting limited tax-credits in the process, achieved nothing in the end. A simple verify of that is to look at any GM dealer's lot. How many non-traditional vehicles are physically available on site for immediate purchase? They are all still guzzlers. Volt is dead. Bolt sales are lower Volt were. It was an incredible opportunity squandered. To suggest Toyota do the same is both irresponsible & irrational.
Know your audience. In this case, they are those looking to replace their old Toyota vehicle with a new Toyota vehicle. Attracting interest with the very popular RAV4 hybrid starting at $28,100 is proving quite effective. Drawing attention to a model offering a plug doesn't require much at that point. In fact, focus won't even be on limited range. It will be a question of how fast can it be recharged. Potential buyers will envision their daily commute in EV and random errand running in EV.
In other words, to insinuate Toyota isn't using tax-credits effectively is to turn a blind-eye to what is really needed for a paradigm shift to plugging in. Breaking the status quo takes far more than just appealing to early-adopters.
Failed. Quite upset about me being so blunt about Volt's failure to advance beyond just a niche, I got this: "The Volt has sold as many as the Prius plug-in and Prius Prime. So I guess the Prius plug-ins failed too." Unable to deny anymore, acknowledgement with an inclusion is the next move from a disenchanted enthusiast. Unwilling to allow history to repeat again or to allow purpose to be forgotten, I'll keep posting reminders of what actually happened. It's interesting to see how intent was disingenious even way back then. So to see the outcome so accurately reflect those observations as that past was playing out, I'm intrigued to see what happens this time. This is how I put it: Purpose of the tax-credits was to establish a technology for the fleet prior to phaseout. That meant spreading it beyond the introductory vehicle to something mainstream. For GM, what was rolled out in Volt should have offered in a high-volume profitable vehicle, like Equinox. That didn't happen. Too late. Volt failed. For Toyota, there are nearly 90,000 tax-credits still available and the tech in Prius Prime will be rolled out to RAV4 prior to triggering phaseout. Purpose fulfilled.
Progress. Having several years of agile experience and actual certification in the process, it's fascinating to see those without the background stumble to understand why such a different approach is being taken. They wonder how it could possible be considered an effective means of achieving progress. I take delight from having real-world experience from my career. The fact that is just happens to have such an overlook with my pursuit for greener tech is an amazing coincidence. Ironically, even the word "synergy" comes into play for both work & personal interests. Anywho, I encountered someone today who shared a background with continuous improvement also wise to the ways of agile. I posted: The point of a next-gen upgrade is to deliver something that achieves greater market penetration. And since Toyota quite literally changed the world with Kanban by providing an effective means of delivering continuous improvement, they have become the worldwide model of progress. Of course, that reality rubs some here the wrong way. Making adjustments along the way to adapt to an ever-changing market breaks their mantra. It's what happens when you set goals based on specifications rather than stating a business objective. The feedback from enthusiasts doesn't provide much with regard to mainstream consumer purchase priorities anyway. Just look for the absence of critical thinking by asking big-picture questions. For example, How will a plug-in hybrid RAV4 impact Toyota dealers?
Too Early. There are a few tending to damage control
still: "Too early to say the Volt failed... If you take the long
view on Toyota plug ins it is too early to judge either. This article
is not about the Volt though." I find efforts like that telling.
How can it be too early for a vehicle who's production has been cancelled
without a successor to follow? What is there to hold onto at this
point? I was happy to reply to that:
This article is about diversifying PHEV tech, exactly what Volt failed to do. After countless posts about how GM should have spread Voltec to a SUV platform, the reality that Toyota is well into their plans on doing that is vindication from all those "behind" and "laggard" claims. That rhetoric was really nothing but damage-control. Everyone knew the tax-credits were being exploit for conquest. So, none of the "too early" nonsense is going to take hold. It is meritless, just like those claims that Volt marketing was the problem. Trading range & power was a terrible decision, because it targeting the wrong audience.
Enthusiasts aren't what changes the status quo. It's the showroom shoppers, those loyal customers looking to replace their old Toyota with a new Toyota. GM didn't want to appeal to their SUV buyers with a plug, because that would have collapsed their dependency on high-profit guzzlers. It would have been an incredible example of the Osborne Effect. Toyota has avoided that by delivering a next-gen RAV4 hybrid and a mid-cycle updated plug-in Prius to satisfy the immediate demand... which it turn supports the transition away from traditional vehicles. It's a clever way of pulling the entire fleet forward. Even Corolla gets the hybrid option and already has a PHEV model elsewhere.
btw, the next-gen Highlander hybrid is about to make its debut. And it too will be produced locally, here in the United States... which brings us back to Volt yet again. It was the successor to Two-Mode, the GM hybrid tech for SUVs. Remember the PHEV model of Saturn Vue?
Too Late. Gotta like this attempt to outright dismiss: "Nah, too little too late. By 2021 there will be so many BEVs available that PHEVs just won't be in demand that much." It was very easy to reply to that: Demand for an affordable large AWD plug-in won't be that much for a vehicle offering EV commutes and high MPG long-distance travel? You've lost your mind if you think there's an audience buying that load of garbage. Toyota is squarely targeting mainstream consumers with such an offering. Consider price. There are currently 4 models of hybrid RAV4 available, ranging from $28,100 to $36,630. Prius Prime starts at $27,750, which is within the range for regular Prius at $24,200 to $29,250. That sets an expectation of PHEV model of RAV4 to be a very nice balance of price & ability, quite realistic for some showroom shoppers. As much as we would like BEV to be cheap & abundant soon, that just plain is not going to happen. While we wait, we'll get a few really sweet but expensive choices that favor those willing look beyond mass-appeal challenges. Learn some patience and help the rest of us encourage PHEV sales to stimulate household upgrades. What do you think the percentage of PHEV buyers that start with 120-volt charging will end up installing 240-volt charging within just a few years of ownership? Of course, now that tax-credits are coming to an end, the "too late" is basically meaningless anyway.