Sunday, January 15, 2017

Metamorphosis

I am always slightly amused with Prius conversions. Well, except for that silly "camper concept" dude a few years back. Anyway, Dazer, a company that creates custom conversions has taken two Priuses and remade them as serious offroad CUVs. Why? Well, that is a good question. Does it actually work? Another excellent query. No idea. The MPG has be to terrible, Prius wise, but it would be interesting to know what MPG the converted hybrids actually got.

BTW, you can but the RAV4 hybrid. It's very popular, now, from Toyota. Just in case you actually wanted something along this line.

Images from carscoops and Dazer's Instagram account...

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Does The Prius Prime Exist?

If you're a car buyer and you go to a dealer for, let's just say for the sake of argument, a Toyota dealer, and ask them if you can buy a Prius Prime and they tell you, no, it's not being sold in your state, what are your options? As the official representative of Toyota in their various territories dealers wield a lot of power. And that power can't be underestimated. Dealers are protected by law in nearly every state in this nation. Toyota can only do so much to influence, notice I said influence, not change, the actions of dealers.

So this story from our friend, John Voelcker, in a time of cheap gas prices and declining Prius resale values is especially, shall we say poignant, given the details. Apparently dealers are telling car buyers that visit the Prius Prime is not available to them because Toyota won't ship the Prime to their state. If you're a car buyer guess what that does to your chances of buying a Prime? And guess what that does to Toyota's sale of Prime?

Put simply, a spokesperson from Toyota very clearly states that the Prime, while shipping in priority to CARB states, is available to all Toyota dealers.

Where the miscommunication came in isn't clear. Dealers are notoriously poor listeners and often, did I say often? I meant *always* driven by their own, short term priorities. Whatever makes the month is what dealers want and a car that might be hard to get make the Prime much less optimum for most dealers. Or maybe they just don't understand. After visiting dozens of Toyota dealers over the years in various states I have very little faith in most of them. Some, a handful nationwide, are amazing dealers and representatives for Toyota. Most are lucky their franchises are protected by law (the author's opinion).

So, to be clear, if you want to buy a Prime, Toyota claims they are shipping to all fifty states. Maybe go test your local dealer and tell us how it went. I'll be reporting back on my experience here in Florida shortly.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Another MPG Challenge

What is the TRI (Toyota Research Institute) anyway?
Toyota Research Institute is a wholly owned subsidiary of Toyota Motor North America under the direction of Dr. Gill Pratt. The company, established in 2015, aims to strengthen Toyota's research structure and has four initial mandates: 1) enhance the safety of automobiles, 2) increase access to cars to those who otherwise cannot drive, 3) translate Toyota's expertise in creating products for outdoor mobility into products for indoor mobility, and 4) accelerate scientific discovery by applying techniques from artificial intelligence and machine learning. TRI plans to employ approximately 250 employees and is based in the United States, with offices in Stanford Research Park in Palo Alto, CA (TRI-PAL), in Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts (TRI-CAM), and in Ann Arbor, Michigan, near the University of Michigan campus (TRI-ANN). For more information about TRI, please visit www.tri.global.
Ok. And what is the Prius Challenge?
The Prius Challenge is an exclusive, team-focused, data and driving competition with the ultimate objective of maximizing performance efficiency. Teams will use real-time vehicle data to create robust strategies via a proprietary coaching app developed specifically for this event. 

Attendees will interact with industry leaders in the fields of mobility, robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
So, is it unfair for me to call this an "MPG Challenge", sort of. It's not entirely unfair. Aside from an event description that seems to staggered out of a Faraday Future press release it's hard to tell exactly what's going on here. There's a driving component and some kind of automation component apparently to help the driver drive more efficiently. Which, when you think about it, is cool. It's basically crowd sourcing tech development in the form of a contest. On second thought, I'm not entirely cool it's cool. Maybe it's a cheap way to get some new ideas?

I have contacted TRI and asked to be involved in covering the event. I hope to do so and if so, you'll hear all about here and on What Drives Us.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Ssssshhhhhh...

The last few weeks have been one of the quietest times in Prius news I can recall in any of the more than ten years I've been following it closely and posting on it. I guess with Prime about to drop and the 4G securely in place, there isn't much to talk about.

If anything happens, it will be posted here.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The First Salvo

So Toyota has fired off the salvo of Prius Prime Commercials...

Each one is basically a remix, with some slight variations. I think it's an engaging commercial. It makes some good points but I suspect, in trying to overcome what is clearly an issue, people not understanding what a plug-in is or does, it misses the point. And this is the point that Toyota has been forced to ignore because of their corporate level disdain for EVs. How much fun an EV is to drive. Once again, while this will appeal to some people, I think it misses the fun factor. I think it ignores the "EV grin" at its own peril. I noticed one thing, the inclusion of some road noise in the audio track to demonstrate how quiet an EV is. A very subtle and interesting development. And a clever.

All in all, I'll be interested to see if Toyota gives these ads the same run they gave their car chase series. The Prime could very well be the next generation of Prius. Maybe it's time to start building that foundation.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Confession

The truth is, I cannot bring myself to give a shit about the Prius G. It's a stunt, like most things for SEMA, a one time gag that was created for purposes of getting posts like this one, free publicity.

Links to stories about Prius G.

Show me something I can buy, I'm interested. Show me a cool TRD Prius that will actually end up on dealer lots, I'm there. Show me a show car just designed to stir up publicity, I fall asleep.


And yes, I'm grumpy and old and no fun.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Elephants And Rooms

Interesting article at Forbes...

Toyota Executive Vice President, Didier Leroy, spoke to a small group of reporters in Japan and said some interesting things.

First, who the hell is Didier Leroy?
Didier Leroy, a former Carlos Ghosn disciple and longtime leader of Toyota’s European business, has been made Toyota’s first non-Japanese EVP, member of a four-man group that reports directly to Toyota’s CEO Akio Toyoda and is tasked to think and act as if they run the whole company. As president of Toyota’s Business Unit No. 1, the Frenchman is responsible for “around 65% of Toyota’s sales,” we heard yesterday. He also is Chief Competitive Officer, a role he described like this:
“Grasp faster and better than any competitor the needs of the customer in all the different markets. Reduce the lead time to develop new products to be faster on the market.”
Well that's all nice as far as it goes but the real trick is getting from point A to point B, not just pointing out that the trip is necessary.

As far as Leroy is concerned, this is “no longer just a competition with GM, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, or Honda.” He clearly views Google and Apple as competitors, despite, or maybe because of the fact that both have reportedly ditched carmaking plans to focus on the brains of future cars while leaving the tough part of making the hardware to Toyota, VW, et al.  Said Leroy:
“If you consider the next 20 years, a big part of the growth in the automotive industry will not come from more vehicle sales. It will come from services.”
With that, data will turn into one of a car company’s core assets. Of course, Google and Apple covet these data, and access to the roughly one billion people held captive in their cars each day. Of course, most automakers don’t want to end up sucked dry like newspaper and magazine publishers. Automakers have the scale and financial wherewithal to fund their own software development, and they do. 

And that's the problem, as I see it. Carmakers aren't newspaper publishers and what they do isn't actually being replaced by large tech companies who have already discovered that what car companies is fiendishly difficult and expensive. I'm not saying car companies don't have to watch their ass but this whole Google and Apple as some kind of scary boogieman is silly. If Apple really wanted a car company, they could just buy one. So let's be clear here, in my opinion, a lot of this scaremongering from the car companies is cover to avoid working with tech companies who, by nature of who they are, are much better at doing what most car companies fail miserably at.

Earlier in the week, down the road from Toyota in Yokohama, Ogi Redzic, head of Connected Vehicles and Mobility Services at the Renault-Nissan Alliance, told reporters assembled at the Nissan HQ that he is fielding a small army of coders to develop connectivity technologies in-house. Soon he will have 1,000 experts in software, cloud engineering, data analytics, machine learning and systems architecture working for him and the Alliance. They develop a common hardware/software platform, based on Linux. The cloud services are provided by Microsoft via Azure. There was no Google or Apple in Redzic’s presentation.

I'm sure Google and Apple are quaking in their boots.

My main point is simple, the main reason for car companies keeping software in house is obvious, they refuse to give up what might be a source of revenue. That's fine from a revenue perspective but continually, the one thing consumers despise about their vehicles is the hinky way most of the software works, or, more to the point, doesn't work. This is what happens when you insist on reinventing the wheel with, arguably, people who are already on the second team, the stronger developers are already employed by, well, Google and Apple, to name just two companies.