Posted on February 5th, 2010 No comments
There was time when America was informed by newspapers. Don’t get me wrong, half-assed journalism has always been with us. There never was a “golden age” where all journalists (in any medium) were daring and sought naught but the truth. But I would contend there is a reason that newspapers have been declining in readers steadily for the last twenty-five years.
Kiah Haslett of the Chicago Tribune contacted me via email yesterday about the Toyota recall. I called her back while on my way to a job (I’m a working photographer, but no, not for a newspaper, I do commercial work). I spent probably twenty minutes chatting with her in detail about the 2010 Prius and carefully explaining the “brake problem”. I thought we were really communicating. Maybe we were. But if you read this story, it’s difficult to to tell.
The lead off graph is about how a man is “distraught” and cannot relax since the recall. Lucky man if the worst thing in his world is a car recall in a year when the economy is cratering, hundreds of thousands die in natural disasters and we’re still involved in two wars which kill Americans nearly every day.
Which isn’t to say that the gentleman Haslett profiles in the beginning of her article is foolish for being concerned about his daughter. That’s natural. It’s the way he characterizes and what he thinks the solution is that is downright stupid.
Lucy Liu says she’s getting rid of her Solara and doesn’t want another Toyota. So she’s buying a Lexus. All that beauty apparently surrounds less than a probing intellect. That’s sad.
We get a one liner from another Toyota owner and then, me.
The problem with doing a “phoner” is that I didn’t record my end so I can’t compare how she quoted me to what I actually said. Suffice to say, I thought I spent more than enough time trying to explain the situation and the jumbled mess there attributed to me makes it seem as though I’m comfortable with brakes that don’t work so much as entertain.
The finale of Haslett’s article is a redux of the distraught man from the top. He says complained a problem to the dealer but the dealer said it was ok. Well, what was the problem she complained about? Is it too much to ask a reporter to report critical details? Is he alleging the dealer ignored an out of control acceleration issue? or something else? Readers of the Tribune won’t find out.
The article ends with this plaintive but utterly pointless quote,
“When I signed for the car, I didn’t sign for this,” he said.
Does anyone ever buy a car thinking it won’t be perfect and trouble-free forever? However unrealistic that is, I get it, but so what? It’s silly to think that way. There’s a reason why car companies offer warranties and reason why car buyers love them. Because we live in an imperfect world. But that’s trivializing the issue and I’m here to do that. I am here to point out how shallow that ending sentence was.
Look, I’m not minimizing how much it sucks to have a car recalled especially for something potentially serious. That said, out of millions of Toyota out there, we’re talking about, quite literally, a handful of complaints. To my knowledge, no accidents or injuries have resulted. Again, that’s not to minimize that a recall sucks but let’s be adults here. We live in a world of mass produced goods. Sometimes, with some of the things we buy there are problems. To expect otherwise is to live in some odd fantasy world filled with marshmallow clouds and unicorns. Cars get recalled all the time. If this were a Chevy recall, it wouldn’t be a story. Want me to prove it?
This week the NHTSa announced it was investigating 1,132 complaints about steering defects in four model years of the Chevrolet Cobalt affecting more than 900,000 cars.
Have you heard about that on the Today show?
Maybe the president of Chevy made a video and apologized for it?
Maybe your local news station went to their Chevy dealer to ask about it?
None which makes the Toyota recall any different but it does highlight the unique nature of this story, something which I think, is fueling this media feeding frenzy. It’s weird. Toyotas don’t usually have problems. Toyota isn’t typically involved in a mass recall such as this one. So it’s different. So it deserves the insane amount of coverage it’s getting, right?
So, back to intrepid reporter Kiah and the Chicago Tribune. Sure, as the story headline makes clear, many Toyota owners are frustrated. Some of them are downright nuts (see the idiot Tundra owner in the post below). But for most of us, it’s an inconvenience and not much more. And that’s the way it should be. Since we can’t expect any manufacturer to be perfect, we hope they are very, very good and when there is a problem we want to them to solve it quickly and effectively. Which, curiously enough, is exactly what Toyota is doing. And yet, the news cycle grinds on.
As I try to wind this epic screed down I want to specifically address the 2010 Prius “brake problem” and compare and contrast this with the accelerator recall. I’m also going to toss a little gasoline on this fire.
Keep in mind, the accelerator recall only involved Toyota’s made here in the US and the part specifically involved is also made here in the US. Toyota’s made in Japan are not affected by the recall or, apparently, afflicted with this issue. Funny how that gets glossed over, eh?
All Prius currently come from Japan, so conflating this “brake issue” (and I’ll get to why I keep putting that in quotes shortly) with the accelerator is really mixing two very different issues together as one.
Ok, here’s the deal on the 2010 brakes and Prius brakes in general. Prius uses a system common to most hybrids where the brakes are a combination of two things, a generator and the standard friction brakes common to every car. The generators are used during the first part of the braking procedure. The generators reduce the speed of the car in the same manner standard friction brakes do but, unlike standard friction brakes, they generate electricity which is used to keep the hybrid batteries charged. Standard friction brakes only generate heat and wear down the braking surface. It’s one reason why most Prius owners don’t replace brakes for 100,000 miles or more.
Now, there is a transition, when braking where the generators are no longer engaged and the standard friction brakes are. Let me put it another way. If you were to index the pressure you apply to your brakes from 1 to 100. As you apply pressure that index number increases. In Prius, you’re not using the standard friction brakes until you hit about index number 80 or so (depending on how you apply them, this is much simpler than the actual process is). From 80 or so onward, the regenerative braking is no longer engaged and the standard friction brakes are.
With me so far? It’s pretty simple actually. The whole thing is controlled under a very much more than I bothered to explain set of computer instructions that react much faster than you possibly could. This computer also takes into consideration whether or not all the wheels are turning (if you were sliding for instance). All in all it makes the Prius brake system very safe and extremely efficient (like the rest of the car). This isn’t much different from the standard ABS braking system. It’s a lot tougher than it used to be to stand on the brakes and make the car skid around. That’s an improvement, not a defect.
So, where “issue” comes up is this. There are times when applying the brakes in Prius, if you happen to traveling over a broken road surface, a pothole or, something that happens to me all the time because of where I live, if you’re going over something like a railroad crossing. If you’re applying the brakes steadily as you go over this surface sometimes you will feel the transition between the regenerative system and the standard friction system. It’s a weird feeling, somewhat akin to being in free fall for a brief instant, then, the friction brakes kick in and you continue to slow down. It’s a fraction of a second but an intense fraction of a second. Next time it happens, you think to yourself, “Oh yeah, that.”
I first noticed this in my 2005 Prius and I’ve noticed it in my 2010. We have especially mediocre roads in Lancaster. Some Prius owners have never noticed it. The thing is, it’s not necessarily a “problem”. It’s not a “defect” in the general sense. It’s the way that braking system works.
Allow me to make a final analogy.
Let’s say you’re a Prius owner. Maybe a new Prius owner. Maybe out for your first drive in your new car. You’re driving away from the dealership and and you see a red light ahead. You stop at the intersection and as you do, the gas motor in your new Prius stops running! Dead silence. You can’t believe it. Your Prius just stalled. When the light turns green, you press on the accelerator and glide through the intersection.
Now, did you just experience a “defect” or a “problem” or was it the normal behavior of Prius?
The answer is, of course, it’s the way Prius works. Same goes for the brakes. Yes, it’s different from “standard” cars. Yes, if you don’t know what’s going on it’s weird as hell. But it’s not a problem.
Did you know that more than three quarters of the people who drive a 2010 Prius are brand new to hybrids?
All of which is to say, Toyota is being unfairly lambasted for this 2010 brake issue. I don’t think it’s an issue at all. And I very much hope that the solution is not something which kills the regenerative braking system, one of the great things about Prius.
We, as the public, must grow up and not be lemmings eager to hurl themselves into the sea at the slightest provocation. We need to demand, because as customers, we deserve to know, good explanations and complete resolutions. But we also need to be reasonable and fair. Acting like a spoiled child may be satisfying for some but it’s not any more appealing than it sounds. I know a lot people at Toyota. To a person they are nice, reasonable people who work very hard to build honest cars at a good value. History shows us that they’ve been successful at it for a long time. Toyota builds a lot of cars here in the US. Toyota employs tens of thousands of Americans. This isn’t about bashing a “foreign” car company. When Ford builds the Fusion in Mexico and Toyota builds the Camry in Kentucky, we have to revise our thinking on who is “foreign” and how that word even applies anymore. Piling on Toyota and allowing a pathetic media to do so is not good for us. It doesn’t inform us. It’s infantilizes us. We’re not spoiled children.
A long time ago one of my bosses told me, “No one is perfect. To err is indeed human and what distinguishes us is how we deal with those imperfections both ours and of others.”
Wise words indeed. It’s how we fix mistakes that distinguish as human beings both good and bad. Expecting things to be perfect isn’t human. It’s just stupid.
If you have questions about your Toyota drop me a line. I’m always here to help.
Posted on January 11th, 2010 No comments
Straight from Toyota to you…
DETROIT, January 11, 2010—Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A, Inc., today unveiled the FT-CH dedicated hybrid concept at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. The FT-CH is a concept that would address Toyota’s stated strategy to offer a wider variety of conventional hybrid choices to its customers, as it begins to introduce plug-in hybrids (PHVs) and battery electrics (BEVs) in model year 2012, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCHVs) in 2015 in global markets. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on September 4th, 2009 No comments
Congratulations to Toyota on selling two million hybrid vehicles worldwide. Of that two million, 1.4 million of those hybrids are us, Priuses.
All that talk about hybrids being niche cars and having no future sure is looking pretty stupid.
Posted on July 10th, 2009 1 comment
Prius Drive Thru
Sponsored by Toyota
A priusownersgroup.com Road Trip (Hey! That’s us here!)
With the vital support of the following technology providers;
Prius Drive Thru is the classic American road trip seen through the digital eyes of the 21st century. A month long, 8,000-mile journey around the United States in the new, third generation, 2010 Prius. Stopping in twenty-two cities and passing through twenty-one states Prius Drive Thru will visit or pass through more than dozen National Parks, Monuments and Forests taking in some of the most dramatic scenery American has to offer.
Thirty days on the road is a long time and to keep the Prius Drive Thru team company during the drive will be hundreds of thousands of viewers (maybe millions?) on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp. iTunes and the most popular Prius fan sites on the planet. Viewers will get live updates throughout the day through a number of social media channels as well as HD video and high-resolution still photography.
Prius Drive Thru isn’t just about the online review or the 140 characters or less pithy remark, along the way they’ll be compiling in-depth performance data on the vehicle and sharing that publicly as well as creating a database of knowledge that anyone driving to any one (or more) of these locations can use for their vacations.
The Prius Drive Thru team recently celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary by renewing their vows in front of Mayor J. Richard Gray, Mayor of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, their home. Russell Frost is a professional photographer. Kimberly Frost is a retired Federal employee. They both love car trips and have already spent thousands of miles together on the road.
It’s not a reality show, it’s real. Prius Drive Thru will provide real data on the new Toyota Prius and genuine experiences that will be valuable to anyone who wants to pack up the car and take a few days off somewhere in America. Prius Drive Thru begins July 14th in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and will conclude on August 12th when the Frost’s return home.
Official Prius Drive Thru Facebook page:
Official Prius Drive Thru Twitter feed:
You can also follow the trip at:
July 14th Toledo, Ohio
July 15th Racine, Wisconsin
July 16th, 17th, 18th Madison,Wisconsin (Green Drive Expo)
July 19th Sioux Falls, South Dakota
July 20th Rapid City South Dakota (Mount Rushmore)
July 21st, 22nd Yellowstone National Park
July 23rd Burns, Oregon
July 24th Crater Lake National Monument
July 25th Fort Bragg, California
July 26th Napa, California
July 27th, 28th San Francisco, California
July 29th Yosemite National Park
July 30th Torrance, California (Toyota US headquarters)
July 31st, August 1st Rancho Bernardo, California
August 2nd, 3rd San Diego, California
August 4th Sedona, Arizona
August 5th Santa Fe, New Mexico
August 6th White Sands National Monument
August 7th Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
August 8th Little Rock, Arkansas
August 9th Nashville, Tennessee
August 10th Asheville, North Carolina
August 11th Staunton, Virginia (Blue Ridge National Forest)
August 12th Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Posted on July 6th, 2009 1 comment
Multiple news sources report that a “mass produced” Prius plug-in model will be available in 2012. The reports claim Toyota will be producing 20,000 to 30,000 plug-ins for general per year at that point. Further details weren’t offered but it’s almost certainly a Lion cell based plug-in.
My main concern with a plug-in Prius is the weight of the vehicle. I think the Prius is too large and too heavy to be a successful plug-in with battery technology where it is right now. If Toyota was talking about a smaller, lighter vehicle, I think making it a plug-in would make more sense. But that’s just my opinion and it will be very interesting indeed to see what Toyota comes up with.
Posted on June 16th, 2009 No comments
But I have the oldest Toyota Prius made. Check out “My Toyota” page…
I have to think this car is worth millions.
Posted on June 4th, 2009 1 comment
Bloomberg spends so much of its time chasing its tail I’m not sure what to make of this report. Check it out and tell me what you think.
Posted on June 1st, 2009 No comments
According to a recent study conducted by JPMorgan, hybrid sales are about to take off. Last year, there were some 480,000 total hybrid vehicles sold around the world, which represents less than 1% of global sales. By 2020, though, JPMorgan predicts that 11.28 million hybrids will be sold annually, representing over 13% of all vehicles sold.
Much of that increase in sales will be attributed to the United States, as the report suggests that hybrids will capture nearly 20% of total market share in this country. The study suggests that the increase in hybrid vehicle sales will be influenced by such factors such as increased pressure from government agencies to reduce fuel consumption and overall vehicle emissions, as well as a drastic reduction in the cost of hybrid technology.
This is the kind of linear, conservative thinking that looks really bad in hindsight. To wit, who knows in the next ten years what developements will allow us to deploy a better generation of fully electric vehicles? Who knows in eleven years what gasoline will cost and how we will feel about burning petroleum for personal automobiles when we need petroleum for so many other things? I don’t know and frankly, I don’t think the folks at JPMorgan do either. Some egghead there, possible the same one who thought in 2007 that our economic expansion bubble could never end, is just extrapolating hybrid sales and voila! Hybrids should be 20% of the market in 2020.
It’s possible they’re right but the truth is, that’s probably way off. It’s just as likely that hybrids will be 70% of the new car sales market in 2020 with the other 30% being EVs. We don’t know and what will determine are factors no one, not me, certainly not JPMorgan, knows about.
Posted on May 14th, 2009 No comments
GE is building a new, advanced chemistry battery plant in New York. From Reuters…
General Electric plans to open a $100 million state-of-the-art, heavy-duty battery manufacturing plant just north of New York’s state capital, where it is expected to be the core of the firm’s new battery business, the company announced today.
The operation is expected to create some 350 new manufacturing jobs for the company, and that new workforce is expected to produce about 10 million cells each year when the site is at full capacity. According to GE, that output is the equivalent of creating 900 megawatt hours of energy storage. Put another way, that’s energy storage capacity for enough power for 1,000 U.S. homes for a month.
Announcement of the plan comes as GE seeks federal stimulus money from the Department of Energy. The firm hopes to obtain federal funding for the new factory later this summer and has a goal of having the plant up, running and producing batteries by mid 2011.
Posted on March 30th, 2009 No comments
Micheline Maynard, author the NYT‘s ongoing Prius Diaries penned this tome about Rick Wagoner’s departure from GM. Check out the headline and the second paragraph from her story…
The Steady Optimist Who Oversaw G.M.’s Decline
…During his tenure as chief executive, beginning in 2000, the company’s stock has fallen from $70 a share to less than $4 now, and its market share has fallen roughly 10 percentage points.
Ponder this against what’s happening in the financial industry and ask yourself how many people or businesses can fail this spectacularly and still keep their job. Apparently, if you’re the CEO, you’re golden. Tens of thousands of laid workers actually making something, not so much.
And if you want to see some more failure, look at the way Bloomberg described it…
GM’s Wagoner Steps Aside After Failing Obama Scrutiny
General Motors Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner was forced out after President Barack Obama’s task force decided he was unable to craft a plan to save the automaker he ran for more than eight years.
However this went down, make no mistake, Wagoner was a failure. He led GM’s decline into junk bond territory and obscurity. “Forced out”? If so, it’s a biting indictment of the complete lack of corporate responsibility. his guy presided over the loss of $82 BILLION. Let me say that again, since Wagoner been in charge GM has lost $82 billion dollars. What was he waiting for? The losses to pile up to over a $100 billion?
Posted on March 12th, 2009 No comments
The CEO of the Korean electronics giant, LG, said recently that nickel metal hydride batteries were “primitive” and would be soon replaced by “advanced” lithium-ion batteries for use in the electrification of vehicles. This comment was pure hype and was biased by the fact that LG has won the contract to supply lithium-ion batteries for the 40 mile range, pricey golf cart performance matching Chevrolet Volt. The aforesaid CEO does not, of course, want to take note of the fact that the development of “advanced” nickel metal hydride batteries has continued even beyond their “primitive” use in the hybrids mass produced and sold as the Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry, Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner, Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Honda Insight to name the most prominent. These so-called “primitive” batteries have a record of reliability, durability, overall life, and recyclability that is second to none. In addition their pricing has steadily dropped(!) since their introduction.
Toyota, for its part, says that the NiMH battery in the 2010 model is a significant improvement over the currently supplied NiMH battery.
Posted on March 5th, 2009 No comments
The former senior vice president for Toyota Motor North America says he expects the automaker to open its Northeast Mississippi plant when the economy gets better.
Dennis Cuneo told an audience Wednesday at Itawamba Community College that there’s no truth to rumors Toyota wants to abandon its Blue Springs assembly plant.
Cuneo, now an adviser to Toyota and its suppliers, says Toyota delayed the project in December to conserve cash. He says all companies are doing that right now as the economy deteriorates.
The plant was scheduled to begin production of the Prius hybrid vehicle in late 2010.
Cuneo isn’t sure when the plant will open but he says he is convinced the company won’t abandon the site after already investing $300 million in it.
The real question is, when will it re-open?