Posted on February 8th, 2010 No comments
Just my opinion.
The news. What we currently refer to as “the media”. It’s a constant vacuum on our society sucking up everything within reach of its gaping maw and yet, all we get out of the other end, as with a household vacuum, is all too frequently just hot air.
The news cycle sucks the life out every event. And what’s more there’s a false hierarchy established, the lead story is, well, the lead. It has to be important or they wouldn’t talk about it first. It’s a ridiculous and arbitrary measure. As part of a futile attempt to fill time and grab eyeballs, we see stories which are trivial rise to international publicity right next to important stories. We see the same b-roll footage and hear the same sound byte vivisected over and over again by a small pool of reporters, commentators and pundits. It’s a frighteningly inbred pool.
I think, in a world where (/Don LaFontaine) truly important things are happening we’re seeing lead off coverage, for much of the last two weeks, on Toyota. On a car. On a recall, an event which is hardly unknown to this fine land. On a recall where the documented injuries can be counted on one hand. And no, that’s not to minimize anyone’s safety or the seriousness of issues involved. Something like the Toyota story demands coverage. But it also deserves, no, we deserve, as listeners, viewers and readers, we deserve to know the facts. We deserve to not have to sift through hours of speculation just because someone has to fill in the time between commercials (or space between display ads).
All of this ranting of mine is leading up to this. I think that once some of the dust from this settles we’re going to find out that if we had given this issue some time to develop and the parties involved time to respond, I think that if we understood all the legal and regulatory issues involved, we’d find a much less dramatic story. I think we would find something much less deserving of the treatment the Toyota recall and the 2010 Prius brakes have received. And I think if we’d been told about this in a rational, succinct and informative matter, we would be better served by those organizations whose secondary mission is, after all, to inform us.
I’m not absolving Toyota of anything here. Nothing. Rather, I am creating an indictment of the media who have, once again, let us down. I’m saying that we should know about this. All of us. I’m saying the way the media has handled the news has put a false imperative on the story and created the idea that Toyota was required to communicate daily with them on the issue. We need the media to put pressure on corporations. We need a media that holds corporations responsible for what they do. Now, more than ever, we need a media that is asking the tough questions, the right questions and delivering a clear and factual narrative.
How many of you think, no matter what you think of Toyota, that’s what we have?
What we don’t need are hourly reports when, in fact, there isn’t anything to report or information will be forthcoming. There’s a ticking clock put on some news stories that may or may not be a reasonable or even sensible. It’s all out proportion to the importance of the issue.
Back to Toyota. With regard to the 2010 Prius issues in the media. I think we’ll find out that Toyota has been and will continue to do the right thing for their customers. I think we’ll find that a lot of the smoke and heat from the media was just that.
I started this site almost five years ago (it will be five years in April). I started it for one reason. I wanted to create the kind of site I wish had existed when I was looking around at different Toyota sites. That isn’t to denigrate what anyone else is doing online. I think we’re all part of the what makes the net and to an extent, citizen journalism and commentary so vital. We’re just different parts and we perform different functions. I wanted the Prius Owners Group to be, I guess pretty selfishly, a site that I would like to read and I directly borrowed organization, intent and presentation ideas from my favorite sites. The POG has always been a place I could be proud of not because it’s the best or the most traveled or the most linked to. The POG is instead the very best that I can do. And there have been a few times in the last five years when I stared to feel like I was phoning it in. I didn’t have anything really passionate to post or comment on. And if you’ve been a regular reader, one of the dozen or so of you out there, you’ve seen times when not a lot happened here. It’s those times when I’ve chosen to let the site sit fallow, for a day, or sometimes more, rather than stuff it with filler. I value my time and you know, I value your time more than that.
Thanks for coming by and reading.
More news, as we get it.
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 10th, 2010 No comments
Motor Trend ran a reader poll for Car, Truck and SUV of the 2000′s. Guess who won in the car category?
Although that’s my 2010 pictured above, the readers at Motor Trend voted the 2004 Prius the Car of the Decade. Of course, being Motor Trend, it wasn’t enough that the Prius beat the car (Cadillac CTS) that came in second by more than twice the votes. No. Motor trend wanted to add three comments from voters who begrudgingly acknowledged the Prius’ importance during the naughts.
What struck us about the voting was the willingness with which people chose the Prius even if they didn’t particularly like the car. “I hate to say it,” said 3800ccgnx, “but it’s gotta be the Prius.”
“It totally set the standard for the ‘green’ movement, which has swallowed up every aspect of the industry,” said Delspencerdeltorro.
From JanRasmus: “The Prius. It’s the only car of the bunch that it actually outstanding…it’s not just been fancy-looking, or nicely executed, or powerful: it’s been groundbreaking – defining a new formula instead of just refining the old one and starting the hybrid game that everyone else now so desperately wants to play. And, yes: it’s not pretty, it’s not fast, it’s not premium and it’s not dirt cheap.”
Read more: http://wot.motortrend.com/6625425/miscellaneous/you-decided-motor-trends-unofficial-car-truck-and-suv-of-the-2000s/index.html#ixzz0cGFU7NUB
Hey, cheers to the Motor Trend for voting for the Prius even if they had to hold their nose while doing so. I think it’s silly behavior on their part but in the end, at least they found a way to admit Prius is a revolutionary vehicle.
Here’s a 2004, image courtesy of Toyota.
Posted on June 4th, 2009 3 comments
Here’s the latest word from POG reader Rich in Northern California.
Rich just got his 2010 Prius a few days. I very appreciate him taking the time to share his first impressions.
I’m still getting used to all the controls, but the car feels much more solid – a Camry like ride (my brother has a Camry Hybrid – so I’ve driven that a fair amount). He was impressed, by the way.
A few things – no touch lock on the rear (that I could find) – just the two front doors. I guess I’ll have to read the manual. No place in the ceiling to put your sun glasses – oh well, there’s the sun roof controls. The solar cooling fan works like a charm although it hasn’t been hot enough yet (we had some rain today and will have the next two days. When you open the door, it shuts off. I haven’t tried the air conditioning button yet.
My first 150 miles – 47.6 mpg. Now, if you know the SF Bay Area at all, there are lots of hills – and I drive each day from Oakland to Concord – up the hills to the tunnel – then into the next valley with ups and downs – and reverse. Pretty much up and downey travel. Tonight we went to a League of Women’s Voters dinner on Skyline Blvd in Oakland – really up – about 1000 feet (my house is about 50 ft above sea level). I think when I start travelling in the Sacramento/San Joaquin valleys we’ll notice lots of improvement.
I thought the display was a bit underbright – but I’ve adjusted – and yes, the brightness was turned all the way up. You don’t have to turn it down at night – no reflections.
I’ve had just a few strange looks from other Prius drivers – most are totally un-aware – and I’ve yet to see another 3G on the road, but then I’ve only had it three days and I got the first one from our Walnut Creek dealer (where we’ve bought all our hybrids).
My wife doesn’t want to drive it yet – she wants me to put the first scratch on it. She is going to keep our ’04 for now since she knows how to drive it well.
My company is getting new phones Friday, so I’ll do the bluetooth bit then and let you know if it really will download the phone list automatically. XM is great – wow, what a selection. You get it free for 90 days – then you have to subscribe. It’s a good marketing scheme to get you started – and I’ll bet most all will subscribe.
More later – you should have yours shortly, I would imagine. Black, huh. I was surprised how well I liked the Sandy Beach (gold) color. We’ve always had white cars (if you remember your physics – that’s the presence of ALL colors).
And yes, my new Prius will (hopefully) be black. Since my current one is white, I thought that was the next logical step.
By the way, if you want to buy the POG Prius, it’s for sale! Drop me a line at:
russell (at) priusownersgroup (dot) com
If you’re in the Lancaster, PA area and want to buy a great, used Prius. Here’s the rundown.
2005 Super White Prius
Grey cloth interior
iPod integration system added
Kenwood stealth subwoofer added in package tray under rear cargo area
New Bridgestone Insignia tires
Johnson films non-metallic window tint
The first person to show up with $15K in cash, gets it!
Posted on June 1st, 2009 No comments
POG readers Richard & Tinka just got their new 2010 Prius!
My best wishes to Rich and Tinka. I hope they enjoy their new Prius.
Now, where’s mine?!
Posted on May 18th, 2009 No comments
Interesting little article here. Allow me to quote two bits:
Few other hybrid drivers could say the same, but Ryan said he’ll get a good return by keeping his hybrid taxi on the road for up to 24 hours a day, averaging 160,000 km a year.
In fact, North America’s first hybrid taxi was a 2001 Toyota Prius operated by Andrew Grant in Vancouver. His Prius surpassed 400,000 km with no hybrid component failures.
These commercial and municipal vehicles are really leading the way in proving the hybrid concept. Now, most of the readers don’t need proof, we own our cars and some of us have owned several hybrids (I’m working on getting my second Prius in the next weeks). But for the most of the people out there who still batteries are dangerous and hybrid cars need to be wound up, this kind of testimony is very important because if the car can perform and perform well under this kind of use, then chances are nothing you’re going to do it will matter.
The Prius works because it was engineered by a company that doesn’t care about being “first” at the finish line with new products, they want to be make the best products they can and cars that will work for years and years.
Posted on March 30th, 2009 No comments
Include this paragraph in your already too long rant on “eco-motoring”. From the TimesOnline…
Smug hybrid drivers like to imply they are doing the planet some good, whereas the truth is that they are, at best, simply not causing as much damage as the rest of us. (Even this is debatable: according to one report, if you take into account the energy used in producing and disposing of vehicles, the petrol-swilling Jeep Wrangler is actually greener than the Prius). And while SUV owners risk having their cars vandalised by environmentalists, the reality is that some SUVs are less polluting than supposedly greener small cars (The Mini Cooper S, for instance, does around 33mpg on the combined cycle of city and open road driving, while the BMW X3 2.0d will give you around 39mpg).
All the cliches of the lazy writer. Passing on the debunked CNW survey (without naming it, either lazy or disingenuous). Using “smug” as the first word in the paragraph. It’s all the same, usual, rationalizing crap rolled into one nice, neat paragraph. Go ahead, drive the Land Rover, those hybrids are nasty anyway.
Posted on February 8th, 2009 No comments
I just got off the phone with Prius owner, POG reader and friend Mark Blumenstein of West Virginia. Mark is an artist, a metal sculptor more specifically. Check this out…
This music chair has a music stand on a swing arm. Awesome stuff. I wish I had something half that cool for my computer.
Mark and I met when he considering buying a Prius back in May of 2008. We talked about the car since then Mark has put 10K on his Prius and loves it.
Finally, here’s a shot of Mark welcoming the sun on his birthday, February second. Yes, Groundhog Day. I think from now on I’m called Mark for an update on 2/2 rather than wait to hear what our own Punxsutawney Phil has to say.
Do visit Mark’s web site is here and if you need something unique and beautiful, drop him a line. I’ll bet he would create something just for you.
Posted on February 8th, 2009 No comments
Thursday night in New York. A clear, windy and extremely cold night. After driving the three hours from Lancaster to NYC I was glad to see a friendly valet take my Prius and welcome me into the Skylight Gallery.
While the layout in New York was different all the components were the same. The same three Prii that we saw in Detroit (Michelle V. of Prius Chat compared the VIN numbers). It was nice to have some more time with the car to sit in it, check out the controls and ponder which 2010 should be sitting in front of POG-HQ in May.
While I was there I had the pleasure, yes, genuine pleasure to meet someone who makes a lot of appearances here on the POG, no less than Jerry Flint of Forbes Magazine (picture below). While I disagree with Mr. Flint, sometimes vehemently he was one of those people whose warmth instantly wins you over. He happened to be sporting an old American Motors pin in his lapel which caught my eye as my father worked there when I was a kid. So, Mr. Flint while we may continue to disagree on auto industry strategies and how we view the various accomplishments of the big three, you won this round on humanity.
Back to the New York Prius Connection…
Mr. Tim Morrison of Toyota welcoming the attendees to the Prius Connection New York.
Ms. Natae Rayner of Toyota discussing the new 2010. I want to say that Natae was very helpful (and sympathetic) with my own questions about the 2010. Thanks Natae!
As an aside, these little things were some kind of amazing fig concoction that can only be described as a nuclear fig newton on steroids laced with whatever addictive substance you care to name. They were tasty. Cheers to Toyota for the wonderful food.
The Skylight Gallery.
Now here is something that doesn’t happen every day.
This is Mr. Gary Carter, Prius owner and POG reader. I don’t meet many people who actually admit to the existence of this little site so I was delighted when he recognized the site right away and said he was a reader. I had a great time chatting with Gary and he was kind enough to pose for this shot.
Yes, Prius trivia was a central part of the connection in New York as well. And to add even more surprise to the evening, I triumphed in one round although I was competing against my kid and one other person. So it’s not like I was faced with a panel of experts from Priuschat (thankfully).
The kid got the “Prius Genius” t-shirt.
You can see the entire gallery from the New York Prius Connection by clicking here.
So, late Sunday night we begin the eleven hour drive to Chicago for the final Prius Connection (that I’ll be attending). That takes place on Tuesday, expect a full report and pictures from the trip and the Connection. And while this is the final Prius Connection report for the POG it is by no means the end of the reporting we’re doing on the 3G 2010 Prius. Huge things are coming very soon. Stay tuned.
Posted on February 4th, 2009 No comments
Love this (from rcreader.com)…
Kaiser and Cartel quit their teaching jobs last year – about a week after the release of their full-length debut, March Forth (a play on words with the date they first connected in 2004) – and have been on tour for all but a handful of weeks since, they said. They travel the country in a Toyota Prius that holds all their gear: a drum set that folds up into the bass drum, two amps, two guitars, a drum machine, and “a bunch of xylophones,” Cartel said.
Now that’s touring on a budget.
Posted on February 4th, 2009 No comments
Fascinating interview with Mr. Bill Reinert in Energy Tribune…
Energy Tribune Speaks With Bill Reinert, Designer of the Toyota Prius
By Robert Bryce
Bill Reinert knows cars. He helped design the Prius, perhaps the most iconic “green” vehicle on the road today. Over the past few years, Reinert, an affable, irreverent engineer not known for holding his tongue, has become one of America’s most-recognized experts on automotive and technology issues. For some hard-core electric car advocates, Reinert is something of a villain. I met Reinert about three years ago at an energy conference and I consider him to be a friend. In the few hours that we have spent together (all of which have been highly entertaining and educational) I have found him to be the ultimate pragmatist. He looks at automotive technology and energy technology through the three essential lenses: energy density, cost, and scale. If the technology delivers on those three fronts, he’s willing to pursue it. If it doesn’t, forget it.
As the manager of Toyota’s advanced technology group, Reinert works out of Toyota’s Torrance, California office, where his team focuses on a variety of new technologies including hybrid-electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, electric vehicles, and plug-in hybrids. He was a leader in the effort to get Toyota to consider how the company would deal with a hydrocarbon-constrained world. That push led the company to commission a multi-year study from Dubai-based geologist Peter Wells, who has used a meticulous field-by-field analysis to estimate the peak in global oil output. Wells has predicted that peak output will come in about 2017. (Energy Tribune covered this issue last year.) Before joining Toyota in 1990, he worked on energy issues at Hewlett Packard. Reinert has a bachelors degree in biopsychology from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and a masters degree in energy engineering from the University of Colorado. He lives in Rancho Santa Margarita, California.
RB: You are one of the designers of the Prius. But you have made it clear that oil is going to be a key transportation fuel for a long time to come. Why?
BR: Well, oil and petroleum products have a lot of inherent advantages. Two of these are of particular interest: First, there are relatively large resources available and they are pretty easily developed, and second, petroleum products have marvelous energy density, which means we can provide adequate performance and range at a price the customer can afford.
This isn’t to say there aren’t problems, because of course there are significant issues with climate forcing emissions and criteria pollutants. Beyond that of course, are geopolitics (commonly referred to as energy security) and the whole process of oil production, transportation, and refineries. However, looking into my fine-tuned crystal ball, I can see tremendous advances into high-efficiency spark ignited engines and breakthroughs in catalyst technologies. When combined with hybrid technology you get a powertrain that is low in carbon emissions, criteria pollutants are nearly absent, and the customer can afford and embrace the end product.
It’s important to keep in mind that petroleum is also useful in a wide variety of industries, and is a source for many of the products we use today. Of course, in the fullness of time society will find new and better replacements, it will just take awhile.
RB: During the Toyota meeting in Portland last September, I met Mary Nickerson, the national marketing manager for cross vehicle marketing. She told me that in Toyota’s most recent survey of potential car buyers, the prospective purchases said that their number one concern was oil availability. That’s a remarkable fact. Is that still the case? Does that help explain the popularity of the Prius?
BR: Unfortunately I’m not that close to our marketing groups so I’m not all that involved in their studies. Shooting from the hip, I’d say you’d need to consider the context at that time. Energy prices were skyrocketing and gasoline was $4 per gallon and rising. Well, times have changed now, and while I don’t have any direct evidence to prove it, I’d wager customer feelings have changed as well.
Today our news is dominated by loss of jobs and an economy in decline. At $2.00 per gallon, energy is, at best, a back-page story. Despite all of this I don’t think there’s any single explanation for why the Prius is so popular, why it’s become an icon. There are thousands of considerations that are made when you develop a new concept, fuel economy is just one of them. Nail each one and you have an icon, miss on a few and it’s just another car.
RB: What are the key concerns for car buyers in how they choose what they drive?
BR: Despite the hard times our economy is in, I think buyers still want a car that meets their basic needs both actual and projected. And one they can afford. Beyond that, safety still drives the buying decision. Cost of operation including fuel economy and insurance is still a consideration and the environment is gaining as a buying aspiration; much like luxury and performance before.
RB: All of the carmakers have been hit hard by declining sales. But Honda and Toyota have done better than their American counterparts, GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Why?
BR: I certainly wouldn’t want your readers to think we’re not suffering because of the economic downturn, because we are: 2008 was the first year we lost money in the auto business.
I’m not in a position to speak about the other manufacturers, but Toyota has always run lean. We’re always looking a ways to reduce waste and energy use in all aspects of our business. We try very hard to provide the cars our customers’ want, when they want them. In that sense our goal to keep our inventories low has help us weather the storm, but the next year isn’t going to be easy for any of us.
RB: A decade ago, fuel cell-powered cars were two decades away. Today, they are still two decades away. Why?
BR: You need to consider fuel cells in the same cold light as with any new energy program. Whether it’s solar, or wind, or batteries, or ethanol or fuel cells, it’s been the same story. Every new market entrant has been marked by an initial period of over promising and under delivering.
It’s pretty understandable how this happens. We’re working in the labs and a certain technology looks promising. But once the technology goes public, a lot of folks see only the promise and not the limitations or challenges. New startups are generated and there’s a lot of buzz and a lot of hype. Money is funneled into the technology and it becomes the next killer app.
The trouble is the limitations that were there originally are still there and overcoming them is a long-term process. As I said in your first question, there are specific advantages in using petroleum products to power cars, overcoming these advantages, with any technology is not going to be easy. Having said all that, I’m still very bullish on the promise of fuel cells. There are several manufacturers that are turning out very promising cars, cars that couldn’t be realized without using fuel cells. Most of us have solved many of the initial problems including energy density and cold weather performance. We still have some cost problems, but at least we can see a clear pathway. Energy storage is still an issue, but we’re learning how to design around that.
I think the biggest issue facing the emergence of fuel cells has nothing to do with the products and everything to do with the infrastructure. Despite all the work the auto companies have done to develop the cars, there isn’t a corresponding effort on the infrastructure side. We can develop the best car in the world, but if the customer can’t find fuel for it, they’re unlike to adopt it.
Posted on January 28th, 2009 No comments
Here at POG-HQ in Lancaster , PA I awoke to two inches nicely crusted over with about a half an inch of ice. It took about an hour to shovel, scrape and brush all the snow and ice away.
All of which is to say, if you live in an area with with winter weather, be careful out there today. I know that here it’s slippery and icey and if the weather gets two degress colder, everything will be coated in thick sheathing of ice, two degrees warmer and everything will be covered in slush.
I love the winter. I really do.
Once again, I can’t afford to lose any readers, every one of you is important.
Have fun and drive safe,
p.s. The new Bridgestone tires, while not offering great economy performance, have, thus far, offered fantastic winter weather peformance. Today will probably be as good a test as we’ve had all winter but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at how much better the Prius’ traction is with the Bridgestone’s.