Review: 2016 Prius

Never mind the conference call. A few posts ago, TeslaMondo predicted every single “twist.” Sure enough:

  • Gas prices mean nothing.
  • Model X ramp is steep enough to moot the subject.
  • The oil well in Tesla’s back yard, officially known as Tesla Energy, has quietly begun pumping money.
  • We learned nothing about Model III.

Focusing on Model III, TeslaMondo thinks it will pull Toyota customers across the not-so-great divide between hybrids and full EVs. Remember, the cheapest Model IIIs will cost less than upper-end Priuses, with EV tax breaks factored in. But even when tax breaks expire, these cars will fight for customers who don’t really care about a few grand. Affordability isn’t the issue. They want a green, credible, “statement” car that doesn’t announce wealth.

TeslaMondo has spent copious seat time in every generation of Prius since its US launch 15 years ago. And yesterday it spent a few hours in the brand new version, the one with the unenviable task of entering the boxing ring with Elon Musk. So here’s the scoop:

Styling/ergonomics
It’s brave, especially from the rear. Look at those Battlestar Galactica taillights! Toyota finally threw long. Did it connect in the end zone? With sci-fi fans, absolutely. The interior is equally out-there, with a copious helping of milky-white plastic throughout the center console. Very stormtrooper. Ergonomics are better and worse. Visibility through those problematic A-pillars is improved. But driver’s seat comfort seems a step backward. The flat, fat seat is tailored for the obese. Rear legroom and headroom seem to have shrunk, but perhaps children should be the judge of that.

Reaching the joystick shifter isn’t easy, because it’s a lot lower. Hypermilers like to use neutral and even the “B” for engine brake. Well, now it’s more labor-intensive because of the reach.  The HVAC system employs toggles for the temperature, fan speed and air direction. You can adjust them by feel, with your eyes on the road. Nice! Except you’ll have to reach pretty low. Not nice! This car is designed for people who want to interact with the screen and leave everything else alone. For most people, that’s appropriate. For TeslaMondo, that’s backwards. The machine is the entertainment.

Driving character
Refinements abound. Braking to a complete stop is less jerky (taxi drivers rejoice!) The engine’s on-off cycle is heard, not felt, and it’s barely heard. Steering effort is far more consistent through turns, and your inputs are smoother too because the wheel is actually round. Yes, the last Prius’s steering wheel was shaped like the partially-deflated basketball in your basement. The new Prius feels heavier and tracks straighter on highways. This has improved in every generation of Prius. In fact, the earlier versions were downright flighty in crosswinds, forcing you to correct the car’s path almost constantly. The 2016 lets you take your hands off the wheel for seconds at a time, without any Autopilot.

However, contrary to early press reports, it is NOT, repeat, NOT sporting to drive. Hard turns bring less wallow and less squeal, but it’s still a pig. Acceleration, even in power mode, still involves a sequence of commands and therefore lags. And it keeps on accelerating after you lift off the throttle. Yes, it takes a split-second to figure out you’ve changed your mind, or at least it feels that way. Strong words by TeslaMondo, but it’s true. Look for a quiet service bulletin from Toyota to fix that.

The outgoing Prius encouraged thrifty driving by vehemently protesting aggression. It also reminded you constantly about the operation of the vehicle. You heard and felt every transition from gas to battery, and even the whine of brake regeneration. Ergo, you monitored the machine. The new one is just isolating enough, and just eager enough, to hamper your fuel economy — without the reward of real fun. You want fun? The Prius C does better. It’s not a dedicated athlete, but it can throw, run, jump and catch pretty well, smiling all the while.

And so . . .

Here’s the assignment for Tesla. Build something cool to behold, interesting to manipulate and satisfying to toss around, for the same or less money, and you’ll see a mass emigration from Priusville to Teslaville.

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Feds approve Google ghosts

Google’s nonexistent driver qualifies as a driver under federal law, says Nitsa, paving the way for more nitty-gritty talks about making autonomy happen. Are pedals required? Warning lights? That kind of thing. This federal nod to Google knocks down the first Domino.

It seems that by the time Model III proliferates, and Tesla’s autonomous tech ripens, regulators will give Tesla enough leash to raise a little heck. Summon your Tesla from the assembly line in Fremont. Take it to work, then send it home for the family to use, and then summon it back when you’re leaving work.

What — it’s late picking you up? That’s because a couple of protesters shut down the autonomous highway by simply standing there, triggering pedestrian alerts that froze traffic. Either that or it got pulled over by the cops for doing 80 in a 30mph zone, thanks to some hooligans who altered the speed limit sign.

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When MPG becomes MEH

Did anyone see the pair of 2016 Prius ads during the Super Bowl? Google them. Notice anything missing? Both ads totally omitted fuel economy. Yes, the car most closely aligned with fuel economy is now pitched without even a mention of mpg. In fact, not a single datum of any kind crossed the screen. The ads were all about emotion.

That should tell you something, friends. Model III must likewise stir the pot with a fork instead of a ladle. Can it be done? Sure. More effort required? Some, yes.

Today Tesla told the press to expect a “really great update” late next month, regarding Model III. Sounds like we’ll get no car per se, but still get enough grist for the starving media mill. TeslaMondo thinks there’s more to this event than simply yanking the curtain back on a new car. If Tesla knows the world wants to see the flesh-and-bone Model III, but it plans to delver something else, that something else is probably plenty interesting.

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A word from Neuman Securities

Alfred E. Neuman TeslaMondoTeslaMondo has fallen quiet lately, due to a lack of news. Yes, people are jumping the turnstiles to get out of TSLA, and most of the Nasdaq, but that’s not news. That’s anticipation of news. Apparently everyone thinks that everyone else knows people who are pretty sure that people with greater minds have a lead on some information suggesting that something bad is happening with Tesla. And whatever it is, boy are we going to find out on Wednesday. Yes sir.

So with TSLA trading at levels unseen since the Mesolithic era, yet without any evidence of a problem, it won’t take much from Wednesday’s conference call to reverse the curse. TeslaMondo thinks the call will go like this:

Model X ramp
Not a problem. If there’s a credible story about a production stall, TeslaMondo hasn’t found it. But even if the ramp is slower than hoped, the payoff presumably is higher quality. Nothing wrong with that. Ford recalled the Escape 16 times in three years. Tesla cannot afford such a blunder. In fact, even ONE recall would get exaggerated media coverage and market reaction because Tesla is SUPPOSED TO BE FLAWLESS. Fair or not, that’s the standard imposed on the brand. And Model X demand IS NOT about to fizzle. SUVs are hot, gas guzzlers or otherwise.

Tesla Energy
It’s a thing. TeslaMondo thinks many investors have forgotten about it. Tesla is an energy innovation company, remember? At some point, stationary storage is going to start bringing home the bacon. And when it arrives, it will have recent TSLA sellers wishing they’d stood in bed. Will bacon arrive Wednesday night? Probably not. But we’ll hear at least SOME positive news on that front. Enough to cause some head-slaps from folk who sorta forgot about this non-automotive side of Tesla.

Cheap gas
It’s not a thing. Cheap gas will continue to deter NOBODY from buying a Tesla. You want a Tesla because you want a Tesla, period. Saving money on gas is the cherry on the cake, nothing more. The cherry can vary in size without detracting from the cake.

Model III
Model III details will NOT come forth Wednesday. Why would Tesla defuse the Hitchockian suspense of the March reveal? Maybe Tesla will use this call to reassure everyone that we will indeed see a car, and not mere images of a car. After all, the Model S concept debuted with magnets holding its hood in place. Then the Model X concept debuted with functional falcon doors. Even the Dale appeared briefly in the flesh. Surely Tesla can match the Dale. The what?

How longGigafactory
It’s on or ahead of schedule, true? Since the idiot press thinks Tesla is locked in race with GM, this is crucial. For the rest of us who know GM will steal zero customers from Tesla, the Gig represents not a race against Detroit, but the exciting frontiers of battery volume, quality and price. We’ve read that Gig job creation is behind schedule, but does anybody care, besides some Nevada politicians?

If the call leads to more selling, it’s time to ask yourself the question: How long are you? If you’re REALLY long, this romp through the tar pits means nothing. In fact, TeslaMondo would sell other securities and buy more TSLA if only its other major holding, MBLY, weren’t also stuck in the sediment of late, as autonomous car tech moves to the back burner — temporarily.

Scion, 2003 – 2016. Tesla, 2008 – ?

Despite the nonconformist image, “underground” marketing, transparent menu pricing and streamlined sales process — the Scion phenom is done after just over a decade. GenX had Scion fever for a little while. Millennials? Cold.*

Implications for Tesla? Unclear. Tesla, too, has a nonconformist image, underground marketing, transparent menu pricing and streamlined sales process. Young people like Tesla and surely aspire to the brand, but two problems loom:

  1. They’re not as passionate about cars.
  2. Car ownership might phase out anyway.

All the more raison d’être for the “learning fleet” of Autopilot vehicles and a swift move into autonomy and shared mobility. Today’s youth may admire Tesla, but that doesn’t mean they’ll ever buy one, even if they grow up during Model III mania. Tesla hats and hoodies? Probably. Cell phone cases? Hell yeah. Big metal things that cost a fortune and sit there motionless most of the time while transferring your money to that GEICO creature or the Progressive, um, creature? Nay. You’re better off just hailing one with your phone and posing with it. Get the maximum “mileage,” so to speak, then ditch it before the bill gets too high.

As GenX moved on, Toyota failed to show Millennials what makes a Scion a Scion. In the coming decade, Tesla will have to define what makes a Tesla a Tesla. Silent but deadly performance? Nonconformity? All good answers — for now.

*Toyota says Scion simply isn’t necessary to court young people because the Toyota name is cool enough. This fails to explain the very recent release of the iA and iM, neither of which are selling well.

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TSLA story unchanged

Despite the macro tumult, cheap gas and analyst panty stains, TeslaMondo sees no change in the TSLA story. Therefore, it has no plans to sell out. Same holds true for MBLY.

O ye of little faith, why are you so afraid?

Tesla’s move in Michigan means …

Two ways to read the Tesla-dealer story:

  1. Tesla wants to open Michigan stores that have just enough independence to qualify as “dealerships.” Basically, Tesla will terminate an employee and then set him/her up as an “independent” dealer — only to run a store that looks and operates exactly like Tesla’s other stores.
  2. This is just a legal maneuver to elicit a response from Michigan, so that Tesla lawyers know what weaponry this battle will require. That’s what Tesla has told the press, in different words.
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Model III info will drip forth

According to this video:

Tesla will release the first images in late March, apparently NOT during the Geneva auto show, which ends March 13. So people who’ve been counting down the days to Geneva as the de facto Model III debut can add another dozen days at least. Sigh. Look on the bright side. Delayed orgasm has its merits.

And the images will show just the basic concept, with the juicier details to emerge in measured amounts as production nears. Sounds like Tesla wants to fill the order books without tipping its hand to rivals — uh, allies. By the time the Model III’s grooviest James Bond features hit the press, Big Auto won’t have enough time to steal any thunder.

This Chinese water torture sounds like a repeat of Model X’s birth, but worse. Why worse? Because Model III promises a new paradigm in motoring for millions of people. Every new detail will hit the blogosphere like blood droplets into a frothing tank of piranha.

Imagine life for Tesla employees with access to Model III info. They’re all potential Deep Throats. They could pay off their mortgages by selling a single factoid. One hopes that during their job interviews, someone asked them, “Are you now or have you ever been disgruntled?”

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Tesla “advertises” to Hong Kong

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.14.48 AM.pngThis video ain’t on TV, at least not around here, so it leaves intact Tesla’s rep as non-traditional marketer. However, it is indeed an advertisement, and since it emanated from Tesla, TeslaMondo proposes that it be considered a Tesla advertisement (gasp) targeted at Hong Kong, where the Model S was the best-selling sedan in 2015 according to local press.

So what do we see? Tesla’s clean design esthetic, for one thing. The ad has a lot of negative space, as does Tesla’s breezy website. It favors a few simple gestures and asks you to read almost nothing. We see the Model S and a cameo appearance by the Roadster.

What do we hear? Testimonials using customer voice-overs, all in English. It seems the same ad could employ other languages interchangeably with only minor edits, since very few mouths are seen moving anyway. We hear about Tesla’s speed, safety, emissions heroics etc.

What’s missing? Model X, understandably. Tesla is looking for sales, not orders. Also missing is a harsh depiction of smog. We hear a reference to it, coupled with fairly innocuous imagery of a city haloed by what looks like a semi-happy cloud.

Makes sense. Can’t show a family coughing blood into their masks and falling down, holding their throats — though TeslaMondo would do exactly that. And those people would then carjack a Model S, wherein they would remove their masks and admire the modern/lux appointments while giving the finger to other people desperately clawing at the windows. The final shot would show the Model S heading to the mountains while the Hong Kong skyline wilts and collapses in the background.

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Hong Kong phooey. What the big press missed.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 10.51.00 AMEver heard of neural lace? It’s a mesh-like brain implant that actually assimilates with your brain and allows computer/brain interface. It was science fiction until recently, when scientists successfully wired some mice thus. The mice brains actually accepted the mesh, in effect meshing with the mesh.

The long-term implications for humanity: Thought manipulation, performance enhancement, memory sharing, cloud-like applications, disease treatment — a whole spectrum of good and bad outcomes. Anyway, it’s a frontier that Musk sees as inevitable and impactful, effectively evening out the delta between dumb-asses and smart-asses, among other things. “Intelligence augmentation as opposed to artificial intelligence.”

What else did he say in Hong Kong recently? Oh, some stuff about Tesla, most of which went totally unheard by the mainstream press, which chose to write about tunnels and other irrelevancies.

  1. Falcon doors will soon get an OTA update allowing for a 50 to 60 percent opening, to better serve as rain shields.
  2. A truck will probably happen. Does that mean pickup truck? Who knows. Tesla thinks by first principles, not analogies.
  3. The price of gas can go screw itself. “What we aspire to do is make the cars so compelling that even with low gasoline prices, it’s still the car you want to buy.”
  4. Hong Kong should serve as a model for other high-density cities as the world shifts to electric motoring. High-rise dwellings pose an unsolved problem for charging EVs.
  5. Model III: “The most profound car that we make.”
  6. About Chinese competition: “If you’re in a race, don’t worry about what the other runners are doing. Just run.”
  7. But is China tilting the race in favor of the Chinese runner? “I’m trying to figure out there’s any way to answer that and not lose.” He didn’t answer. But he did raise an eyebrow (see photo). We’ve seen that non-verbal cue before. It’s generally affirmative.
  8. On shared mobility versus private car ownership: “I think probably, roughly 60 or 70 percent of people will probably want to own their cars. Or call it two thirds own, one third share. This is a complete shooting in the dark guess . . . They also may choose to add it to the shared fleet and then take it out of the shared fleet at will.”
  9. Autonomy/shared mobility not a threat. “No, as long as we make great autonomous cars. It’s just adding functionality that I think people will consider quite important in the car in the future.”
Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 10.52.13 AM

Obscure 70s reference. Sorry.

But back to the neural mesh thing. Why use a car at all? You can work from home. You might even be able to control a facsimile of yourself at work, while you’re at home, rearranging your sock drawer.

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