Josh is on the road to fuel efficiency.
JOSH L. DICKEY - GOOGLE
- September 1, 2009
A very good article portraying the conversion to "Hypermiling!" --Ed.
The crippling success of Cash for Clunkers, the sustained popularity of the Toyota Prius and splashy headlines afforded the 230-mpg Chevy Volt would seem to signal a fuel-efficiency awakening in the United States not seen since the energy crisis of the 1970s.
Tell that to the angry-faced guy riding my bumper as I coast up to a red light.
Forgive him for swerving into the left lane, flooding his fuel injectors and roaring ahead.
Pity him as he slams the brakes, converting expensive gasoline into worthless heat on his brake pads.
Me? I'll thank him as his dead-stopped vehicle trips the stoplight's sensor, and I float gently through the green.
See you at the next light!
For me, this moment of self-satisfaction is the pinnacle experience of hypermiling, the practice of adjusting your driving habits with one goal in mind: to maximize fuel economy. Another would be the sheer joy of jaw-dropping results — though that's reserved for the majority of hypermilers who stretch gas-electric hybrids to 100 mpg and beyond.
In my case, not so much the latter. I'd been driving my grandfather's 1995 Cadillac DeVille Concurs — a veritable luxury liner, generously rated by the EPA at a combined 17 mpg — in and out of downtown Los Angeles for the better part of two years.
And despite my pains to squeeze max miles from every guzzled drop, my vehicle choice (based mostly on its family-heirloom status) would make me no hero in the eyes of Wayne Gerdes.
As fuel-efficiency guru, self-styled coiner of the phrase "hypermiling" and leader of a fiercely dedicated community, Gerdes sees it not just as a cost-saving hobby. He sees it as an individual patriotic duty that, if adopted en masse, could single-handedly achieve that utopian goal of weaning the country from foreign oil.
"It's not up to the government, and it's not up to the auto manufacturers," says Gerdes, a former nuclear engineer from Wadsworth, Ill. "It's up to you. Drive whatever you have very fuel efficiently, and the next car you buy, buy one that's more fuel efficient."
By Gerdes' math, for the country to become oil self-reliant, the U.S. fleet would have to jump from its current average of roughly 20 mpg to 45 mpg (based on figures from the federal Energy Information Administration, an arm of the federal energy department).
"Forty-five is really all we need, and we don't import a drop anymore," he says. "You know what would happen to the price of gas if we got 45 mpg?"
Despite my best efforts, I wasn't much helping.
On a good day, I could finesse between 26 and 27 mpg out of the Caddy's eager Northstar V-8 engine, a more than 50 percent jump over the EPA rating, by simply coasting to stoplights in hopes of timing greens; accelerating with a gentle, feathery touch; and staying within or just below the posted speed limit.
In traffic, I'd leave a long buffer zone between myself and the car ahead to minimize braking and preserve momentum. And when negotiating uneven terrain, I'd pick up extra speed going downhill so I could coast on the way back up.
These are the most basic underpinnings of hypermiling, which taken as a whole just sounds a whole lot like the safe, sensible driving habits that my late grandpa Bud had always preached and practiced to minimize wear and tear on the car. By putting up with slightly longer travel times (and aggravation from a few aggressive drivers), I was also padding several days between $60-$80 fill-ups.
But personal cost-savings isn't getting us where Gerdes wants to be.
"I don't care about the money," says Gerdes, who's made a living out of spreading his gospel, which can be found in detail on his Web site Cleanmpg.com. "I care about the country. To me it's just unpatriotic to get less than 45 mpg."
Gerdes makes regular appearances at auto shows, trade shows and mileage-stretching events; he once drove a Prius from Chicago to New York on a single tank of gas for a national television morning-show segment. And his popularity, he concedes, is directly tied to the price of a gallon.
"Below $2.50, people give it hardly a thought," he says. "At $4, I get overwhelmed."
The trouble with that attention is that it isn't always positive: As the movement has gathered momentum, everyone from state highway officials to AAA Automotive executives and state troopers have warned against perceived dangers of extreme methods, like closely following tractor-trailers for aerodynamic drag or driving below the legal minimum speed. Gerdes brushes off these critics, insisting that the vast majority of hypermilers don't employ them — and are far safer and more law-abiding than the average driver by virtue of their Sunday-driving ways.
Of course, this does nothing to allay the aggravation of all the drivers angrily whizzing by. Dealing with them is more of a Zen art than anything.
"I pretty much put it out of my mind," says Darrell Lee, a retired federal government employee and self-proclaimed hypermiler from the San Francisco Bay area. "It's their problem, not mine — as long as there are plenty of lanes, I will get out of their way or they can go around me."
Lee, who drives a late-model Nissan Sentra, says he'll shut off the engine at long stoplights — "just like the hybrids do" — a key practice for hypermilers with regular gas-engine cars. With time, he says, hypermiling turns from a conscious effort into more of a fun mental challenge.
"It becomes a matter of habit," says Lee, who describes himself as a former type-A, aggressive driver. "You do tend to slow down a lot and let the jackrabbits trip the lights for you. I find that hypermiling is sort of this big, free video game. I certainly notice the difference — because I'm getting roughly 170 percent of the EPA ratings."
And whereas 170 percent of terrible gas mileage is still terrible gas mileage, I recently found myself longing for something with a realistic shot at Gerdes' 45-mpg standard.
Sorry, grandpa. The Caddy was nobody's clunker, but the cash was too good to pass up. (It wasn't quite enough for my family to afford a Prius II or Civic Hybrid, but I'm pretty sure I can get 50 mpg in the new Honda Fit without slowing anyone down.)
See you at the next light... [Read More]