Hypermilers: Smart People or Manic Morons?

December 15th, 2008

I have a friend who drives his Audi S5 like Wayne Gerdes drives his Honda Insight. This I found particularly strange since LG used to make a practice of driving mountain roads like a madman. Then what the hell did he want an S5 for, you may wonder. LG has owned a lot of high-performance cars over the years but now gets his kicks from watching the fuel consumption display (FCD). So, apparently, do a lot of people.

Wayne Gerdes, if you’re not aware, is probably the world champ hypermiler, and he uses techniques like going 50 mph with his right tire on the white line, drafting trucks with the engine off, coasting wherever possible, no A/C, no windows open, no braking, etc. And of course he constantly monitors his progress on the FCD.

Now we’re going to get something even better than the FCD, as Ford and Honda will be offering (in the spring) techy green gauges to give instant feedback on your driving style as well as the usual mpg information. Honda’s EcoAssist display, to be available on the Insight, can even adjust transmission and engine speeds for max efficiency. Ford’s SmartGauge, for the Fusion Hybrid, tracks coolant temperature, driving efficiency and has a vine with leaves that wilt if you drive too fast or furiously.

The case for hypermiling is pretty obvious, even with declining gas prices. You can get at least a 35% increase in fuel economy by simply practicing these techniques: recording your gas mileage, braking less, turning off the engine at long red lights, keeping your distance to counter traffic jams, and accelerating slowly, using cruise control. The idea is to keep aware of traffic and anticipate conditions. See more suggestions here.

Well, what’s wrong with this picture? If everyone drove like this, we could be off foreign oil, traffic deaths would plummet, the planet would be saved. But we don’t drive like this, as the author of the Wayne Gerdes piece found:

Two nights earlier, on a clammy 80-degree Chicago evening, I wait for Wayne at the curb at O’Hare International Airport. I first see his technique as the car he’s driving, a 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid, pulls over to pick me up. Drifts over, actually, like a jellyfish. Around Wayne is madness in motion: Drivers in four lanes are accelerating hard, weaving erratically, or grinding to a halt. To Wayne, these are the driving habits of the ignorant and the wasteful—which is to say, nearly all of us. Wayne’s car glides to a stop as if it has run out of gas. Wayne has stopped without braking.

Many, including yours truly, feel that such driving creates nothing but hazard for the rest of us, not to mention the driver. Here’s a description of how Wayne exits the freeway:

“Buckle up tight, because this is the death turn,” says Wayne. Death turn? We’re moving at 50 mph. Wayne turns off the engine. He’s bearing down on the exit, and as he turns the wheel sharply to the right, the tires squeal—which is what happens when you take a 25 mph turn going 50. Cathy, Terry’s wife, who is sitting next to me in the backseat, grabs my leg. I grab the door handle. As we come out of the 270-degree turn, Cathy says, “I hope you have upholstery cleaner.”

I guess there’s a middle way in all this, and not all hypermilers, including my friend LG, are as manic about the practice as Wayne. But I doubt that high-tech gauges are going to civilize anybody.

Hypermiling on the public roads is madness. Do you agree?

–jgoods

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  1. | #1

    I think hypermiling like Wayne is as reckless as traditional reckless driving. Get ‘em off our roads!

  2. Trenton
    | #2

    While I am all for driving safely and conservatively, there are bounds that one has to live within in order to avoid putting themselves at high risk for accidents. I have a manual so I will coast when I can and try to accelerate smoothly, and decelerate the same. Sometimes, however, that urge to use my car’s 2.5L 4cyl 175 horses and 185lbs of torque takes over and I floor it. example: merging into fast moving traffic is no time to hypermile!

  3. | #3

    You need to change the tense of the word drives to “drove.” He sold the Insight about 4 years ago. Drafting is not condoned by CleanMPG either.

    Are you saying that driving the speed limit or under is dangerous? Many have found how to save money by increasing the mpg of whatever they drive at CleanMPG.com.

    We have members that drive, semi tractor trailers, Corvettes, BMW’s, Audi’s, etc. that all have a common goal: To increase the mileage in whatever you drive.

  4. | #4

    Oh Yea! How many Hypermiling traffic accidents have been recorded???

    For those that don’t know the answer, ZERO!

  1. | #1
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