kottke.org posts about waynegerdes

HypermilingMar 06 2007

The most enjoyable and interesting thing I've read in a week has to be this article about Wayne Gerdes (via bb). Gerdes is a hypermiler -- a person who drives in an obsessive fashion in order to increase his vehicle's fuel efficiency -- and strikes me as someone that Errol Morris would be quite interested in doing a short documentary about. He's refined his driving technique over the years to wring 59 MPG out of a plain Honda Accord and clocked over 180 MPG with a hybrid Honda Insight. Here's a taste of how he drives:

"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."

We glide for over a mile with the engine off, past a gas station, right at a green light, through another green light -- Wayne is always timing his speed to land green lights -- and around a mall, using momentum in a way that would have made Isaac Newton proud. "Are we going to attempt that at home?" Cathy asks Terry, a talkative man who has been stone silent since Wayne executed the death turn in his car. "Not in this lifetime," he shoots back.

At PopTech last year, Alex Steffen of WorldChanging told the crowd that cars with realtime mileage displays get better gas mileage. Turns out that's how Gerdes got really interested in hypermiling:

But it was driving his wife's Acura MDX that moved Wayne up to the next rung of hypermiler driving. That's because the SUV came with a fuel consumption display (FCD), which shows mpg in real time. As he drove, he began to see how little things -- slight movements of his foot, accelerations up hills, even a cold day -- influenced his fuel efficiency. He learned to wring as many as 638 miles from a single 19-gallon tank in the MDX; he rarely gets less than 30 mpg when he drives it. "Most people get 18 in them," he says. The FCD changed the driving game for Wayne. "It's a running joke," he says, "but instead of a fuel consumption display, a lot of us call them 'game gauges'" -- a reference to the running score posted on video games -- "because we're trying to beat our last score -- our miles per gallon."

If people could see how much fuel they guzzled while driving, Wayne believes they'd quickly learn to drive more efficiently. "If the EPA would mandate FCDs in every car, this country would save 20 percent on fuel overnight," he says. "They're not expensive for the manufacturers to put in -- 10 to 20 bucks -- and it would save more fuel than all the laws passed in the last 25 years. All from a simple display."

Competition, even with yourself, can be a powerful motivator. I'm not convinced, however, that FCDs would improve gas mileage across the board. There are other games you can play with the display -- the how-much-gas-can-I-waste game or the how-close-can-I-get-to-18-MPG game -- that don't have much to do with conserving fuel consumption. Still, next time I'm in a car with a mileage display, I'll be trying out some of Gerdes less intensive driving techniques, including the ones he shares on this Sierra Club podcast (Gerdes' interview is about 2/3 of the way through).

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