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The Hypermiler

2,500 Miles at 60 MPG

Recently, I had the opportunity to show my ecomodded 1991 Honda CRX at HybridFest, a car show dedicated to hybrids and green technology in Madison, Wisconsin. I was really excited, but I quickly realized that the trip would take a total of 2,500 miles, both from my native New Jersey, then over to my surrogate home in Missouri -- and then back.

This trip alone is more than I would drive in an entire year, so I had to carefully weigh whether or not the environmental impact of the drive would be offset by the potential for teaching the people I met about saving gas. I definitely wanted to get there as quickly as possible, but I also knew how much gas I would be wasting by driving fast. So I averaged about 60 mph over the whole drive.

Luckily, my recent modifications paid off, and I was able to maintain at least 60 mpg over the whole trip. Not only was this gratifying in terms of ROI on my ecomodding efforts, but it meant that the trip only cost about $110 dollars in gas -- and I had good mpg numbers to show off at HybridFest.

You can see for yourself how far I have come with the car since I first got it 3 years ago:

 graph of gas mileage for 1991 honda crx ecomodder

What's most exciting about this for me is that I have yet to do any aerodynamics modifications. With those in place I can expect even better fuel economy.


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World's Biggest Hybrid and Green Car Show

Next weekend in Madison, Wisconsin, hundreds of green car lovers will gather together at an event called HybridFest in order to check out new technology from the green automotive industry.

 sign for hybridfest 2007, world's biggest festival for hybrid cars and green cars

The show activities officially start on Saturday, but Friday afternoon there will be a hybrid car MPG challenge to whet everyone's taste for the future of high fuel economy vehicles.

However, HybridFest isn't just about high MPG and hybrids -- it's more about the future of the automotive industry. This year the show will feature everything from big automakers Toyota and GM showing off their wares to homespun biodiesel makers and ecomodders like myself. There will also be speakers on a wide range of green car topics, including the featured talk on plug-in hybrids and the quest for 100+ MPG production vehicles.

Personally, I'm attending under two separate sets of auspices. Firstly, I will be an interested participant looking forward to things like the hybrid car test drives and speeches for tech buffs. Secondly, I will be there as a representative from my site, showing my car and talking about ecomodding as a way to conserve without chucking your old car.


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Getting 133 MPG in a 1998 Pontiac

When you first start hypermiling, I find, you really wish you had someone to ride along with you to show you the ropes. Sadly, that's not yet an option for most people. Until then, we can learn from some of the best.

 darin cosgrove and his hypermiling, ecomodding pontiac

Darin Cosgrove's modified 1998 Pontiac gets insane gas mileage, yet still looks pretty normal.

Darin Cosgrove has been "hypermiling" since before the term was made up, and has taught me more about it than any other person. He runs a variety of websites details his projects, experiments, and thoughts, including MetroMPG.com and ForkenSwift.com. Darin is also the (other) founder of EcoModder.com.

In my mind, he's the best, so I invited him to answer a few short questions about himself and hypermiling.

Hypermiling has received a lot of attention recently, yet you have been doing it long before it became cool. So when did you first start hypermiling?

I was an efficiency nerd 15 years before there was a sexy name for it. My interest in the topic grew out of a part-time job I had teaching defensive driving when I was at university in the early 90s -- the company I worked for had "economy driving" in its curriculum. As an instructor trainee, I researched and gave a seminar on the subject to my fellow trainees, and I haven't looked back since.


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Where Will GM Go from Here?

Recently, it seems like everyone is speculating on the future of General Motors. Some are saying that the Volt will decide it all, others are saying that in the light of current gas prices, it's probably already over.

gm logo

Last month, sales of small cars rose dramatically and the "tiny" 4-cylinder finally overtook the 6-cylinder in U.S. sales. In less recent history, GM was unseated from its eight-decade long spot at the top by Japanese manufacturer Toyota.

Where does all this leave GM then? Well, the company isn't exactly belly-up yet, but you can surmise from its heavy advertising of the Volt, a car that's still two years away, that the company is trying to look to future technological developments to resurrect it from the SUV-sized grave it's dug for itself.

On that front, GM does have some grand promises. Aside from the much talked about Chevy Volt, GM plans to roll out new hybrids on a regular basis for the next several years (though at the same time they don't seem to be selling any). Diesel techs have developed a new 4.5 liter V8 diesel that seems promising. Finally, engineers are looking further down the road to HCCI technology, in hopes that it will make environmentally friendly driving more affordable and widespread.

From this, and conversations with people within GM, I think it's fair to say that GM is aggressively pursuing the greening of their business. At the same time, however, I think it would be prudent to look at the long-term goals of the company. I recently spent some time at a very insightful GM conference, where I learned a little bit about the company's plan for the future.


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Will America Survive the Small Car?

Ever since the mid-1990s, when the SUV hype reached its peak and gasoline started to become expensive again, there has been a brewing feeling that eventually things would have to change. It's certainly been a long time coming, but car sales have overtaken truck and SUV sales in the U.S., with compacts and subcompacts leading the charge.

honda fit

Honda Fit

In April, sales figures show a huge increase in the popularity of small cars, with a similarly large decrease in the popularity of trucks and SUVs. For the first time, vehicles with 4-cylinder engines outnumbered 6-cylinders in sales. Compared with last year, Toyota Yaris sales are up 46% and Honda Fit sales are up 52%.

These increases are being seen in a decidedly down market, where even Toyota and Honda have seen their domestic sales shrinking. However, the American automakers aren't seeing any benefits from the shift towards small cars, as their focus has been (and still is) on trucks and SUVs, which have larger profit margins and are seen as iconic of American vehicles.

What does this shift mean for the U.S. and for the environment? For one, the new 35 MPG by 2020 CAFE standards are going to be much more attainable with the economy driving fuel-efficient vehicles sales. Not only will fuel efficiency standards be easier to implement, but with automakers trying to capitalize on high-MPG subcompacts, they are likely to cut back on some of the fervent opposition they have shown to fuel economy regulation.


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Everything You Need to Know About Tires and Gas Mileage

Once you've got the basics of fuel economy down, it's time to start getting a little more involved. And what's a better place to start than with talking about tires?

There is very little that's more universal about cars than tires -- every car has them, and almost every owner has gone through the experience of having to buy new ones when the old ones meet their fate.

 car tires

However, what most people don't know about tires is that they have a huge impact on fuel economy. When you're browsing reviews online or at a store looking at tires, no one jumps out to tell you about rolling resistance or how tire sizing affects overall gearing, so these bits of information tend to go unnoticed.

Recently there has been a lot of talk about keeping your tires pumped up to manufacturer's specs, with some motivated souls going as far as to calculate possible fuel wasted if everyone was driving around on underinflated tires. There is a bit more to tire inflation than meets the eye, though.

The recommended inflation you will find in the vehicle's owner manual (usually 32-35 psi) is based on a number of factors, including traction, comfort, and fuel economy. On the sidewall of the tire, you will find another number (usually 44 psi or 51 psi), which is the maximum pressure the tire is designed to hold safely. Knowing that higher pressures reduce rolling resistance, therefore increasing fuel economy, many enthusiastic EcoModders (myself included) have filled their tires up to the maximum listed on the sidewall.


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What You Need to Know About Gas Mileage

If you're at all interested in fuel economy, I'm sure you've heard all the standard advice by now. Go take a look at the government's fuel economy advice and tell me, do you really see anything new? Slow down, keep your car maintained, don't drive to the curb to pick up your mail or take out your trash.

 car pedals

Luckily there's a lot more to it. Don't be confused, the EPA's advice is good stuff that you should follow, and I'll discuss it a bit, but for the average person there's still a little bit more to know. That said, I'll try to go over some of the most basic things you need to know to get great fuel economy, and then let you decide how aggressively you want to pursue each course of action.

The first, and likely most important, thing for you to realize is that aggressive driving kills fuel economy. Instead of driving, imagine yourself riding a bicycle. How strenuous would it be for you to pedal like mad from every light just to slam on the breaks to barely make a stop? How about going up hills? It's extremely easy to coast down, but huge energy savings can be had from taking it a little bit slower uphill and gaining your speed back on the downhill.

Finally, try going as fast as you can on your bike. You'll find that at a certain speed you just can't go any faster because the wind is just too much. Your car is the same way except you don't notice how much more difficult driving 75 is than driving 65.

Furthermore, don't ever let anyone tell you that there is a "best speed" for fuel economy that is something like 55 or 65 MPH. Every car has it's own "best speed," and that speed is usually as slow as you can go with the car in the highest gear or the torque converter engaged (if you're driving an automatic). Most so-called "best speeds" are just recommendations, and you should remember that slowing down, from any speed, will almost always increase your fuel economy.


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Mercedes Introduces BlueTEC Lower Emission Diesels

As I have talked about in the past, Mercedes has been doing a lot recently to make their product offerings more environmentally friendly across the board. However, I must say that these new diesel engines are one of the most interesting things I've seen thus far.

 mercedes diesel engine

Besides being a huge leap forward in a European economy based on diesel, these engines also appear to have the ability to jump the pond and show up in models stateside.

So what makes them so special? These new 2,143 cc 4-cylinders have a peak output of 204 hp (150 kW) and 369 ft-lbs (500 Nm) of torque in the most powerful model, which represents increases of 20% and 25% over the previous generation, respectively. At the same time, Mercedes has managed to reduce CO2 emissions 13% and pass the Euro-5 emissions standards.

There are four new engines overall, ranging from 204 hp on the high end to 136 hp on the low end. While the prospective fuel economy numbers are not listed for that 136 hp model, the middle-range 170 hp engine is expected to get 46.1 US mpg, a number any driver in this current fuel-price crunch could envy.

Mercedes has done this with a combination of several interesting and innovative technologies, including two-stage turbocharging, optimized intercooling and exhaust gas recirculating, intake port shut off, and new injector control features. These definitely are not your dad's old diesel Mercedes. All these advances allow the car to run clean enough to pass the new Euro-5 emissions standards without NOx scrubbers, but evidently Mercedes will still be installing their new BlueTec system in order to make the engine's emissions extra-clean.


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Great Gas Mileage is a Game

The thrill of the game has always been my biggest push to get better fuel economy.

Sure, I got into it because I'm a conservationist, but I stayed because it's fun. And I'm not alone; a great many of those people getting amazing fuel economy are doing it to compete with their peers.

In Japan it's called nenpi mania and it's dominated by people with Prii [plural of Prius] and kei (small) cars. In the U.S. it's called hypermiling or ecomodding, depending on whether you focus more on changing your driving or your car. For me it's a bit of both.

The first tip most fuel economy nuts will give you is to start tracking your mileage. Once you see exactly how much gas you're actually using, you start to get serious. From there it's a short step to instantaneous feedback. With a device like a Scangauge II you can see the fuel economy you're getting at that exact moment. It's also possible to track your tank, compare commutes one day to the next, and see how things like throttle pressure and air temperature affect your mileage.

Starting to see how this can get addictive? That's why so many hypermilers have been able to push the envelope as far as 150-MPG trips and 100+ MPG tanks. If it weren't for this growing sense of competition to be the best, who knows if people would be posting such amazing numbers.


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Falling Dollar Reshapes Markets for Green Cars

I'm sure you've all heard of the sub-prime loan crisis and the falling U.S. dollar, but I bet you didn't know that it was trickling down to affect efficient vehicle choices for U.S. and European consumers.

In years gone by, smart automakers like Honda and Toyota anticipated fluctuations in international currency and decided to begin opening up factories around the world to cut distribution costs and stabilize profits. This is paying off right now, as neither company is taking a huge profit gouge due to the dollar being at record lows against the yen.

Other companies, like Audi, aren't quite so lucky. Because hybrids are generally low-volume and low-profit margin compared to standard sedans and SUVs, they are what is getting cut from Audi's 2009 plans, according to AutoBlogGreen. This isn't exactly surprising (who's going to have money for luxury hybrids in this economy, anyway?), but it's a bit worrisome. I really can't say if this suggests there will be more opposition to some of the smaller cars that have been projected for release in the U.S. after success in Japan and Europe, but I sure hope they make it across the pond.

In other, slightly related news, Tesla has announced that they will be selling their performance EV in Europe, despite issues with production volume (thanks to EcoGeek for reporting). With the Euro getting stronger and stronger compared to the dollar, this only makes sense from a business point of view. Tesla is also quick to make the point that high fuel prices and shorter commutes in Europe make the Roadster a good fit for the continent.


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Mercedes To Release Even More Fuel-Efficient Cars

I reported earlier on Mercedes' new Blue Efficiency program, which will allow buyers to select more fuel-efficient versions of every Mercedes model. Interestingly, the major European car manufacturer has backed this up with the redesign of several new small cars to be introduced soon.

Green Car Congress recently reported that Mercedes will be unveiling these cars in the upcoming Leipzig auto show, which is being held from April 5th-13th.

The German automaker has reduced fuel consumption on its diesel A-class vehicles by an average of 8%, and some models will come with a "microhybrid" start/stop feature, making the cars up to 9% more fuel efficient. This feature will automatically stop the engine when the vehicle isn't moving and start it right back up when the gas is pressed. The widespread use of this technology represents a shift towards acceptance of more unconventional fuel-saving techniques.

The best of these A-class models reaches an impressive 49 MPG, with another getting 51 MPG when combined with the Blue Efficiency package. Blue Efficiency and stop/stop features are also available on the B-class, which is notable because it features several cars with natural gas engine options that use as much as 50% less energy than their gasoline equivalents.

It's great to see a major manufacturer making real efforts to reduce fuel consumption across the board. Hopefully Mercedes can be persuaded to offer some of these models in the United States, where domestic manufacturers are dragging their feet big time on meaningful, across-the-board fuel economy improvement. Kudos to you, Mercedes!


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New VW TDI Hybrid Concept Car to Get 69 MPG

With fuel economy reminiscent of the late VW Lupo, the new VW Golf Diesel Hybrid Concept seems to address the growing schism between American and Japanese hybrids and European Diesels.

 new vw tdi hybrid concept car, blue, to get high gas mileage

Green Car Congress recently reported on the unveiling of the car at the Geneva Auto Show. VW couples a new 7-speed DSG transmission with a 1.2-liter, TDI diesel engine and an electric motor capable of operating in all electric mode. The diesel engine puts out a max of 74 hp and 132 kb-ft of torque, and its electric counterpart puts out 20 kW and 103 lb-ft of torque at its peak. This new diesel hybrid sounds like anything but your stereotypical, gutless economy car.

The car features regenerative braking and electric-only operation from a stop until a high enough speed is reached that it requires a switch-over to the diesel engine. From the switch-over the car is powered primarily by the diesel engine unless extra power is required. This combination is what allows the car to achieve its stellar mileage (69 US MPG) in the body of your standard VW Golf.


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With Small Mods, Mercedes Boosts Fuel Economy

Recently, Mercedes announced a new line-up that would feature its well-known luxury cars, but with a little twist. That twist, it turns out, is that these models, dubbed "Blue Efficiency," would be modified to optimize fuel economy and not power output.

So far three C-Class models have been released, in both diesel and gasoline versions. The most impressive of the group is easily the 200 CDI. This 2.2L diesel engine delivers 134 hp, 199 lb-ft of torque, and an extremely admirable 46.1 mpg (up from 38.6 in the non-Blue Efficiency model).

So how did Mercedes manage to kick the efficiency up a notch without comprising the spirit of their luxury driving machines? Long story short: basic design modification.

In its Blue Efficiency line-up Mercedes employs what I like to call passive modifications. Rather than requiring the driver to do something to get better fuel economy, the efficiency is "built in." This means that even the most lead-footed of drivers will end up saving, whether they like it or not.

Most of the modifications were made to either the weight of the car or the car's aerodynamics. In the auto design world, these two items are usually considered low-hanging fruit. Beyond that, they're modifications that don't make the car slower and therefore are unlikely to dull the driving experience.


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The Hypermiler RSS

With gas prices soaring, more and more people are turning to "hypermiling," the practice of getting the best gas mileage by changing driving behaviors. Closely related is "ecomodding," which is about making tweaks to your ride to boost efficiency.
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The Hypermiler

With gas prices soaring, more and more people are turning to “hypermiling,” the practice of getting the best gas mileage by changing driving behaviors. Closely related is “ecomodding,” which is about making tweaks to your ride to boost efficiency. This blog will explore both and more.
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With gas prices soaring, more and more people are turning to "hypermiling," ... read more.
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Benjamin F.T. Jones

Benjamin F.T. Jones

Benjamin F.T. Jones is a New Hampshire-based writer, cyclist and hypermiler who co-founded Ecomodder.com. read full bio.
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Ecomodder.com is an automotive community where performance is judged by fuel economy rather than power and speed.
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