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Out of Our Minds
Thursday, September 08, 2005 3:11 PM
Hybrid Mania
Anita Sharpe on Environment & Sustainability

When BMW capitulates, you know the auto world has changed forever. The German car company has remained steadfast in its commitment to speedy, gasoline-powered performance vehicles. Until yesterday, when it announced it was teaming with Daimler/Chrysler and GM to start building electric/gas hybrids in an attempt to catch up with Toyota's runaway success with its Prius. You have to wonder at what point the market for gas-guzzlers will completely disappear.

Meanwhile, hit 'continue' to read about a fun competition between Interface founder Ray Anderson and one of his executives to see who can get the best mileage out of their Prius.

\n THE BIG SQUEEZE\nTwo Prius owners compete to get one more mile from the last drop of gas in their hybrid cars\n\nBy HELENA OLIVIERO\nThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution\nPublished on: 09/08/05 \n\nLike a typical Toyota Prius driver, Jim Hartzfeld is engaged in a mortal competition to squeeze every last mile per gallon he can from his high-tech hybrid.\n \nHis addiction: high mileage.\n\nHis enemy: wasteful driving.\n\nHis scoreboard: the odometer.\n\nHe's playing against his boss and fellow Prius aficionado Ray Anderson.\n\nThe bet is friendly. Pride's on the line, and being true to Prius. After all, Prius translates from Latin: 'to go before.'\n\nIt's a recent workday as Hartzfeld climbs into the driver's seat of his gleaming white car. He plops his iPod into the coffee holder and switches the vehicle on.\n\nHe checks the odometer. His face is flush: 40.1 MPG. An all-time low.\n\nThe EPA fuel rating for his 2001 model is 45 mpg on the highway; 52 mpg on city streets. But Prius owners test a myriad of driving techniques to beat the EPA ratings.\n\nThey coast on hills. They crawl uphill. They shut off engines at stoplights. They keep their cars clean (any unnecessary weight can drag down the mpg) They draft behind other vehicles like skilled NASCAR drivers.\n\nBut Hartzfeld, whose nickname is 'Eco Jim,' knows he is off his game.\n\n'That's what I was afraid of,' Hartzfeld said, sullen. 'My mileage is like my blood pressure without having to put the cuff on my arm. This tells me my life is crazy.'\n\nHe's sauntering along Lower Roswell Road in Marietta, avoiding stop-and-go traffic like a virus. Two cars whiz past, their drivers having no patience for the game, as Hartzfeld putts along at 18 miles per hour.\n\n'That's so obnoxious,' Hartzfeld says, tapping his horn twice.\n\nHybrid mania\n\nWhen Toyota rolled out its 2001 Prius, some called the charmingly goofy car a science project. A paltry 1,000 sold across the country monthly.\n\nThe car got some attention when A-list celebs such as Cameron Diaz and Tom Hanks started driving them. But it is chat room buzz that fuels the hybrid mania, an Internet green zone where owners share poems about their cars and swap stories about driving barefoot to get a better feel of the 'pulse driving technique.' [It's a form of coasting: releasing the gas pedal, then pressing it slightly again to disengage the electronic motors.]\n\nToyota expects to sell about 100,000 Prius cars this year. And a fleet of other car companies � Ford, , General Motors and Lexus � are joining the hybrid game.\n\nThe Prius runs on a combination of a gas engine and an electrical system made up of a motor, generator and battery. The car is designed to use gas only when necessary. For example, the car will eat gas to accelerate on the highway, but once it reaches cruising speed, it can switch to electric mode.\n\nSophisticated electronic controls watch over the power system. It plays out on a screen like a video game � with the driver at the controls, fed by an instantaneous MPG readout on the dash that reflects every move, stop and go.\n\nAnd with gas hovering around $3 a gallon and some stations left empty following Hurricane Katrina, the game is on like never before.\n\nCompetitive spirit\n\nBut the competition between Hartzfeld and Anderson started three years ago, at a time when gas prices weren't even a blip on the radar screen.\n\nFor the two of them, the car is a statement � part of their personal beliefs about protecting the environment.\n\nAnderson, who founded the billion-dollar, green-friendly carpet company Interface Inc. based in Atlanta, turned in his Bentley about five years ago for a Prius. 'I like the feeling of moral superiority,' he says, laughing.\n\nHartzfeld's no slacker either when it comes to conservation. As manager of sustainable strategies, he is involved in a company project that uses plastic made from corn.\n\nAnd at home, trash produced by his family of four fills one Publix-sized plastic bag every two weeks. (The rest is recyled).\n\nUntil one casual car ride from their office in Vinings to Georgia Tech, they were teammates against a world of wastefulness.\n\nHartzfeld was driving his Prius, with a readout of 43 mpg.\n\nAnderson, helpful boss that he is, began to lecture Hartzfeld.\n\nEasy on the gas; easy on the AC; anticipate stop signs, and of course, never, ever accelerate on a hill.\n\nBut while Hartzfeld knew his 40-something miles per gallon was far from his peak performance, he didn't think he needed any pointers � even if was coming from the Big Boss.\n\nAnd at that moment, his competive side took over � the part of him that strategizes different ways to move the lawn mower to shave off time from cutting the grass.\n\nHartzfeld pressed the re-start button tracking average mpg.\n\n'Game on!' said Hartzfeld to his boss of 11 years.\n\n'You're on!' said Anderson.\n\nDifferent approaches\n\nHartzfeld trains diligently. He practices 'gliding' � a technique involving releasing the gas pedal and then depressing it slightly again. His faithful computer monitor shows a souring mileage and encourages consistency. He resists the AC to conserve energy. He eases out of stop signs and stoplights. He tries to do turns without stopping.\n\nWhen he's in a groove, his mileage tops 49 mpg. But because of his job � which involved parking his Prius at the airport for days at a time � Hartzfeld doesn't have the daily luxury of honing his skills. When he gets into his car at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, he's rusty. Hartzfeld slips. His mileage falls into the 40s.\n\n'When everything is cool at home and I am getting exercise, I really get into pushing the mileage as fast as I can,' he says. 'But when I am not getting enough sleep, and my wife would say I'm grumpy, my mileage collapses.'\n\nHe knows he's falling behind. Desperate, Hartzfeld starts drafting trucks That's the aerodynamic effect of following a truck. It has a druglike effect on the mileage � the gauge surges to 70 miles an hour.\n\n'I thought it was the only way I could catch up to him,' he says.\n\nBut then he stops. Too dangerous, he decides.\n\nMeanwhile, Anderson takes a more steady approach. 'Believe me, acceleration and mass are the enemies to efficient driving,' he says proudly.\n\nBy the time he reaches the top of West Paces Ferry, his car moves so slow it feels like it is about to stall. But he is confident it boosts his fuel economy.\n\nHartzfeld passes on that technique.\n\n'How many cars are behind you? Dozens?' asks Hartzfeld.\n\nAnderson nods. 'And aren't all those cars honking behind you?' asks Hartzfeld.\n\n'They just need to chill out,' Anderson responds.\n\nNeither one speeds � again, not good for gas mileage.\n\nSecret revealed\n\nThe first time, after several months and thousands of miles logged, Hartzfeld and Anderson pulled into Callaway Gardens for a company get-together.\n\nWho would drive into the Winner's Circle?\n\nAnderson � 49.3 mpg. Hartzfeld � 49.5 .\n\nThey called it a tie. Well, not quite.\n\n'It was essentially a tie, but I eeked out this mythical hero of our company,' says Hartzfeld.\n\nBut the win is bittersweet and temporary, since they're still at it.\n\nHartzfeld knows he got the original edge by drafting trucks. He feels like he was kind of cheating.\n\nMeanwhile, Anderson admits � with a smile � he has been secretly drafting every chance he gets.\n\n\n\nTHE RACE FOR BEST GAS MILEAGE\n\nPrius engineer Dave Hermance, whose official title is Toyota executive engineer for advanced technology vehicles, discussed with the AJC some secrets of his hybrid cars. Over the last 8,000 miles, he has averaged 53.6 mpg on his own 2004 Prius. We asked him about some commonly used strategies to boost mileage.\n\nQ: What about never accelerating uphill?\n\nA: Never is way too strong. Minimize acceleration uphill. Allow the vehicle to slow a bit going up and regain the speed going down. This is why cruise control operation loses some fuel economy over a good driver.\n\nQ: What about turning the car off at stop signs and stoplights?\n\nA: I would not expect this to help at all. In fact, it will likely hurt fuel economy as the system uses slightly different logic for system start management than for normal system controlled engine shutdown.\n\nQ: Driving barefoot?\n\nA: This is an old trick to improve sensitivity. It might help a bit, but just being light-footed may work as well.\n\nQ: Drafting behind trucks?\n\nA: Drafting is a common racer trick, but in order to gain significant benefit you must be much closer than is safe in nonprofessional traffic. I recommend against this.\n\nQ: Going the speed limit?\n\nA: This is hands down the best suggestion. Coupled with not weaving in and out of traffic this is the absolute best advice.\n\nQ: Turn off the AC?\n\nA: If you are comfortable, OK, but if you then put down the windows to improve comfort [and create wind drag], the AC is a better choice. I run the AC in auto mode all the time.\n\nQ: The gliding technique?\n\nA: I have heard it called gliding but also pulse driving. It is a very efficienct technique, and I have heard of amazing results. I use it on the I-405 here in LA during congested driving and it really helps.\n\nQ: Any other ideas?\n\nA: Keep the tires properly inflated and check them often. Don't carry unnecessary stuff around in the car. Any extra weight has an effect.\n\n• Group errands into combined trips to minimize the number of cold engine starts.\n\n• Where safety allows, brake lightly initially then more aggressively as speed decreases.\n\n• Live in a warm climate, since cold and heat both increase fuel consumption (lower economy).\n\nAvoid jack rabbit starts, but don't be a traffic slowpoke.\n\n \n\n \n\nPick anysubscription. Only $10 per month. Subscribe now!\n\n \nEMAIL THIS PRINT THIS MOST POPULAR Search our archives (back to 1985) \n \n \n© 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Customer care | | Visitor Agreement | Privacy Statement | Permissions \n\n\n \n


Judy - 9/19/2005 12:48:14 PM
I bought a 2003 Prius when I decided that I was not getting things done because of bus trips that took 5 times as long as driving myself. My milage over the last 2000+ miles combined city and highway is 55.5 mpg. I still use my bicycle for some short trip.
Jack in Austin - 9/11/2005 10:17:15 PM
The problem with the hybrid is it only makes us feel good for a little while.

If you pulled every car off the road and replaced it with a hybrid - we would be back at the same level of fuel consumption in less than 10 years - because the economy keeps growing.

that is not to say its a good idea - the air would be better and every little bit helps - but big change has to come with big systems. Solar and wind and what ever we invent next has to replace oil and coal in all of our production systems too.


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