Hypermiling seems like the exact opposite of some idiot hooning around on public roads, street racing and doing donuts and getting in everyone’s way, but the truth is that it’s really just another version of the same thing: Driving like a jackass. I know this from experience and because I was reminded by a recent Wall Street Journal article about EV hypermilers. Also, there’s a name in that article that we have to talk about.
In case you’re blissfully unaware of hypermiling, it’s the practice of attempting to drive with absolute, maximum efficiency, eeking every last inch of travel from a given amount of combustible fuel or electricable current.
On this level, it’s really no different than any sort of enthusiast or performance driving in that it’s driving with a goal of something other than basic transportation; If you’re a racing driver, the goal is getting around a track or through a rally stage as fast as possible. For a hypermiler, it’s being as efficient as possible. That’s great. Efficiency is good.
Sometimes hypermilers will modify their cars to make them perform the very specific goals of a hypermiler more efficiently. That’s why you may have seen pictures of radically-modified Geo Metros or Priuses with long teardrop tails or dramatically narrowed bodywork; This is the exact equivalent of cars focused on speed or performance having huge wings or massive brakes or air dams or whatever. Again, it’s great!
It’s your car. Do what makes you happy, and if that’s the pursuit of incredible economy, fantastic! Go get it.
Where things change, though, is when your personal driving fetishes interfere significantly with everyone else’s ability to just get their asses to work or whatever — situations that are described in the WSJ article in passages like this:
Road rage from other travelers comes with the territory, as Mr. McGrath saw when he and fellow hypermiler Kevin Booker set a Guinness World Record in July for lowest energy consumption traveling the length of Great Britain. They were able to squeeze 6.45 miles per kilowatt-hour from a Mach-E on their 27-hour, 840-mile trek, driving at an average 40 mph.
“We had some honks and angry people behind us,” said Mr. McGrath, an engineer for an automotive testing and certification company who lives in Swindon, England.
Mr. Gerdes, who lives in Carlsbad, Calif., and was credited by Oxford English Dictionary in 2008 with coining the term hypermiling, has done dozens of high-profile drives. This time he found himself trying to manipulate stop-and-go traffic on Los Angeles’s infamously congested Interstate 405. The trick was avoiding complete stops, an efficiency killer.
Whenever Mr. Gerdes saw a backup ahead, he would slow to a crawl, cars stacking up behind him, to try to avoid coming to a full stop. “I’ll intentionally slow down the four or five cars behind me so that we all maintain momentum,” he said. “They don’t understand what’s going on.”
In 2018, Sean Mitchell and a companion spent 32 hours in a Tesla Model 3 circling a 1-mile loop of public roadways dotted with chain restaurants and hotels near Denver’s airport. Puttering along at 25 mph, a highlight included receiving burritos from friends via a fishing net hung out the Tesla’s window, to avoid stopping, Mr. Mitchell said.
The big difference here is that the hypermiling described there is happening on public roads in normal traffic, and everyone around the hypermiling slugs is getting pissed off as the hypermilers break the flow of traffic, get in the way, and generally gum up everything.
Is this really that different than jackasses street racing or doing donuts in intersections? Well, a bit, in that the risk of death is likely less due to the glacial speeds, but that’s not to say hypermiling in traffic is really safe, either. A car going 25 mph in a place where everyone else is going 45 or more can be a huge problem that can lead to wrecks.
I say all this as someone who has actually been such a jackass. You see, I absolutely hate the sort of driving associated with hypermiling, but I’m tragically very good at it. I (and my driving partner Neal Pollack) once squeezed 830 miles from a diesel Audi’s 13 gallon fuel tank to win Audi’s hypermiling challenge, and that was on public roads. The way I had to drive to pull that off caused a cop to drive behind me and bark “YOU HAVE TO GO FASTER THAN THAT” on his loudspeaker. I’m not proud.
If you’re intensely hypermiling on public roads, you’re no better than some jerk hooning around in a Challenger with a supercharger intake popping out of the hood and revving as loud as a pair of mating elephants set on fire. You’re driving to satisfy your own personal desires and fetishes with no regard for how that may affect the drivers around you. It makes people around you less happy, which, you know, is shitty.
Oh, the name thing, right. Okay, read this paragraph (emphasis mine):
In September, retired Swiss pilot and hypermiler Felix Egolf set off on a trip through the Alps in a Volkswagen ID.3 electric car. Sponsored by Volkswagen AG, the goal was to showcase one intricacy of EV driving: Electric cars can add energy back to the battery pack when going downhill, a process known as regeneration.
Wait wait wait. The guy driving the Volkswagen electric car is named Felix Egolf? Egolf? As in e-Golf, VW’s electric Golf?
How can this be real? I wondered if someone was just fucking with those gullible clowns at the WSJ, but no, it appears Felix Egolf is real, and that that’s his actual name, and he didn’t dorkily name himself after the car.
Anyway, my point is that hypermiling is as valid an automotive pursuit as any sort of performance driving, and I’m delighted there are people out there who find joy in it.
But, despite its veneer of responsibility and elevated ethics compared to other kinds of specifically-focused driving, if you’re hypermiling in traffic and getting in the way of everybody, you’re just as much of a dick as some asshole weaving in and out of traffic. So don’t forget that.