My friend Lisa recently got herself a new car and wanted to get a hybrid. She test drove a Toyota Prius (which is what Will and I drove all day yesterday) but didn’t like the crazy space-age dashboard interface and the fact that it’s hard to see out the back window. So she hopped on down to the local Honda dealership and got herself a Hybrid Civic. She was super excited and decided to go one step further and change her driving style in order to maximize her gas efficiency. I confess I don’t know much about hypermiling but the techniques she tried were similar to what I’ve heard about – accelerate slowly, try to maintain a constant speed with minimal acceleration and deceleration, allow your car to speed up a bit going downhill and slow down a bit going uphill, and forget about being a speed demon aggressive driver. Hybrids also have little gauges so you can see what your efficiency is in real-time and adjust accordingly.
Alas, she was working hard to drive like an old lady and was getting unimpressive mileage results, especially in town. She kept trying and ignoring the honks from the lead-footed drivers around her. She took the car to the dealership and asked why she wasn’t getting the 50mpg mileage they touted but they told her the car was performing just fine.
Finally, one week she got distracted and went back to her normal driving habits. Her mileage improved although it still seemed better on the highway than in the city. So she has returned to her old driving habits and is feeling a little better about the car but still disappointed.
I mentioned this story to my dad and he said that what most people don’t realize is that there’s a big difference between the Toyota hybrid system and the Honda hybrid system – the Toyota is a full hybrid system while the Honda is a power assist hybrid. Both have an electric motor and a gas motor. In the Toyota (the Prius), the electric motor operates the car at start-up and at slow speeds so it is very efficient for puttering around town in stop-and-go traffic. In the Honda (the Civic), the electric motor operates as as a booster for the gas motor so it accelerates more efficiently and cruises at high speeds on the highway more efficiently. So, with the Prius it makes a big difference if you accelerate slowly because you can run on the electric motor for a long time. However, with the Civic you’re always using the gas motor so the in-city mileage is never going to be as good no matter how you drive.
That’s my understanding, anyway. I did a very small amount of research using Wikipedia and JDPower but I’m afraid my engineering brain has been called upon too many times already today as we prepare for Rob and Angel’s weddin – fixing pumps, arranging landscapes, scaling up recipes… So let me know if I’m off.