Auto: The Miles High Club

By Tobin Hack

They’re going the distance, but they’re sure as hell not going for speed. In fact, for one extra mile per gallon, they’ll drive way below the speed limit and coast to stop signs. They’ll suffocate in scorching heat rather than use AC, die of boredom instead of turning on the radio, even barrel down hills with the motor illegally shut off. They’re hypermilers—a new breed of extreme drivers whose goal is maximizing mpg.

On July 19, the gas-efficiency gurus will convene at Hybridfest in Madison, Wisconsin, to compete in the MPG Challenge for $20 worth of gasoline and sweet victory. “The joke is we give them 20 bucks and everyone goes ‘Hey, that’ll last him 2,000 miles,’” says Hybridfest president and cofounder Eric Powers. In the inaugural 2006 MPG Challenge, champion Wayne Gerdes achieved 180 mpg in his Honda Insight using the “pulse and glide” technique—accelerating to a certain speed, then coasting.

Hypermilers were once an underground community that met mostly online, but their pastime’s popularity is growing: This August, a New-York-to-San-Francisco Great Race MPG Challenge will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first around-the-world auto race. Competitors’ cars will be sponsored by universities; the first team to cross the finish line with the highest average fuel economy over 100 mpg will win $1 million for their sponsor’s scholarship fund.

What Powers and Gerdes are really out to prove is that everyone—even SUV owners—can boost mileage. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a global security hawk like me, or a big environmentalist, or Suzy Q driving her kids to the local soccer match,” says Gerdes. “Everyone has a reason to hypermile.” 

Issue 25

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