Personal Log  #33

July 14, 2002  -  July 17, 2002

Last Updated: Sat. 2/15/2003

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Hybrid Road Rally  -  Competition Winner

We attempted to find out if 3 hybrids (Insight MT, Civic-Hybrid CVT, Prius) combined could use the same amount of gas or less than just 1 mid-sized SUV.  They couldn't.  The hybrids ended up using a tiny bit more.  But overall, the SUV was still the loser!

Yes, the SUV did in fact emit a little less Carbon Dioxide (the gas that contributes to global warming), but it emitted significantly more Nitrogen Oxides (the gases that cause smog).  You see, Insight & Civic-Hybrid are ULEV (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) rated and Prius is SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) rated.  Those EPA ratings measure hazardous chemical emissions that aren't directly related to MPG.  So you can't base performance on fuel consumption alone, since that doesn't provide a clear indication of overall emissions.  Combined, the 3 hybrids were actually cleaner.

Lastly, don't forget that the Ford Explorer we used was only a mid-sized SUV.  There are quite a number of larger SUVs that get even worse MPG.  And that's on the highway.  When (any) SUV slows down to city speeds, the MPG drops much lower.  Hybrids offer a distinct advantage, even when incorporated into a very large vehicle.  So, shouldn't the automakers finally consider building SUVs with hybrid systems?


Great Stereo System.  I had the tent airing out in the garage while I was at work.  When I got home, I had to move it out into the yard so I could put the Prius away.  Since the car was in stealth, I just left her running.  The music sounded significantly better than my stereo I usually use out there.  I was totally impressed.  The body of the car resonates the sound great.  So I opened the door and cranked it.  That puts a entirely new interpretation on the concept of a "portable" music device.


Speaking of Accidents.  I had a small hidden fear during the Hybrid Road Rally.  We traveled a lot of miles, following each other rather close at high speeds from time to time.  There was a very remote possibility that our adventure could become known for having the first ever hybrid-hybrid accident in the United States.  That would have been very unpleasant.


ACCIDENT !!!  It was a horrifying experience.  (So don't continue reading if you traumatize easy.)  While on the Hybrid Road Rally, I watched quite a few birds dart out in front of the Insight.  We never could figure out if it was from being the lead vehicle or if there was something particular about that hybrid which drew the birds to it.  But none ever got harmed, only startled.  It was different for my Prius today.  A bird got in the way and couldn't get out in time.  I smashed right into it.  I have 2 birds at home that mean the world to me, so seeing that was a shock.  Pulling out the limp body pounded deep into the grill was horrifying.  The grill is a flexible plastic; afterward, I was able to twist it back into shape and even get the clip to secure again.  But that doesn't make me feel any better.


On a roll.  Today's advancement to 145 miles brought the Multi-Display reading to 52.3 MPG again.


Still up there.  After 98 miles, I now see 52.1 MPG.


Something wonderful has happened.  I filled up near my house for the conclusion of the Hybrid Road Rally.  So today's commute was on a fresh tank.  What I saw was delightful.  My best reading from the Multi-Display during regular driving with the Non-LRR tires up to that point had been 50.0 MPG.  Now, after having driven 58 miles, it says 52.3 MPG.  That's amazing!  The 1,247 miles we had driven over those 4 days were 97 percent highway and very aggressive at times.  Those 2-lane country highways required quick acceleration to nearly 80 MPH to allow enough room for safe passing.  And since so many people wanted to talk to us as long as possible about our hybrids, we continually found ourselves needing to push the driving to make it to the next location in time.  That stress must have loosened the drive-components.  It's the only thing I can think of that would have caused my MPG to increase so much.  That's Super Sweet!!!


I saw you on the news.  Someone at work was up in Alexandria this weekend.  She had the television on and suddenly exclaimed, "I know that guy!"  So when I bumped into to her today, she had a bit of fun telling me.  Too bad she didn't tape it.  I'm really curious how they edited all the video we shot.


Hybrid Road Rally  -  Boldly Going

Obviously, I'm a very devoted Star Trek fan.  The biggest convention ever in the Twin Cities was this weekend.  People were amazed I wouldn't be attending.  I told them I was busy, my plans were to literally "boldly go where no one has gone before".  That made them think.

The Hybrid Road Rally was a wonderful (and very unique) opportunity to really make a difference.


Hybrid Road Rally  -  Trunk

Time after time, I was asked to show the trunk.  After opening it, I had to recite the contents since it was difficult to tell just how much was actually in there (yet, you still could reach the contents in back because the trunk is so tall).

The people were impressed by how big the trunk really is.

Here's what was in there:

  • four-man tent

  • 2 foldable captain chairs

  • medium duffle-bag (camera, medical kit, bathing supplies)

  • large duffle-bag (clothing)

  • 2 boxes (misc. supplies & bottled drinks)

  • sleeping bag & mat

  • full-size blanket

  • rechargeable air-pump

  • full-size spare tire, wrench, jack

  • 36qt. double-insulated cooler

  • 12-volt accessory battery

  • 273.6-volt hybrid battery-pack


Hybrid Road Rally  -  A/C research

Those long drives gave me opportunities to experiment.  It turns out, using the A/C (Air-Conditioner) on a very mild setting is actually more efficient (and cooler and quieter) than driving with the windows open on the highway.  The reduced drag makes sense, but I never had a really good chance until now to find out how much extra gas it took to run the compressor.  I saw a 0.1 MPG improvement running the A/C instead.  Of course on days that aren't so hot, turning the vent blower fan up to the highest setting with the windows closed works even better.


Hybrid Road Rally  -  SUMMARY

Now, I somehow need to provide a summary of everything that happened.  Phew!  It was a whirlwind of events.  I documented as much as I possibly could whenever there was a free moment, which meant a lot writing under a flashlight at the campsite afterward.  But now I have 21 journal pages of writing to show for it.  Thank goodness I did that, the individual events are already starting to blend together in my memory.  That�s actually ok though.  What�s really important is what we learned:  It�s that people really are interested in spending their hard earned money on hybrids, which is contrary to what the companies in Detroit have been claiming.  The public sees no reason why even a SUV can�t be a hybrid.  Making vehicles, regardless of how impractical they are (too big, over-powered, etc.), more efficient and cleaner is what�s truly important.  Hybrid systems offer that.

We spent 4 days together, totaling over 1,200 miles of driving.  There were 15 rally stops where we shared information with the public and the media.  We started by traveling to Northern Minnesota from the Twin Cities.  That area is beautiful.  The coniferous trees and all the lakes & rivers made for incredible scenery.  Next we drove to Western Minnesota.  That�s prairie country, which can be very picturesque, but not always when viewed for the road.  Those roads are absolutely straight without any turns or hills.  That means the sun shining through the windshield never shifts position, it just burns a very specific spot on your legs & arms.  Bummer.  The people there were great though.  Southern Minnesota introduced rolling hills which eventually turned into canyons.  The constant elevation changes are beneficial for hybrids.  Our already impressive MPG increased there.  Overall, we got to see quite a variety of geography and exchanged thoughts with a ton of enthusiastic people.  On the road itself was fun too.  As people passed by, you could see that they were thoroughly checking out each of the hybrids.  Cool!

Complaints about the lack of availability were constant.  Being so far away from the metro area of Minnesota, that wasn't a surprise.  People heard about hybrids, but had never seen one in person.  For those few places we visited that did actually have dealers with hybrids in stock, people were simply waiting for personal endorsements.  Advertisements don't mean much.  Getting to ask an actual owner (with lots of miles on the odometer) a few questions is priceless.  So we provided that opportunity.

Our goal was to prove all 3 hybrids combined (Insight, Civic-Hybrid, and Prius) could consume the same or less gas traveling the same route as just one Ford Explorer.  We intentionally chose that popular SUV since a variety of different sources have demonstrated 34 MPG is possible as a hybrid.  Unfortunately, 97 percent of our driving was at full-speed on highways.  When hybrids drive at city speeds (including stop & slow on the highway), they have a distinct advantage over the traditional vehicles.  Unfortunately, we didn�t have the opportunity to use that ability.  So the hybrids actually suffered from this non-typical type of driving.  In the real-world, people drive quite a bit more than just 3 percent city.  So our hybrid MPG results really should be a little higher and the SUV a little lower.  Oh well.  Also, we had a TDI diesel along to show that there are more traditional (but not as clean) technologies available for getting great MPG.

The weather was perfect.  There's not much else to say about it.  We couldn't have asked for better.  It was a true blessing.

As for the comparison information people have been begging me for� yes, Prius squeaked by with slightly higher MPG than the Civic-Hybrid CVT (taking break-in and tires into account, of course).  But the amount is actually so minor, it really doesn�t matter.  The point is that two very different hybrid technologies can both produce impressive results.  That means there�s a choice available, all the more reason hybrid systems should become common in all types of vehicles.


Hybrid Road Rally, Day 4  -  Red Wing, MN

More hills along the way.  These cast a nice shade shadow.  Cool!

The welcome party was small.  Sunday evening was a bad time, plus we arrived late.  Oh well.  We were all exhausted, sun burnt, and very hungry anyway.

The rally had went extraordinarily well.  There was a nice restaurant just a block away.  We celebrated, especially since each driver would go their separate way from that point.  Home sounded like a very appealing destination for me.  Mission accomplished!


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