The Voyage of the MIMA
The Honda Insight is already the most fuel-efficient hybrids on US roads, but for one energy-concious Connecticut man, that isn't nearly enough
August 17, 2006
By Nathan Conz
Have you ever been driving and seen one of those "Your Speed Is: "contraptions that the police set up, and decided to accelerate, just to see how fast you can go before you pass the sign? Well, some hybrid drivers feel a similar sensation whenever they get behind the wheel.
"Some conventional cars and all hybrids have a very clear dashboard reading for their fuel economy, as well as some level of display regarding where the power is coming from," whether it's the electric motor or the gas engine, explains Bradley Berman, editor of HybridCars.com and the author of An Insider's Look at Hybrid Cars: How They Work and Why They Matter . "Just seeing that instantaneous read-out of what's going on makes you alter your driving habits."
It becomes a daily challenge. Maybe a hybrid driver tries a different technique and makes their commute to work at 50 miles per gallon rather than 45.
Of course, one of the most important factors that decide how gas-efficient a hybrid car runs is how much help the electric motor gives the gas engine. A typical hybrid car has an undersized gas engine aided by an electric motor that is most helpful when providing torque necessary for start-up and acceleration from a stop. The more the electric motor kicks on and assists the gas engine naturally, the more gas is conserved.
So, for anyone trying their best to get the highest possible miles per gallon reading on their dashboard gauge, it can be frustrating not being able to manually control when the electric motor assistance kicks in. Those decisions are made by the manufacturer (and carried out automatically by the car), and that manufacturer is more likely to err on the side of caution. That's because, although it means less fuel economy, using less electric motor assist will make the battery last longer-a fact that makes the car more marketable.
"The decisions that the manufacturers are making are going to be fairly conservative. They have to make sure the vehicle has the same longevity as a conventional car and that it can be maintained," Berman says. "And so, there will always be a set of people that are dissatisfied with that conservative approach and want to go a lot further. Mike is certainly one of them."
Mike Dabrowski, 60, lives in North Grosvenordale, in northeastern Connecticut, near the Massachusetts border. Although he doesn't have a related degree, Dabrowski has worked in several capacities as an industrial technical consultant: in the US Army; as a field service engineer for a level-gauging company; and as technical director and vice president of a medical equipment company, among other things. He's currently unemployed, after finishing an eight-year project for a former employer.
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