Posted by: nickgerlich | July 1, 2008

To Infinity and Beyond!

My 1979 Corolla got great mileage. It was my first car, and I had purchased it with my summer earnings from a General Motors plant in Chicago. Gas was expensive back then, too, and the irony of a GM employee buying a Japanese car was not lost on the salesman.

I drove that car everywhere, getting 35+ mpg with that 4-speed, 4-cylinder manual. On a nice downhill and tailwind run, I could hit 90, but most of the time I was just content to do the speed limit (which was only 55 back then).

I drove very competitively…not because I was from Chicago and cruised the freeways there like it was one big race, but rather because I wanted to see how gas-miserly I could be. Frugality and being in college went hand-in-hand.

HypermilerToday, being a hypermiler is once again cool. There is a growing cadre of drivers OPEC-bent on coaxing the last possible amount of forward progress out of a gallon of gasoline, to the point of even coasting downhill with the engine off.

Sure, some of these practices could be dangerous (try finding your power steering and brakes with the ignition off), but folks are doing it anyway. Eco-Modders are taking to the highway with modified vehicles as well as driving habits, all for the purpose of using less gas.

Which all strikes me as rather funny in this Hummer-crazed SUV culture we call home. In just a couple of years we have turned the corner from all-you-can-drink gasoline to little sippy cups that spill not one drop.

Naturally, a hypermiler’s zealousness could get in the way with highway safety. Anyone plodding along at 50 on the freeway is bound to create a hazard. Freefalling with the engine off is really not such a great idea, even if it saves a few bucks. And the urge to brazenly coast through stop signs and stop lights, even slowly, is not worth the fuel savings.

But on the other hand, I am encouraged to at least see some semblance of responsible fuel usage finally taking root in the US. It may be somewhat counter-cultural for the moment, but I suspect it could become commonplace.

And the irony of citizens from the Land of Plenty suddenly going on a consumption diet will not be lost on anyone. Except maybe the OPEC nations.

Dr “My Corolla” Gerlich

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