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Nempimaniacs Can't Get Enough… Mileage

New America Media, Commentary, Peter Micek Posted: Aug 03, 2008

Editor's Note: As gas prices rise, a new kind of driver is emerging: the hypermiler, or "nempimaniac," the Japanese term for someone crazy about fuel economy, writes New America Media reporter Peter Micek.

SAN FRANCISCO -- My younger sister hates it when my parents drive her car. They move the seat, the mirrors, and change the radio station, but that's not what irks her.

It's the gas mileage.

Our family's Honda Civic Hybrid tracks your miles per gallon and averages it as you drive. When you apply the brakes or just step off the gas, and the engine stops working, the meter (needle) flies all the way to the right – maximum fuel economy. Your average goes up.

But when you hit the gas pedal and accelerate, your miles-per-gallon – and hard-won MPG average – drops. If this sounds like a video game, it is. Sometimes you have to remind yourself to watch the road.

The miles-per-gallon my sister Jordan coaxes out of the hybrid is more than twice her age, up to 43 miles per gallon. My parents, she complains, don't get that much.

Without knowing it, and without anyone telling her to do it, she started down the "hypermiler" road before she could enter a bar and order a drink. I'd call her a "nempimaniac," the Japanese term for those crazy about fuel economy, but I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea.

The trend is catching on as gas prices rise. The forums on Hypermiling.com are frequently updated. Reporters crawl the site for sources, while daredevils ask about the safety factors of coasting down hills with the engine off or in neutral.

CNN profiled champion hypermiler Wayne Gerdes, who gives an SUV-driving reporter a lesson in city driving. According to Forbes, Gerdes can get 84 miles per gallon on a standard-issue Ford Ranger pick-up, and one summer averaged more than 100 MPG. Gerdes won his division in this year's Hybridfest MPG challenge. The race for the highest MPG took place one afternoon during a festival for hybrid cars in Madison, Wisc. The get-together bills itself as "the Midwest’s largest event dedicated to clean transportation solutions."

Gerdes's tips for green driving start simple: Avoid idling at stop signs, red lights, or in the driveway. Drive slower, and don't slam on the accelerator just to reach the stop sign or red light quicker. Cruise control is a "surprisingly effective way to save gas," according to Edmunds.com.

You can even buy your way into hypermileage. JuicedHybrid.com prominently lists its "gas-saving products." Most solutions increase the efficiency of electrical systems on hybrid vehicles.

Gadgets tell you just how much fossil fuel you're wasting. JuicedHybrid plugs the Kiwi, a device that tracks your car's diagnostics and displays them on a dashboard video screen.

According to the Web site, the Kiwi "works like a game. Your ultimate goal is to obtain the highest 'Kiwi Score.'" It provides challenges that get progressively more difficult, exactly like a video game.

Accufuel, an iPhone application, helps you track your gas mileage and gives you similar tips for healthy driving.

Personally, I hate driving slow.

Often on weekends I drive my great aunt to my parents' house, a 40-minute drive. She not-too-subtly urges me to drive 55, reminding me of the gasoline rationing during World War II, and saying Congress is discussing lowering the speed limit to save gas.

For me, there's a very socialist strain to this fuel economizing. We're getting one step closer to robotic cars that drive themselves, taking all the fun out of driving. I still think that a fast car is a central American value. What self-respecting action movie doesn't have a car chase?

The hypermileage trend might have produced another group of people: backseat hypermilers. One blogger on PriusChat.com comments on "nempimaniacs," saying, "I dated a girl once with this condition. She nearly wore me out. It sounded fun at first but sometimes you just have to give it a rest."

But with my sister pushing her MPG, and new video gadgets that make driving into a game, I see a new, higher purpose to hypermiling. Forget global warming, saving money and moral excellence. It’s about winning – whether it's a national green driving competition or a simple bragging-rights contest with your parents. And what is more American than that?

Related Articles:

Living Without a Car: My New American Responsibility

Fresno Says Yes to Green Driving

Why Congress Can Kiss My Gas!

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