Energy Epiphany

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April 8, 2006 at 9:19 am

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Reposted from the :

I had a bit of an epiphany a couple weeks back while driving my ‘06 FEH [Ford Escape Hybrid] down a now-favorite road. It’s not a revelation to anyone who’s been driving a hybrid for awhile now, but as I’m still green behind the ears (purchased our FEH one month and 2 days ago!), it’s notable and I thought I’d share.

This particular road’s a favorite because it’s *great* for coasting — a long, sustained descent that gets enough speed generated thru momentum to get me partially back up the ascent portion, far enough to where I usually have to brake anyway due to cross traffic and an approaching light-controlled intersection.

As I was enjoying this newfound joy at coasting for what seems like more than a minute (it may well be; I don’t carry a stopwatch in my hybrid… yet

) I was reminded of an air show performance my husband and I saw a year or two ago.

The pilot took off and attained altitude, then cut his engine (propeller; the aircraft was a Piper Cub, if I recall correctly) and **performed an entire air show routine AND landed, without ever restarting his engine**.

Not only that, but the pilot stationed a person on the runway at where he anticipated he would be able to stop the aircraft, and gently brought the plane to a slow, creeping roll, right up to where the person on the tarmac could reach out his hand and touch the prop (which hadn’t been spinning for many minutes, by this point.) Funniest part? To turn the aircraft and taxi off the runway for the next air show performer(s) to land, he had to start the aircraft’s engine… suddenly, his graceful and peacefully quiet air show performance was broken up by the howl of his propeller — and anyone who hadn’t “gotten it” finally did — that plane and pilot didn’t want to fall out of the sky without power, it had every capability to stay aloft/in motion, with proper skillful handling.

The whole air show routine was to illustrate what pilots call “energy management” — utilizing airspeed, altitude, airframe characteristics, precise control inputs and pilot skill, to keep an aircraft aloft and maximize control. (My husband’s a licensed instrument rated pilot, but if I botched this description slightly, it’s my fault — he’d explain it far better and more accurately.)

Well, coasting in my FEH down that hill, I realized many/most of the things one can do in ANY vehicle — hybrid, ICE-only vehicle [Interal Combustion Engine], bicycle or aircraft — to increase fuel economy/energy efficiency all comes down to energy management. When I realized that, a lot of things finally “clicked” for me.

When I explained it to my husband, it instantly clicked for him as well — so much so that I caught him coasting his F-150 down the same hill the next day during an errand run we made together. It was just as fun coasting down the hill in the F-150, watching others — still applying accelerator pressure in their vehicles — blow by us because their mental model of driving only usually involves two modes: actively applying pressure to the accelerator, or actively applying pressure to the brakes. So many people even on the highways don’t understand that a gentle let-up on their accelerator is sufficient to maintain following distance or

prevent speeding due to terrain changes.

I can’t say it’s 100% due to this epiphany, but I have yet to fuel up and this entire tank (it’s my 5th tank) is getting over 30 MPG.

I keep resetting the avg. FE [Fuel Economy] screen to illustrate and/or understand various roadways/driving conditions affect on FE, but the average is consistently over 30mpg. I’ll know exactly when I refuel… still have 100+ miles to empty. Starting to forget what it feels like to pull into gas stations. I used to, in my ‘92 Corolla, refuel enough (even with 27mpg for its FE) that it meant I could wash off my windshield once a week — an important task since the windshield washer reservoir broke in it and I haven’t had it replaced. If I were waiting for fuel-ups in the FEH to clean off the windshield, I’d literally be driving blind right now.

– Shannon / Geek Gal

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2 Comments

April 9, 2006

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I’d love to hear your take on driving a Ford after being used to a Toyota, in terms of the quality and design features. I moved “down” to a Nissan from a few Toyotas, and long to be in a Toyota again – missing the “feeling.”

The Nissan is nice, but there are little design and usability features I miss, there was a spate of minor-but-irritating repairs, and – it’s just not the same. I dream of getting a Prius. Did you test drive one? Why’d you go with Ford?

xox

April 10, 2006

@

Hey, Susan!

After 14-and-counting wonderful, trouble-free years with my ‘92 Toyota Corolla, I had every reason to stick with Toyota, save one — Toyota doesn’t offer a hybrid that met all of my needs. Namely, I was definitely in the market for something other than another small-size sedan.

The Toyota Prius is *outstanding*, but I neither test drove nor seriously considered one due to wanting to migrate to a larger, more versatile vehicle (my Corolla was subjected to

more than a few times in the past 14 years, after all!)

Toyota’s Hybrid Highlander falls into the too big, “too SUV for me” class of vehicle, and the price tag put it out of contention as well. That, and I believe 2006 is its first model year, which I intentionally avoided in 2005 (the Ford Escape Hybrid’s first model year.)

In terms of fit, function and finish, I think it’s probably unfair to compare my 1992 Toyota Corolla (equipped with low-to-midrange features for the time period: cruise, stock radio, cloth seats, folding rear seats) to my fully loaded 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid. The few annoyances I’ve had with the Ford in the little over 1 month I’ve had it are, I believe, probably normal in any new vehicle — I had a small rubber piece pop off the interior of my rear liftgate window while hand-washing the vehicle, nowhere to be found.

I have a few odd squeaks now and then, but they seem to “right themselves” quickly, and some are sounds I’m still learning are normal for the unique hybrid systems onboard (for instance, the high voltage battery pack in the rear cargo area has its own, self-contained, air conditioning system to keep it at peak operating temperature.)

Justin’s had Ford’s since 1990 or so, so I’ve seen the down-the-road costs that may or may not come at me with a Ford, as compared to the Toyota. The Toyota was nearly 100% problem-free, with the most expensive repair ever probably being a new alternator and brake work at 60,000 miles (it’s a low mileage vehicle; 14 years as of this summer, 88k miles as of April ‘06.) Justin’s first Ford had many problems and was traded in shortly after it was paid off, due to a failing transmission and air conditioning system.

Justin’s present Ford, a 2001 F-150 pickup, however, has been largely issue-free. One Ford recall due to the much-publicized cruise control fire risk, which has been resolved/repaired free of charge; some minor personality quirks such as a turn signal that occasionally fails to “lock on” or clicks off far too soon when the wheel’s barely turned.

My brother and father have new Ford Mustangs (brother: 2005; Dad: 2005 GT), and I’d been blown away by the quality and workmanship throughout their vehicles, so that greatly helped me consider Ford. And our rental vehicle for 10 days last October in Washington, D.C. was a Ford Escape Limited 4×4 (non-hybrid) which we absolutely loved in terms of ride, handling, features and appearance.

Do I miss Toyota?

Yes, but largely for no reason other than it’s what I’d known for 14 years. I never drive Justin’s Ford F-150 — it’s too big for me to comfortably drive, maneuver and park — so the Toyota’s been my baby from day #1 back in 1992.

But the Ford Escape Hybrid is definitely my new baby, mostly because it’s a hybrid and so much fun to drive. There’s something contagiously rewarding about knowing you’re not actively burning gasoline and polluting, and are getting superb miles per gallon, in some of the worst traffic that ordinarily would stress and aggravate a non-hybrid driver.

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