Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Passion of Hybrid Mavens

My IQ about the nature and behavior of so-called "product mavens" has increased 5-fold over the past 48 hours. Why? Because ever since word leaked about my Hybrid "opportunities" (I'm taking the diplomatic high-road), all manner of hybrid enthusiasts and experts have zapped me with e-mail, links to their blog entries, or comments on THIS blog. And that's before you count the absolutely amazing astonishing discussion Slashdot triggered less than 24 hours ago on the subject. I've been studying online consumer behavior for nearly ten years, and the discussion flow I followed on Slashdot blew me away. Wickedly informed. Triumph of the nerds. These folks are the "gold standard" of product experts. That's not to suggest my character was left unblemmished in this constructively enlightening back and forth on the Hybrid cars. (Believe me, passionate "mavens" will defend their brand through rain, sleet, or snow, and many of these early adopters took issue with my raising tough questions.) But the vast majority of contributors were incredibly well informed, displayed tenacious understanding of technology (to the most intricate wiring detail), and while occasionally rude, generally anchored their comments to "action steps" or "how to fix your mess" advice. That's what I LOVE about the internet. So to the product mavens who elevated the discussion, thanks.

If one theme dominated all this Hybrid "buzz," I'd volunteer it as this: to get the miles, there are very specific steps one must diligently take to maximize the MPG factor. Don't drive fast. Check the tires. Careful on hills. Don't drive fast. No quick starts. No short trips. Turn off air conditioner. Use cruise control. Don't drive fast. Don't use the stereo. Ignore the meter, focus on the actual tank! Read the manual! Wait for 5,000 miles. No speeding. Wait for 10,000 miles. No, 15,000 miles. I now have several books worth of advice, and many of these awesome experts have offered to come check out my car,which is incredible. (That's what I call a passionate sense of "ownership" in the success of a car, and there are thousands out there who -- let the record be clear -- PASSIONATELY love their Hybrids.)

I now feel smarter and wiser. But not terribly satisfied. I've tried just about everyone of those tactics, with little success. Perhaps I just picked the wrong hybrid. But there's a bigger issue. One presumes at purchase that you don't need to be a PhD to derive the basic benefits articulated, advertised, and promoted by the seller. You just assume you'll get the benefits. If the Honda Hybrid requires all those steps to get close to an advertised mileage, car buyers should be given a courtesy heads-up at that critical "moment of truth" when they are considering spending several thousand more dollars for hybrid technology. Setting expectations is everything, and the reality is that Hybrid owners are so passionate about being on the ground-floor of an exciting new technology that they'll likely zero in on other benefits beyond mileage -- e.g. low emissions. But if folks are running through the dealer door because the media is pointing to "gas savings" as primary benefit, the seller needs to set expectations. What we've learned over the past 48 hours is that the web is cultivating a form of "Marketing Darwinism" that holds product claims to a higher standard of transparency, informed by real users with real experiences. Like those incredible folks from Slashdot.

30 Comments:

At 6:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

32 MPG is not good. I normally use a Piaggio scooter and get close to 90. The time I hired a Nissan Micra (one of the older shape) with a 1.0 litre engine, I followed the instructions you've been given (i.e. don't accelerate hard, don't speed, don't race up to junctions and stand on the brakes) and got nearly 60 mpg. Admittedly, this was a 2x75 mile journey mostly on motorways and fast A roads, cruising at 50-60 mph. Not bad for a plain simple petrol engine.
The main gain to my mind on hybrids isn't MPG since the energy to move the weight still has to come from somewhere, and the hybrid system adds weight (the Piaggio probably has a very lo-tech engine, but weighs a tenth of Honda's Insight). No, it's peace of mind about not gassing kids on the pavement (sidewalk) when you're stuck in traffic.

 
At 6:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've experienced slashdot now...one of the best kept secrets on the web. This site has been plugging away for quite some time now and so called marketing gurus haven't even heard of the possibilities yet. Just have a slashdotter grab hold of a story and there will be infinite discussion about it. It's where I came from. I hope everything turns out ok for you.

With your permission (mailto:tks@tksbox.net) I would like to link to your site from my blog under the link "thinking of buying a hybrid?"

TKS

 
At 7:03 AM, Blogger Jeremy said...

You're not alone in your experience of disappointing MPG.

I bought a Honda Hybrid in fall 2002. Aside from highway trips, I averaged 33 MPG.

I discussed this with the local dealership. Got no help from them. So I went online and found the answer to my low MPG in a Yahoo discussion group on Hybrids: The individual trips I made were too short (2-3 miles, mostly). I was told that driving for such a short period of time didn't allow the "lean burn" to kick in.

That didn't satisfy me, but the issue became a moot point six months after I bought the Hybrid when a Yukon rear-ended me at 40 MPH. I will say this for the Hybrid: They're very SAFE cars. Even though my trunk was turned into an accordion, I barely had a scratch on me.

But I did NOT replace that Hybrid with another one. I was still tempted by the Toyota Prius, but instead I went with a conventional car, a Nissan Altima.

I'll follow your story with interest. Thanks for sharing it.

 
At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I purchased my 2004 Honda Hybrid October 30, 2003.
I commute from Connecticut to Boston, MA. daily.
I have the 5-speed manual model. I have difficulty getting the 48 mpg around town the EPA claims although I am usually close and sometimes surpass it. In nice weather I average 58 - 60 mpg on a tank with about 60% of that being highway driving. My worst tank was this winter in a foot of snow and I got 36 mpg.

After 6 months and 20,000 miles I am averaging 50.2 mpg over the life of the car. Since this figure includes mostly winter driving I expect the average for the first year to be better.

I purchased this car over the Toyota based on the driving I do. It may not be the best choice for everyone. I have also learned to drive more fuel efficiently by watching the trip computer.

I know a person in town who has the same car except it is an automatic and she only does local driving. She is averaging around 44 mpg.

I know someone with the same car in Boston who does mostly city driving and he seems to be getting in the high thirties - low fourties. His hybrid replaced a Honda and his observation is that he is getting about 15% better milage with the hybrid.

I have learned many of the things you have mentioned. Acceleration kills milage. Drive at a constant speed - Use the cruise control. Put a little extra air in the tires - more important, check the tires weekly.

I think it shows that the answer is not just throwing technology at a problem but that our habits need to change. Change your driving habits a bit - coupled with technology and your milage can increase.

Dave Fried, Storrs, CT

 
At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have a hybrid, but I'm considering getting one.

I'm not too bothered by this controversy because, strange as it might sound, good mileage isn't really important to me. I'd buy it for low emmissions and to support a product/technology that is in line with my personal values.

A car is a big purchase. If I'm going to lay out that much money I want it to be in support of something good.

On the other hand, if I found that the manufacturer was intentionally misleading me in their advertising then my goodwill would evaporate fairly quickly. But that appears to not be the case.

 
At 1:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take issue with the claim that you get poor gas mileage in your hybrid civic. I drive a 92 civic, non-hybrid, and regularly get between 35-40 mpg. Obviously I can't claim that I know about your car.. they are different models and have been engineered differently. However, I have a hard time believing that you find it impossible to achieve a higher gas mileage than 33 mpg. Do you think there's a possibility you might have purchased a lemon? Maybe you ought to try a different hybrid civic and conduct a comparison. A car can be running in perfectly good condition and still get poor mileage - it is not unheard of.

 
At 3:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I was considering actually buying a hybrid at the insistence of my girlfriend, but I like to drive cars hard. I thought, "Oh well, it may be underpowered, but at least it'll save me gas"...Now it appears that due to my driving habits, I won't get much better mileage out of it than a conventional fuel-driven car...What was the point of hybrids again? I don't really believe the emmissions bit, because the fuel is still being burned at some stage and that's what really does the damage, so I can't see why it matters if you get 33 mpg in a dull as cheese hybrid or 30 mpg in a dodge SRT-4 (with the lively 2.4 L engine)... You'll pay for the gas, but at least it'll be fun to drive!

 
At 3:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I owned a 2000 Honda Insight for 2 years, and then traded it in on a 2002 Toyota Prius (we had a baby, I needed the back seat :).

In the Insight, I raced around like a maniac most the time, but still got 50-55 MPG (with a 5 Speed Manual), and actually averaged 66 MPG on a trip to Colorado and back (starting from Austin, TX). Regardless of what people might think about Hybrids, the Insight is a blast to drive (more fun than any other car I've owned :).

When I went looking for a 4-door to replace the Insight, I was really expecting to get a Honda Civic Hybrid (I've owned nothing but Honda's and Acuras since the late 80's), but when I did the test drives, the Civic's seemed, well, boring to drive, but the Prius was peppy and fun. Nothing like the little 2 seat sportster the Insight was, but quite respectable for a 4 door sedan.

And I've gotten a consistent 44-48 MPG in the old-style Prius (which is rated at 45/52).

Note: Most of my driving is short trips (under 5 miles round trip), with my longer trips being about 25-30 miles round trip. In both the Insight and the Prius, mileage is at it's worst in the first 2-3 miles before the car warms up. I'd say about half of my driving is on 65-MPH freeways, with the rest being low- to mid- speed city driving.


But, I never feel like I'm restraining myself when I'm driving. The 2 biggest suggestions I can make: Look ahead, and coast. When you see that you're going to have to stop, or slow down, let your foot off the gas early, and let the car slow down on it's on. DON'T use the brake unless you have to. The more you can let the car slow down on it's own, the better your fuel mileage will be.

Beyond that, if you make "high mileage" the game you're playing (instead of racing an unwinnable race), you'll see a huge improvement in your mileage, regardless of what vehicle you're driving. Most people seem to be under the odd misconception that there's some way to "win" at driving. You can't. It's not a "zero-sum" game. No one "wins". Once you accept that fact, you'll be a lot happier while driving, and get a lot better mileage.

Leave large spaces between you and the car in front of you, so you can let off the gas to slow down (instead of slamming on your brakes). If someone wants to pull into the space in front of you, LET THEM. You won't "lose", and they can't "win". At best, they've saved themselves ZERO time (yes, they're in front of you, but the difference between that and in back of you is negligible).

This is far and away the hardest thing for most people to do (it's still hard for me to do sometimes when people start driving like jerks ;), but it is also the best way to improve your mileage (and your enjoyment of driving in general :).


Oh, and, FWIW, if you drive mostly in the city, you would be better off with a Prius. Honda's "mild" Hybrid system does great on the highway, but it takes a lot of work to get good gas mileage in stop-and-go driving (where as the Prius makes it almost effortless). But if you do mostly long highway trips, the Honda Insight is impossible to beat (the Civic isn't nearly as good, but it's still better than everything else out there but the Insight and the Prius).

 
At 9:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your driving is fine, and your car is probably fine. No car gets great mileage in town on short trips (under 10 minutes). However, most people do not drive under those conditions. I'm not a conservative driver, and I get 45-50 MPG in my 2004 Prius. But I drive 80% on the highway at 70+ MPH. When I drive my 2001 Celica GT-S, I get 30 MPG.

Did I buy a Prius to save money? Heck no. It's a cool car, with Virginia HOV exemption, and I was really impressed by my test drives. Warning to car buyers: Test drive before you buy!

 
At 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think these federally unchangeable epa lies need to stop. From what I've read in your comments, it seems as though people with manual transmissions get closer to the estimated amount. Do you have an automatic? Maybe honda completely screwed up with their computer and how it manages the transmission. Good luck.

 
At 6:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When i was looking to buy a new car i test drove a prius and a Jetta TDI.
Prius didn't had any joy of driving, and i'm not the type to cruise control no hard stops and all that ( i'm not gonna drive my driving habits)
I just wanted better milleage, and a cleaner car since i was doing around 100 to 150 km per day and i wanted to still have fun while driving
so i bought a VW TDI yes yes diesel the other alternative
so far so good i enjoy the milleage that i get and the drivinng experience
I won't get into a technical issue wich car polutes more or not but in my humble opinion the hybrids and the diesel do the same damage (wich is less then normal cars).
Mind you i like the hybrid idea, but i do belive is a young technology wich will improve greatly in a couple of years.
So for the ppl who didn't like the feel of driving a hybrid they could try a diesel
Here's a nice fuel saving car

http://www.audiworld.com/news/99/a2_2/content.shtml

 
At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hard to imagine that the poor milage is from your driving habits. We bought a 2004 Civic Hybrid in August, and even with my bad driving habits (fast starts, late upshifts, blasting the A/C) I get 49MPG, and my wife gets 52 MPG. Poor habits have an impact, but not a 20 MPG difference. Our typical commute is 7 miles one way. Have you talked with the dealer regarding the possibility you have a lemon?

 
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At 7:17 AM, Blogger nope said...

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I'm sorry for being intrusive in to your blog. But I am Melissa and I am a mother of two that is just trying to get out of an incredible financial debt. See my hubby is away in Iraq trying to protect this great country that we live in, and I am at home with our two kids telling bill collectors please be patiant. When my husband returns from war we will beable to catch up on our payments. We have already had are 2001 Ford repossessed from the bank, and are now down to a 83 buick that is rusted from front to back and the heater don't work, and tire tax is due in November.

I'm not asking for your pitty because we got our ownselfs into this mess but we would love you and thank you in our prayers if you would just keep this link on your blog for others to view.

God Bless You.

Melissa K. W.
To see my family view this page. My Family


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But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
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Strange day or what? :-)

 
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Those engaged in click fraud use a variety of techniques to generate false clicks. Low cost international workers from all over the world are hired to locate and click on ads. The Times of India provided investigative reporting on payment for manual click fraud happening in India. Unethical companies may pay their own employees to click on competitor ads. Last but not least, click fraud can be generated by online robots programmed to click on advertiser or affiliate ads. Some companies go to great lengths creating intricate software that allows for this to happen.

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