wayne's driving obsession began after 9/11. Before then, he drove "75 miles per hour in the left-hand lane," but in the wake of the attacks he vowed to minimize his personal consumption of Mideast oil. As he sees it, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda received their operating funds from all the U.S. consumers who bought Saudi oil. That money paid for the construction work that made bin Laden's family rich. "If Osama bin Laden didn't have the money to burn," Wayne says, "he wouldn't have been able to do what he did. There was a direct relationship between our addiction to oil and the World Trade Center coming down."
Less consumption of Mideast oil would also make our economy less susceptible to spikes in the price of opec oil, which have triggered U.S. recessions. More than half the gas we pour into our vehicles in America is imported, and we send more than $4 billion a week abroad to buy oil. If we all got a 25 percent improvement in fuel economy (far less than the 50 percent improvement that Wayne and his hypermilers routinely get), we could reduce by half the oil we import from the Mideast for our cars. And then there's global warming. "I'm not just doing this for myself," Wayne told me before we met. "I'm doing this for my country and the world."
But driving with Wayne, you get the feeling it's not just about politics, and that's confirmed when he tells me about his father. For 50 years, Robert Gerdes has been writing down the mileage he gets from each tank of gas. Wayne remembers the vacation his family took from Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, to Florida when he was eight. His father drove the family car, a Buick LeSabre, and hauled an 18-foot travel trailer loaded with camping gear. The Buick got seven miles per gallon on the trip. "Every time we hit a steep hill it was, 'Whooooshhhh,' like the flushing of a toilet," says Wayne, "but it was flushing fuel. I'll never forget that sucking sound of the four-barrel carburetor. We visited Disney World, but I don't remember it."
in 2002, wayne bought a Toyota Corolla to replace the 1999 Nissan truck he had been using for his daily commute to the power plant. Online, he saw that "guys in Priuses were bragging about 44 mpg, and I was doing better in a Corolla." But it was driving his wife's Acura mdx that moved Wayne up to the next rung of hypermiler driving. That's because the suv came with a fuel consumption display (fcd), which shows mpg in real time. As he drove, he began to see how little things—slight movements of his foot, accelerations up hills, even a cold day—influenced his fuel efficiency. He learned to wring as many as 638 miles from a single 19-gallon tank in the mdx; he rarely gets less than 30 mpg when he drives it. "Most people get 18 in them," he says. The fcd changed the driving game for Wayne. "It's a running joke," he says, "but instead of a fuel consumption display, a lot of us call them 'game gauges'"—a reference to the running score posted on video games—"because we're trying to beat our last score—our miles per gallon."
If people could see how much fuel they guzzled while driving, Wayne believes they'd quickly learn to drive more efficiently. "If the epa would mandate fcds in every car, this country would save 20 percent on fuel overnight," he says. "They're not expensive for the manufacturers to put in—10 to 20 bucks—and it would save more fuel than all the laws passed in the last 25 years. All from a simple display."
since early in 2005, when gas prices rose past $2 a gallon, drivers all over the country have become more attentive to fuel efficiency. But the hypermilers set themselves apart in an event they refer to as the Prius Marathon, which took place in Pittsburgh in August 2005. It was undertaken by five men: Wayne; Dan Kroushl, an electrical engineer from Wexford, Pennsylvania; Dave Bassage, a West Virginian who until recently worked for the Department of Environmental Protection; Rick Reece, a geospatial analyst from South Carolina; and Bob Barlow, a Virginia attorney. They had all met online.
Kroushl got the idea after driving his Prius earlier that spring on a 15-mile portion of Route 65 near his home, when he was able to sustain 99.9 mpg, the highest reading that a Prius fcd can record. He posted what he had done online and asked if anyone had a device that could record higher mpgs. But nobody believed he had even reached 99.9. The car has a combined city/highway epa mpg estimate of 55, and even hypermilers with Priuses were only posting mpgs in the 60s and 70s. Kroushl wanted to prove the doubters wrong, so he invited other hypermilers to Pittsburgh to run the same stretch of Route 65—15 miles up and 15 miles back. Their goal was to break the record for most miles on a tank of gasoline in a Prius, which was 1,316 miles, recorded by a Japanese driver, at 85.85 mpg. But the American version of the car has a 12.8-gallon tank rather than the 15.9-gallon tank in the Japanese Prius. That meant the five men would have to top the Japanese mpg by about 20 percent, which would mean they'd have to sustain 100 mpg over 48 hours. Bassage described the event this way: "We're coming from all points of the compass to have fun going nowhere for a whole weekend in Pittsburgh."
The hypermilers cracked 100 mpg in their first four four-hour shifts. Back at their hotel, they posted fuzzy digital photographs of the Prius' fcds on greenhybrid.com.
On their first round, the men posted mpgs in the low hundreds, but as they drove, they talked on the phone, sharing fuel-saving tips with each other. On Saturday, Reece got 114.7, and Kroushl reached 115. On Sunday, Wayne beat 120. "I'd be getting 105 miles per gallon," Bassage told me, "and thinking I let down the team." By Sunday night, Kroushl, who had launched the endeavor, was getting sick of driving, and his wife had made it clear she wanted him to stop the nonsense and get home, so he began turning on the air conditioner and the defroster, to drink up gas faster. "The 'low fuel' light flashed for over nine hours," Bassage says. When the Prius, with Kroushl driving, finally ran out of gas and rolled to a stop, the five men had clocked 1,397 miles from just one 12.8-gallon tank of gas—a new record. They had averaged 109 miles per gallon.