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Special Tactics Help Car and Driver Get An Amazing 121.7 Mpg in Honda Insight

14 October 1999

Special Tactics Help Car and Driver Get An Amazing 121.7 Mpg in Honda Insight
    ANN ARBOR, Mich., Oct. 13 -- With hunger to win being the
mother of invention, editors from Car and Driver magazine recently conspired
to wring maximum miles per gallon (mpg) from Honda's new Insight, a hybrid
vehicle that is powered by a combination electric motor with a small 1.0
liter, 3-cylinder gasoline engine.
    The vehicle, rated at 61 mpg city/70 mpg highway -- the highest EPA rating
ever given, goes on sale in December.  The vehicle primarily runs on its
gasoline engine, but its electric motor, which draws power from a nickel-metal
hydride battery, boosts performance and generates power when the car slows
down, recharging the battery.
    Eager to showcase its mileage capability, American Honda Motor Company
invited writers from automotive publications, including Car and Driver,
Popular Mechanics and Ward's AutoWorld, to drive from Columbus, Ohio, to
Detroit, a distance of nearly 200 miles.  The team that averaged the combined
highest speed and the best fuel economy would win a $5,000 donation to the
publication's favorite charity.
    "This was our kind of contest, requiring skill and open to imaginative
rules interpretation," says editor-in-chief Csaba Csere (pronounced Chubba
Chedda), an MIT-trained engineer.  He enlisted senior technical editor Don
Schroeder and contributing editor Don Sherman, both engineers by training, to
formulate their winning strategy.  "We were challenged and anxious to win,"
says Schroeder, "However, we felt we had to have a very creative strategy to
achieve the best results."
    "An excellent way to improve mileage is to 'draft' the vehicle in front of
you -- follow it so closely that the front vehicle breaks the wind for the
second vehicle which means the engine doesn't have to work as hard to maintain
speed," says Csere.  "It's a trick used by NASCAR Winston Cup drivers.
They've learned that tucking in behind another car not only increases mileage,
but increases the speed both vehicles can run."
    After checking with Honda on the legality of drafting for the competition,
the Car and Driver team laid out their plan.
    Outfitting a Ford Excursion from their test fleet, the Car and Driver team
used metal tubing, plywood and rubber-like sheathing to construct a big V-
shaped windbreak that protruded out and down from the Excursion's trailer
hitch.  The plan was that once Schroeder and technical assistant Andy Mead
were under way in the Insight, they would join up with Sherman, who was
driving the Excursion, and they would nestle the nose of the Insight into the
windbreaker.  To further enhance aerodynamics, Sherman opened the Excursion's
rear doors and window.
    Schroeder says he drove so close to the rear of the Excursion that the
nose of the Insight tapped the Ford's trailer hitch a time or two, fortunately
leaving no damage to either vehicle.  Schroeder and Sherman used two-way
radios for communication and when Sherman had to apply the Excursion's brakes
he'd throw up his hand.
    "It was a long, long trip," Schroeder says, "and I don't recommend that
kids try this at home."
    Schroeder's amazing 121.7 mpg at 58 mph resoundingly beat second-place,
Popular Mechanics which turned in an impressive, but less creative 83.4 mpg at
59 mph.  Honda awarded both publications a $5,000 check.  Car and Driver was
also honored with a best overall while and Popular Mechanics won best in
class.  Ward's team achieved an honorable 73 mpg while averaging 61 mph.
    Car and Driver is donating its winnings to Arbor Hospice, an Ann Arbor,
Michigan-based organization that gives aid and comfort to people with terminal
illnesses and their families.
    The complete experience and competition will be profiled in the January
2000 issue of Car and Driver, on newsstands December 11.
    Car and Driver magazine, headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich., is the world's
largest circulation automotive magazine and the premier source of information
for automobile enthusiasts.  Content includes everything from new car
previews, road tests and features to industry news and automotive humor.