Me and My Prius: Data Inspires Conservation

When newcomers get in my Prius, they always ask how it works. I show them the “energy” display screen, illustrating the interplay between the battery, the engine, and the electric motor. It’s a helpful diagram, showing what happens in real time when I start the car up, accelerate, and pause at a stop sign.

But when the newbies leave I switch back to my addiction, the “consumption” display. It’s not just the fact that my car’s a hybrid that makes it more fuel efficient, it’s that it shows me my current and average MPG, sparking my competitive side to get better mileage readouts and inspiring me to last longer before my next fill-up. prius.jpeg

If my habits are at all indicative, instantaneous feedback is an effective way to inspire conservation — and hybridity has nothing to do with it. It’s been suggested to me that a real-time usage readout on my shower or thermostat might have a similar effect, and I believe it.

Not everything about my car is so useful. Besides the aerodynamic shape already making the it look like an alien car, the Prius’ interior is over-designed, with spring-loaded glove compartments, the MPH readout display practically under the hood, and a wheel-side shifter stump.

But the dashboard consumption screen is actually useful. On the far right, I see my current MPG, from 0 to 99.9 (the maximum computed, apparently). To the left of that I see my scores for the last half hour, in five minute chunks. There’s also some doohicky about how many watt-hours I’ve regenerated (ostensibly one of the key draws of the Prius) in each time period, but it’s too cryptic to motivate me.

But oh boy — when I get good MPG averages, does it make me happy (and you can see from posts on PriusChat that I’m not the only one). Once on a trip back from the mountains, easing up the uphills and shifting to neutral on the downhills, my boyfriend and I earned a full half-hour screen of 99.9 MPG averages. We whooped and pulled out the cellphone cam to capture the historic moment.

I’ve become a huge fan of coasting, whipping my foot off the gas whenever a light ahead turns yellow. And feel it in my gut when the car chugs up the hills of San Francisco — the hybrid is relatively unimpressive on the way up. My fuel efficiency, of course, doesn’t match what’s advertised — I suppose I drive a bit too fast on the freeway — but give me a 47 MPG average and I’ll call it a good tank.

Photo: Liz’s cell phone camera when she got all six bars at 99.9 MPG.


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