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So Long, MPG: Plug-in Cars to Deliver Next-Gen Hypermiling Tools

accufuel-main-screenshotFor many hybrid drivers, hypermiling, the practice of changing driving behavior and in some cases making tech mods to their vehicles in order to eke out triple-digit MPGs, has become a way of life — never mind complaints that they drive like a granny. A number of smartphone apps and after-market vehicle retrofits have emerged in an effort to meet demand for the real-time and cumulative data about fuel efficiency that hypermilers came to love (and obsess over) in the Toyota Prius display.

But now that the future of fuel-economy ratings is up for debate and miles per gallon of gasoline clearly won’t suffice for the upcoming generation of plug-in vehicles, hypermiling — and innovation around MPG data — is set to enter a new phase. Next-gen hypermiling tools could help drivers gain access to information about how their behavior affects the type of fuel used (gas or electricity), as well as average and real-time carbon emissions, watt-hours and cost per mile says founder Felix Kramer.

The Prius displays, said Kramer, “have been like video games, showing drivers how to get the most from every drop of gasoline,” and high-end non-hybrids also now include MPG tracking tools. But while General Motors (s GM) has invested in a massive campaign to promote the claim that its upcoming Chevy Volt (an extended-range EV) gets 230 MPG, and plans to include two configurable LCD screens in the model, GM’s Tony Posawatz told the GM-Volt blog this week, “I don’t think we will show instantaneous MPG.”

That’s probably because series plug-in hybrids, also known as extended-range electric vehicles, are “a different animal,” Kramer explained:

Since it uses no gasoline until the all-speed, all-electric range is exceeded, for most commuting, MPG won’t be meaningful — a display would show infinite. For all-EV driving, we expect the Volt will show some indications of electrical driving efficiency (watt-hours/mile). When the vehicle turns into a standard hybrid, we imagine GM will show operating efficiencies.

If the surge of mobile and web tools building upon or mimicking newer in-car displays (helping drivers track fuel consumption and save money on gas, for example), the market for next-gen hypermiler tools will encompass much more than OEMs. Kramer noted that after-market options include “relatively cheap add-on for all vehicles” that can boost MPGs.

We’ll also be watching for even cheaper options: iPhone apps. Apple’s (s AAPL) iPhone is the mobile device of choice for many of the early adopters embracing plug-in vehicles (and other Car 2.0 technologies), and they’ll be looking for a place to channel their hypermiler mojo.

Ensuring accurate, open data for all of these tools in all of the categories necessary to account for vehicles’ total cost (in terms of environmental impact as well as dollars), however, won’t be easy. “Each is a major challenge to get right,” said Kramer, “and will require cooperation between industry, government, and consumers.”

Graphic courtesy of AccuFuel

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