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Fuelorexia nervosa, or the Insight Helium-Foot Syndrome

The raison d'etre for the Honda Insight is to maximize fuel economy. As any thinking person knows, there is a limited supply of fossil fuel and the only way to make it last longer is to use less of it. However, as with any good thing, there is the potential to take the quest for fuel economy too far. I'm talking about fuelorexia nervosa, or the Insight Helium-Foot Syndrome, which is an obsessive-compulsive behavior pattern first made possible by the Insight and its real-time fuel mileage display. The danger caused by fuelorexia nervosa results from the potential for road rage exhibited by drivers following a slow-moving, gas-saving Insight.

Drivers afflicted with fuelorexia nervosa exhibit an obsessive focus on the LCD bar graph at the bottom of the Insight's instrument panel and the reluctance to do anything that would reduce the fuel mileage this bar graph indicates. The muscles controlling their right ankles are constantly in a state of conflict. Even though these drivers know that the reason they are driving their Insight is to get somewhere, the motor reflexes controlling the pressure of their right foot on the accelerator resist the application of this pressure. The result is an Insight that may be getting more than 70 miles per gallon, but which is sometimes creeping slowly on the uphill sections of the road.

A typical fuelorexic scenario occurs as I drive to work in the morning. Conveniently, I "forget" to reset my Fuel Consumption Display (FCD) readout until I get out of our little subdivision. The Insight updates this digital display once a minute with your current average mpg. Once out on the main road to work, I suddenly "remember" to switch on the Segment Display with the FCD button and zero out whatever bad readings it's retaining from the previous day's wasteful drive. Now the fun begins.

My right ankle immediately stiffens as I revel in the bar graph reporting more than 100 mpg on this flat stretch of road. But I see a hill coming up in the distance. This dreaded hill (even though it's so mild that I have no trouble riding my bicycle over it) poses the first obstacle to keeping my mileage over the century mark, so I gently press on the accelerator to gain speed. I panic as the LCD bar graph reading drops to 75 mpg and I respond by backing off the pressure on the accelerator. Then, in a delicate dance, I attempt to gently increase my speed without going below 80 mpg so that I'll have sufficient momentum to get over the hill without damaging the big numbers I've posted on the digital FCD. The panic subsides for now.

Whew! I'm happy about making it over that obstacle without the FCD dropping below 80 (the FCD can change quickly on short trips), but there's a bigger hill coming up (one that actually causes me to downshift a couple gears on my bicycle). The panic returns.

Drat! There's a car coming up behind me just as I hit the base of the bigger hill. The driver of that car is not going to like it, but I can't start burning up fuel like an SUV just to keep him or her happy. My speed drops as I struggle to keep the bar graph from dipping below 50 mpg. The car behind is clearly unhappy with my decreasing speed as it follows closer and closer in an effort to get that message across. More panic.

Soon the following car is so close that I'm certain its driver is reading the Gas/Electric Hybrid logo on the rear of my Insight and thinking, "why did this idiot buy a car that can't even get up this little hill?" My panic is now complicated by embarrassment and indecision. I want to prove this car is as fast as the one riding my tail, but I've got some big mpg numbers to preserve! What can I do?!?

At this point I experience a dilemma unique to the Insight. Would it be less fuel-inefficient to just punch the accelerator for a few seconds or to slowly roll on more power for a longer period? If I punch it, the Insight's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) electric motor will kick in to provide some of the power I need to quickly get back up to the speed limit and I'll make the driver behind me happy right away (until the next hill, that is).

But there's no free lunch (although the fossil-fuel feedbag is a lot cheaper in the Insight); the charge used by the IMA motor will have to be replaced. If, through thoughtless driving,  I've allowed the charge in the IMA battery pack to dwindle, then the power I use to get back to the speed limit may cause the Insight's IMA system to begin siphoning off a little of my engine's power--and reducing my fuel mileage--to recharge the battery pack as I cruise down the road. Then I must chastise myself for not doing a better job of using the Insight's regenerative braking to recharge the battery pack before the charge was needed for a situation exactly like this.

I choose a third alternative: to maintain my current gas mileage by continuing to creep up the hill at 30 mph in a 50 mph zone, justifying my obstructionism with the thought that I'm helping the following driver's car conserve gas, too. However, after performing a dangerous passing maneuver to get around me before reaching the top of the hill, it's clear that conserving gas was not foremost on that driver's mind. I avert my eyes in case there's a rude gesture being directed at me from the passing car.

Is this anti-social behavior or environmentally-conscious behavior? It may just be obsessive-compulsive behavior cloaked in a suit of environmental justification. Did Honda's engineers ever think about what extreme practices could result from producing a fuel-efficient car with a gauge that provides reinforcement for fuel-efficient driving? In my case it was like a beautiful 90-pound girl visiting a modeling agency and being told that she'd be really beautiful if she just lost another 20  pounds. "I'm saving the planet!" I repeat over and over to myself.

Hmmm, now that I think about it, if I could lose just a few pounds, it would reduce the weight my Insight has to carry over those mountainous barriers. Maybe I could wring another 2  or 3 mpg out of my FCD average.

"No dinner for me tonight, honey, I'm not very hungry."