An Enthusiast Car for Hypermiling

Apr 1, 2022 • Extra Ordinary

The formula is simple: take a popular vehicle, identify a demographic of car enthusiasts within the customer base and make a special trim level or derivative model to cater to their niche. This new special-purpose model acts as a halo car for the pedestrian model.

Auto manufacturers are not displaying the same such commitment to economy cars for hypermiling, a segment of car enthusiasts that care not about going faster with more but farther with less. Car enthusiasts that compete not on speed but fuel efficiency.

There are many legitimate reasons for this:

  1. Few people want to pay more money for a car that is, in many respects, worse.
  2. It is a small demographic. This could be due in part to a self-fulfilling prophecy; perhaps the demographic is small because it has never been catered to before.
  3. Auto manufacturers believe the market is being served by the advent of good and affordable electric cars. I would argue that no matter the drivetrain—gas, hybrid or electric—there is always room for more energy-efficiency. A gasoline car gets better fuel economy; an electric car gets more range.

Nonetheless, let us imagine a formula auto makers could use to turn a popular sedan into a hypermilers’ enthusiast car.

The Condor

The Condor is named for the large bird. The story here, popularly told by Steve Jobs, is that a condor in flight is the most energy-efficient form of transportation in nature. It is important to note that this isn’t actually true, but it makes for a good marketing story.

The Condor model makes the basic changes that are easy to switch out in a manufacturing line and that consumers expect when comparing trim levels: different tires, different interior materials, different engine options, perhaps even different exterior styling—but tailored for efficiency in mind rather than performance or luxury.

  1. Modeled after the Honda Insight, the tires are small and skinny. The rims are flat with small vents and cast from a lightweight alloy for aerodynamics. Fender skirts cover the rear wheels.
  2. The seats are made of a lightweight spongey material.
  3. The interior trim uses recycled plastics instead of metal and polyester cloth instead of leather.
  4. Rather than add vents for style, decorative elements are removed and creases are rounded out for aerodynamics.
  5. It comes standard with that engine auto-stop feature that is hated by everyone who doesn’t drive a hybrid—and it cannot be turned off.
  6. No sun roof. Sheet metal is lighter than a pane of glass.

The name pairs well as a suffix to many car names: The Honda Accord Condor. The Toyota Camry Condor. The Nissan Altima Condor. The Kia K5 Condor. The Volkswagen Golf Condor.

The California Condor

The California Condor is the extreme version. It is to the Condor as the Subaru WRX STI is to the WRX, the Volkswagen Golf R is to the Golf GTI, the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro is to the Tundra TRD. It pulls no punches.

  1. No air conditioning. The parts are heavy and running it reduces efficiency.
  2. Only the drivers’ window rolls down all the way. The passenger window only rolls down a little bit. The rear windows are totally fixed in place. Rolling down a window increases aerodynamic drag.
  3. No passenger-side mirror. Economy cars from the 1980s didn’t have them as standard, and this is surprisingly still legal.
  4. Many pieces of the interior are removed or changed in the interest of saving weight: no center console, cloth nets instead of door pockets and a glovebox, touchscreen controls instead of buttons on the dashboard.
  5. Carbon-fiber body panels wherever possible.
  6. Only two speakers. Speakers need big, heavy magnets.
  7. No rear seats.
  8. No rear windshield wiper.
  9. Only available in a two-door configuration if one exists.
  10. The name is a sticker, not a badge.

This would obviously be a ludicrous car very few people would buy. But in a world where the Aston Martin Cygnet existed, I think there is room for it.

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