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Romancing a Kiwi … the start of an affair

August 25th, 2008 · 4 Comments

At first sight, my heart skipped a beat.

One quick glance and I was sure, this was the one for me.

No, we’re not talking about a dalliance with a Kiwi from New Zealand, but an “I WANT THAT” moment looking to the PLX Kiwi dashboard feedback system to help drivers learn how to drive better.

The basic principle is clear if you’ve ever been around hybrid car drivers bragging about their latest achievements in inching out another .5 mpg on their latest drive. Instant feedback systems on the dashboard, especially in an era of $3.50 and higher gasoline, foster more efficient driving habits.

The Kiwi takes this a step, actually many steps forward, providing not just miles per gallon, but feedback on critical elements of more efficient driving (smoothness, drag, aceleration, deceleration), test programs to teach the teachable, and other feedback paths to move drivers toward safer and more climate-friendly driving habits. Give these sorts of feedback systems and, across a wide range of drivers, and a ten percent improvement in overall fuel efficiency is on the low side of the expected improvements.

I’m a stats type of guy (falling asleep yet) … into competition with self via measurements … into playing with feedback systems … who is concerned about cost of driving, cost in terms of dollars and, more importantly, cost in terms of CO2 emissions.

Okay, on first glance, I knew that that Kiwi was for me …

Every romance has its bumpy patches

You can imagine, perhaps, the anticipation waiting for the Kiwi in the mail.  And, the anxiousness with which I opened the package.   Marrying up my fascination with statistics, (near) addiction to gaming, and concerns over the environment, the Kiwi looked to be a perfect partner for this Eco-Geek.

But, soon after the opening moments, the first problems emerged.  The instruction manual said that the OBDII port was near the steering wheel.  Okay, the search through my 1996 Honda and no OBDII port … some frustration, let me say.  A web search, when there was a moment, and yes, the 96 Honda Accord does have an OBDII port.  ???? Where? 

The connector must be located within three feet of the driver and must not require any tools to be revealed. Look under the dash and behind ashtrays.

Yup, pulled out that ashtray, there’s the OBDII port and hooking up is as easy as promised.

Let the driving begin

The intent is to take this Kiwi and let multiple drivers use them, with multiple vehicles, in multiple situations. Let’s see how different people react and what their experiences are in this situation.

Car #1: 1996 Honda Accord, five speed, manual, with a 22 city, 28 highway, 24 combined miles per gallon.    Driver #1: Me. Well aware of the basic instructions for fuel economy (tires inflated properly, minimize excess weight, avoid aggressive driving, coast to stop lights, …).  A bit of a hyper-miler, regularly turning off the engine at long stop lights and, at times, able to do miles on the daily commute coasting with the engine off going down (and sometimes up) hills and coasting to stop lights.  Impact of fuel efficient driving: with a usage (under 7000 miles per year) of about 80-90 percent city driving, regularly over 30 miles per gallon when calculating after filling up the tank.

The Kiwi experience to date has, sigh, taken a bit of the edge off the romance.

First the positive, having the feedback system on the dashboard does exactly what should be expected, watching the numbers and seeking to maximize that Green. Dissatisfied if that (@!&#$!)#$* idiot cutting me off forced me to hit the brakes and watch the system go into red.  Happy to see, in a different format, when gliding kicks the car well past 50 mpg.  Working hard to pass that “smoothness” test without problem.  Yes, feedback systems bring attention and, at least with this test driver, create desire to change behavior.

But … but … From Kiwi

I think I drive green already. Will Kiwi do anything for me?

That is similar to saying , “I think I sing well already, why do I need a professional coach?” You may sing well, or you may not, but the only way to find out is to have a professional listen to it. A professional will be able to identify if your hitting the correct notes at the correct time as well as suggest improvements one can make to optimize their skills in every aspect. Kiwi is your professional coach for driving green.

That’s me, right?  The arrogance to think that my ‘hyper-miling’ that puts the a 24 mpg rated care above 30 mph means that “I drive green already.”   How is it going between this amateur hyper-miler and my “professional coach”?

  1. The Kiwi turns off when the engine is turned off, the hyper-miler’s coasting down hills can’t count into its ratings. Turning off the engine at long lights, also not so good.
  2. Thinking about those stops, when in the basic mode rating smoothness/drag/acceleration/deceleration, the easiest way to get 100/100?  Remain stopped at a stop sign or a stop light.  Right, those very moments of zero fuel efficiency and the systems is rating me GREEN across the board.
  3. Not extensively, but to a little bit, I’ve tried less fuel efficient techniques.  For example, ncreasing RPMs to maintain speed going uphill (even accelerating), rather than maintaining RPMs and accepting some deceleration, seems to be the ‘higher scoring’ path with the Kiwi’s programming. 
  4. Highly fuel-efficient techniques can worsen the Kiwi scores, such as gliding downhill in acceleration … score negative for too much acceleration and, if the hill is not even, negative on not perfect smoothness.

These are just a few examples why, as a pseudo-hypermiler, my Kiwi-dating experience isn’t fostering as committed a relationship as I was hoping on first embrace.

In addition to the issues of Kiwi encounters with a pseudo-hypermiler, there are some basic operating challenges that concern me.  Despite multiple tries, I have been unable to get past Drive Green’s Lesson 1.  It isn’t that I’ve failed, I’ve passed time after time with the Kiwi awarding me a trophy. When I try to move past, the system always kicks back into that first lesson.  Thus, I’ve already passed Smoothness Test #1 over 15 times.  At some point (e.g., already), this becomes tiresome. I really wanted to be able to go through the entire set of Drive Green teaching programs but this glitch isn’t allowing to get past that.

With strong records, I have high confidence that my driving in the Accord places me above 30 miles per gallon in city and near 35 miles per gallon in highway driving. To date, according to the Kiwi, I have yet to have a single trip with higher than 18.3 miles per gallon of achieved fuel efficiency.  Either years of trips to the pump and years of odometer records are off by almost double actual figures or there is something wrong with the data that the Kiwi is producing.  Kiwi does have a response for this, a setup option for applying a multiplier.  I tried a +50% and it ended a little high. Right now, the system has +45% and seems to be in the ball park.  Ball Park, however, is the issue … how to have confidence that the figure is accurate is a bit difficult to determine short of several tankfillings to provide a larger database for calibration.

An interim perspective

The Kiwi seems clearly in the sweet spot of feedback systems that could help drivers across the nation learn how to be better eco-drivers, saving money and reducing their carbon footprints at the same time through more fuel-efficient driving. The glitches are frustrating. And, for the (pseudo)hyper-milers among us, the Kiwi might bring no advantage.  For the average driver, probably benefit but if you’re already exceeding your car’s estimated miles-per-gallon, the value added just might not be there.

On the other hand, it is cool to watch the mpg numbers.   Rolling down a hill today, I hit 131.3 miles per gallon.

Tags: Energy · energy cool · energy efficiency · green

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Paul // Sep 25, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    When you complete a lesson, be sure to hit “down” then “right” to toggle you to the next lesson. Otherwise, you’ll just be starting the same lesson over and over again. :)

    If your vehicle is stopped at a traffic light, even though the Kiwi Score is green and at 100, it know’s your vehicle has stopped and it does not count towards your overall score, thus not affecting your averages.

    The Kiwi score is designed to reward you by keeping your engine’s load as constant as possible as well as your vehicle’s momentum as constant as possible. Of course, with anything, you’ll have to use your additional knowledge about vehicles to further optimize your driving. That is why we have an MPG meter there for you. :)

    Regarding accelerating downhill, it is true that the Kiwi score will drop your accel score, however Kiwi is also designed to make you a safer driver. If you have your vehicle in gear, while going downhill, you can better maintain a constant speed, thus promoting safer driving and not exceeding the speed limit. Also, when your engine is used to engine brake, your fuel injectors shuts completely off. This uses zero fuel. If you’re coasting at idle downhill, your engine is still consuming fuel. If your turn off your engine, you’ll loose power steering and hyrolic brake pressure. So keeping your engine on, while engine braking is what we feel is the safest and most fuel efficient approach.

  • 2 Feedback systems … a key to a better energy future? // Nov 25, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    [...] to wait for new automobiles to get feedback systems. They are available for purchase, such as the kiwi (although that is a bit pricey at $300, a high-end option). If we’re serious about shaving [...]

  • 3 Feedback systems: key to a better energy future? // Dec 8, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    [...] to wait for new automobiles to get feedback systems. They are available for purchase, such as the kiwi (although that is a bit pricey at $300, a high-end option). If we’re serious about shaving [...]

  • 4 Energy COOL: Ford Putting Feedback Systems into Practice // Jul 2, 2009 at 12:25 pm

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