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For maximum EV efficiency, stick to 25 miles per hour, ignoring angry motorists

The Ford Mustang Mach-E electric car can drive 60 miles per hour from a standstill in 3.5 seconds. Fergal McGrath prefers to hold the needle at a dangerous 40 mph. He is looking for a different kind of bragging.

Mr. McGrath is a hypermiler, a person who tries to lure as many miles as possible from their fuel, whether it is gas or electric. The practice requires driving at a busy pace to save energy, around 40 to 50 mph on a gas-powered vehicle. The efficiency of an electric car can be painfully slow - sometimes below 30 mph.

Road rage from other travelers comes with the territory that Mr. McGrath saw when he and his colleague Kevin Booker set a Guinness World Record in July for the lowest energy consumption when traveling across the UK. They were able to squeeze 6.45 miles per kilowatt-hour from a Mach-E on their 27-hour, 840-mile trek, and drove at an average 40 mph.

"We had some shouting and angry people behind us," Mr. McGrath, an engineer for a car testing and certification company based in Swindon, England.

Hypermiling has been done for years with gas and diesel powered cars. The expanding electricity market offers new opportunities to test the limits of efficiency. It is also a tactic to eliminate distance anxiety: the fear of running out of power, far from a charging station.

Car companies have hired some of the world's leading hypermiles for promotional road trips to put the message that electric cars will not leave drivers stranded with discharged batteries. Range anxiety is one of the main factors that deter potential buyers, according to consumer surveys. Many of the latest electrical parts have a range of 250 to 300 miles. Some hypermilers have gotten double that.

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Wayne Gerdes, left, tried to avoid complete stoppage on his record-breaking drive in a Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car.

Photo: Toyota

In August, Wayne Gerdes took a trip through Southern California in a Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car, which runs on electric power generated by hydrogen on board, in search of an efficiency record. The ride was sponsored by Toyota Motor Corp.

Sir. Gerdes, who lives in Carlsbad, California and was credited by the Oxford English Dictionary in 2008 for inventing the term hypermiling, has performed dozens of high-profile drives. This time, he found out he was trying to manipulate stop-and-go traffic on Los Angeles' infamous congested Interstate 405. The trick was to avoid complete stops, an efficiency killer.

Every time Mr. Gerdes saw a backup ahead, he lowered himself to crawl, cars piled up behind him, to try to avoid stopping. “I want to deliberately slow down the four or five cars behind me so we all maintain momentum,” he said. "They do not understand what is going on."

He got some annoyed drivers, but also a Guinness record for the two-day, 845-mile journey, for the longest distance with a hydrogen fuel cell car without refueling.

In September, retired Swiss pilot and hypermiler Felix Egolf set out on a trip through the Alps in a Volkswagen ID.3 electric car. Sponsored by Volkswagen AG, the goal was to demonstrate the complexity of electric car driving: Electric cars can add energy back to the battery pack as they drive downhill, a process known as regeneration.

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Felix Egolf's view through the windshield during his hypermile expedition through the Alps in September.

Photo: Felix Egolf

Sir. Egolf said he carefully drove up mountain passes and tried to save juice while giving in to hard-loaded trucks and other impatient drivers. His pace picked up speed downhill, he said, and he gently pressed the brakes as he drove - a move that can maximize regeneration and convert the kinetic energy from friction to electricity. It helped retain about a third of the energy he lost on the way up, he said.

“You’re constantly trying to get as much power back into your battery as you can,” he said. "It's like you're a hungry grizzly who is always looking for food."

In June, a team of eight drivers switched around the Thruxton Motorsport Center, one of the fastest racetracks in the UK, in an electric Renault Zoe over more than 24 hours. Average speed: 19 mph.

The team determined that the optimum speed for a slight descent along the track was 24 mph, set to cruise control, said James Cameron, CEO of Mission Motorsport, a British charity that associates veterans with car-related jobs and organized driving. The drivers traveled 475.4 miles on a single charge, almost double the Zoe's official range, and battled boredom.

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A team of drivers on a closed track drove an average of 19 miles per hour in a Renault Zoe.

Photo: MISSION MOTORSPORT

"These are massive petrol heads. And here we put them in motion to drive around in this incredibly long loop of 19 mph - and they are not even allowed to turn on the radio" to save electrons, he said. "I mean, it sounds absolutely awful."

In 2018, Sean Mitchell and a companion spent 32 hours in a Tesla Model 3 circling a 1-mile loop of public roads dotted with chain restaurants and hotels near Denver Airport. Putting at 25 mph, a highlight included receiving burritos from friends via a fishing net hung out of Tesla's window, to avoid stopping, Mr. Mitchell.

The result: 606.2 miles on a single charge compared to the car's normal range of 350 miles. "We were interested in doing something no one had ever done before, while raising awareness about electric cars," he said. Mitchell.

Some people find themselves hypermiling not to set records but to survive.

Last year, Phil Smith, a nurse living in North Queensland, Australia, drove his Tesla Model 3 on a four-month journey around the country. One night, in the outback of western Australia, the high-voltage outlet he had planned to use was broken. He took a bit of charge from a socket with lower voltage and continued.

As his Model 3 crawled to the next town, the car's computer warned him that he would only have 2% battery life left at his destination. "Seeing that screen is like a trauma," he said. "Shall I get through this?" He did so, relieved, with 4% left.

He later chatted with an EV owner, who told Mr. Smith that he never lets his battery go below 40%.

"I was just laughing," Mr. Smith. "I said, 'You are not alive, mate!' ”

Drive like an EV Hypermiler

  • Be gentle. Sharp acceleration and sudden braking is an efficiency killer.
  • Look forward. Expect red light or road safety backup to avoid stopping completely.
  • Use cruise control - but not on hills. At varying heights, the driver must be able to achieve better efficiency than the car.
  • Press the brake on descents. It can maximize regenerative braking, a process that carries energy back to the battery.
  • Sweat it out. Use A / C sparingly or not at all. Keep windows closed to prevent aerodynamic resistance.

Write to Mike Colias at Mike.Colias@wsj.com

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