The Story Behind Michael Combs’ Annual Fill-up
May 07, 2014 01:33AM
● By Julie Thibodeaux
Michael Combs is a self-proclaimed adventurer. The Corinth resident says he started on this path in 2003, when his heart stopped twice in three days. He survived the incident, but said he had a spiritual near-death experience that changed his life. “It was incredible, there was the tunnel and everything else you hear about it,” he said. “I knew I had more things to do here.”
And he did. Over the last decade, he obtained a sport pilot’s license and flew his small, two-seater airplane in all 50 states, setting a world record. He’s written two books about his experiences. But in the last year, he’s been involved in a more down-to-earth enterprise: driving a hybrid automobile for the first time. And like everything else he does, he met the challenge head on. “I had always been the person who was not for the hybrid,” he said.
Yet, watching gas prices go up drove him to consider it. He was hesitant to go all-electric, due to his self-proclaimed “range anxiety”. Initially, he was unimpressed with the hybrid plug-in, but a friend told him to check out Ford’s version.“It was love at first sight,” says Combs. “It looked like a regular car.”
He purchased a 2013 Ford Fusion Energi in March 2013 from Bill Utter Ford, in Denton. Carl Anderson, general manager of Bill Utter Ford, says he remembers selling him the car. “There’s no way you’re going forget Michael Combs. He’s a world record holder. He autographed and gave me a copy of his book,” says Anderson.
The car Combs purchased is also special. In addition to operating as a hybrid, it can also serve as an all-electric vehicle (EV), with a battery range of 30 miles. Like almost all EVs, it can be recharged on the electrical grid. Soon, Combs realized that most of his trips were under 30 miles, so the car was almost never using gas. Then he began having fun with it. When he and his wife would drive farther during an outing, they would find a charging station nearby and charge up while they ate or shopped. By October, he realized they’d only used half of the original tank of gas the dealer put in the car. He said to his wife, “I think we can go a whole year without filling up.”
So the challenge began.“We used the car as we would normally would,” said Combs. “Sometimes we’d turn the AC off and open the sun roof to conserve energy.” He became so adept at managing his mileage that he even went back to the dealership and taught a class to other hybrid owners about how to get the most usage out of their cars’ battery.
Last month, he crossed the finish line; he’d driven the car a year without filling up. Ceremoniously, he and his wife drove it back to the dealership with their son, a videographer, in tow to document the milestone. At the dealership, Anderson personally filled up their tank—on the house. “He’s been one of our biggest cheerleaders for the Fusion Energi,” says Anderson. “As far as I’m concerned, we’d be glad to fill up his tank anytime.”
Combs says he calculates that over the year, the car averaged 220 miles per gallon. But he doesn’t plan to stop there. “My new goal is to get 400 miles to the gallon,” says Combs, and he urges others to follow his example. “I know this is going to be the future of cars,” Combs predicts. “There’s nothing like driving an electric car. It’s so amazing. Anybody interested in saving the environment should consider making this type of commitment.”
Julie Thibodeaux is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.