Think a Prius’s 48 miles per gallon is efficient? Try over 3,000 mpg.
The University’s Supermileage team — an entirely student-run organization aiming to build a high-efficiency vehicle — will compete in the Shell Ecomarathon in Houston, Texas from April 5 to April 7 in the hopes of winning the title of the most fuel-efficient internal combustion concept car in North America.
Starting with just a lawn mower engine, the 25-person team modified and tuned its carbon-fiber vehicle before leaving for the competition Tuesday where it will face 140 other teams from high schools and colleges across the United States.
“It’s all about fuel economy,” said Engineering senior Caroline Lupini, the team’s project manager. “We set a goal of 3,300 miles to the gallon.”
The competition is split into two classes. The University’s team will compete in the Prototype classification, meaning the car focuses solely on maximum fuel efficiency. There is also an UrbanConcept classification, where street-legal cars are designed for more practical purposes and passenger comfort.
At the competition, teams will prove how far they can travel on one liter of fuel.
Founded in 2010, the team has appeared in just one previous competition — last year’s SAE Supermileage Competition in Marshall, Mich. Still, Lupini said she is confident the team can break the current North American record of 3,169 mpg.
“Our goal remains the same as it was last year because we weren’t able to achieve it,” Lupini said. “(But) I’d like to assume that we will.”
The team receives funding through the College of Engineering and various industry and local sponsors. Though money hasn’t been an issue so far for the club, Lupini said without donations the team wouldn’t be able to build a car of the same quality.
Engineering junior John Rockwell, the team’s race strategy officer, said after all of the time and effort the team members have put into building and testing their prototype, he wants to get the result the team was unable to achieve last year.
The team’s car weighs more than 200 pounds and should be one of the lightest cars at the competition — an advantage over the other teams, said Rockwell.
A student of mechanical engineering, Rockwell said Supermileage has allowed him to get the hands-on experience he would only be able to get through summer internships.
“I think what we’re doing is huge,” he said. “Every car now is trying to get 30, 40, maybe even 50 miles to the gallon, and I definitely think that’s where everything is going … it’s cool to be on the leading edge of that stuff.”
In addition to the engine, body and race strategy groups on the team, members also hold business and communications positions. Rockwell said working closely with different types of people as well as professors and other professionals has provided him and the rest of the team with a unique experience.
“There’s a lot of stuff I’ve learned on this team that I wouldn’t be able to normally,” he said. “Working with companies and sponsors … you definitely don’t get that just sitting in a class.”
Engineering junior Andy Dun, the team’s engine lead, said it’s been an interesting process to work on the car from the beginning of the year to now and fix the problems from the 2011 to 2012 academic year.
“Once we have everything and everything’s running it feels great,” Dun said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the result.”
And while the team is vying for a North American record this weekend, Lupini said what she is most excited about is the chance to hang out with friends after a rigorous year of building and testing.
“We had a good time at last year’s competition even though it was really stressful,” Lupini said. “I just hope it’s a really fun experience and no one regrets missing six days of class.”