By on May 21, 2017

supermiler-laval

Students from the Université Laval of Quebec won the the 11th annual Shell Eco-marathon Americas competition in Detroit for the second time in a row last month. The energy-efficient gasoline powered prototype managed an impressive 2713.1 miles per gallon on an internal combustion motor. However, the unit was only a two horsepower engine and spent the majority of its journey coasting at low speeds.

Encouraging automotive innovation should always be praised but, considering Shell’s guidelines for these events, one would hope for more. The competition has university students designing a prototype car using any combustible fuel, mainly gasoline or hydrogen, in an attempt to out-economy their rivals on a Michigan test course — which is great. The problem is the majority of these vehicles could be outperformed by a reasonably fit individual on a bicycle. 

Shell states that the vehicles in the UrbanConcept category must be “roadworthy.” That equates to four wheels in permanent contact with the pavement and some vagaries about everyday drivability. But the ICE Prototype category, which Laval’s car occupies, is unburdened by practicality. There aren’t stringent guidelines on how these vehicles have to accomplish their run. Provided drivers can average 15 mph for six miles, they qualify. According to Business Insider, the winning team’s strategy involved accelerating to 20 mph and then coasting to around 9 mph before restarting the engine.

Those UrbanConcept vehicles aren’t exactly ready for the road either, though. The Mater Dei High School of Indiana cranked off an admirable 723.4 mpg with their Supermileage, but it’s still a tiny teardrop-shaped pod that would fail every single crash test thrown at it. And it’s the same for the battery-driven cars, they’re all about minimizing weight and drag but little else. However, we can’t fault the competitors for not bringing road-ready vehicles to a challenge where the objective is to increase efficiency by any means necessary.

If changes need to be made, it should be by Shell. Ideally, these vehicles would be forced to run a course that offered a more normal driving experience — perhaps with some firmer guidelines as to what qualifies as a “roadworthy” car. Starts and stops are a normal part of daily commuting, as are speeds in excess of 15 miles an hour. The standing rules don’t make the achievements of these teams any less impressive. But adding to them would serve to compare these prototype eco units to their real world counterparts and make the event a bit more exciting.

Laval’s Alérion Supermileage team will continue on to Shell Drivers’ World Championship Regional Final, which takes place in London at the end of May.

 

[Image: Alérion Supermileage Team]

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34 Comments on “Québécois College Students Build Car Capable of 2,713 Miles Per Gallon...”


  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    “Ideally, these vehicles would be forced to run a course that offered a more normal driving experience”

    One may argue that there would be a benefit if the rules where changed, while that may be true, we see time and time again where auto companies (or anyone for that matter) will play to the letter of the law(rules) not the spirit of the law (rules).

    I see this contest as a way for Engineering students to push themselves to excel. That, in my view is more important than anything else.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Excel at…building an unusable vehicle that basically amounts to a tiny aerodynamic pod with a tiny engine that barely moves, and that should probably be permitted on sidewalks rather than roadways?

      How does that help GM bring up the MPG of a Tahoe?

      We already know how to efficiently move one person very slowly. As was mentioned, a bike would do, or maybe a golf cart. Wait. That would be like an Expedition (golf cart) sitting next to a Fit (that little tiny pod thingy).

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        “Excel at…building an unusable vehicle that basically amounts to a tiny aerodynamic pod with a tiny engine that barely moves, and that should probably be permitted on sidewalks rather than roadways?

        How does that help GM bring up the MPG of a Tahoe?”

        Want to know how I know that you’ve never worked in fundamental technology development?

      • 0 avatar
        cdotson

        I suppose unless one owns a golf cart equipped with an odometer (nearly nonexistent) you wouldn’t know how hilariously bad gas-powered golf cart fuel economy is. It’s not bad in the context of an Expedition, but LOL bad in the context of “efficient way to move a single person.”

        It’s been 11+ years since I worked in the industry and seen test figures, but 15 mpg was among the better figures for actual golf course driving cycles.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        Works about as well as “racing improves the breed”.

        Personally, I’d rather see a race with:
        x amount of fuel (not only requires high-mileage design, but also acts to limit speed to a safe level).
        spec roll cage
        maybe max/min envelope limits.

        No other restrictions (possibly banning turbines, and various games with battery charge vs. fuel usage).

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      “I see this contest as a way for Engineering students to push themselves to excel. That, in my view is more important than anything else.”

      Exactly the key here is that they are Automotive engineering STUDENTS. They are in the process of learning the craft. This allows them to sit down and examine the different aspects of the engineering of better fuel efficiency and how to make the design trade-offs.

      Just like in a “real” car the fuel efficiency is dictated by the aerodynamic drag, frictional losses, vehicle mass, and increasing the percentage of power extracted from the chosen fuel. Oh and by the way they need to build this vehicle in a year. It is a great learning tool for the students where they get to do the full engineering process.

      Personally I do the same thing for HS students though the learning vehicle in our case is a 150lb or less robot. We follow that same engineering process through each year we get a new challenge and only 45 days to define the problem, identify our solution, design it, build it, program it, test it, break it, redesign it ect. Yes the machines they build are w/o any useful application and most get scavenged and scrapped for the next season but the point is engaging students in the real world of engineering design.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    “According to Business Insider, the winning team’s strategy involved accelerating to 20 mph and then coasting to around 9 mph before restarting the engine.”

    You got to admire the rule bending chutzpah though. By doing this, they break the entire idea of what this is about, but they can still say: Comrade, our planning goal is accomplished within spec.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      Rule bending? Maybe. But it’s the same game that fanboi Prius drivers play as they fiddle with their rolling video game instead of actually driving in traffic.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    There’s nothing “car” about any of this. Yawn. It’s a science experiment in a controlled environment.

    Wheels? Yes. Driver? Um, OK. ICE? Yes.

    But that’s not what makes a “car”.

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Exactly. Pointless and useless.

      I don’t scorn TTCA for running the story, not at all. Its Sunday. Pretty much any article posted is appreciated, lol.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yea it is a science experiment in a controlled environment, that is how these students learn to become tomorrows automotive engineers. It is extremely valuable to them and eventually us as consumers once they enter the work force.

  • avatar
    dont.fit.in.cars

    “Supermileage, but it’s still a tiny teardrop-shaped pod that would fail every single crash test thrown at it”.

    “Problem is the majority of these vehicles could be outperformed by a reasonably fit person on s bicycle”. Do tell what crash tests a bicycle passes?

    No one expects real world performance. The purpose of the contest is to get an engineering crew working through a process of design, fabrication, testing, evaluation and failure.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      All wasted on something that will be used by noone, nowhere, never.

      Clearly he meant “performance” as in acceleration and sustained momentum, not crash performance as was referenced in the paragraph *above* it.

      Your clever little joke is like a late-night show where they cut segments of political talking heads in such a way that it makes them sound like they’re talking dirty. Except the comedic effect was completely lost on your attempt. As was any point you had.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        “All wasted on something that will be used by noone, nowhere, never.”

        it’s not meant to, you dimp. These are students learning to be engineers. a big part of being an engineer is using scientific and engineering principles to accomplish a goal within the constraints given.

        these projects give students the opportunity to experience and learn what it takes to work with teams to bring an idea to fruition. They’re not designing end user products, and your clueless hysterics demonstrate that you clearly don’t understand that.

      • 0 avatar
        Eddie_B

        JohnTaurus, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the engineering and innovation process.

      • 0 avatar
        dont.fit.in.cars

        Nothing against the article and selective editing is not the best way to get s point across.

        The battle is real and it’s something I see every day. A group subdivided pulling against itself to create something. While you rail against the end product, the real test is the leadership needed to create. If Shell wants to sponsor much to do about nothing, perhaps their metric is different than yours.

        What is your contribution to bring measure to our replacements?

  • avatar
    qest

    Just because these cars aren’t ready for mass production and sale doesn’t mean that a technological innovation discovered and proven here can’t or won’t be applied to the production cars of the future.

  • avatar
    thirty-three

    I took part in a similar competition when I was in high school. My shop teacher organized the team. Building the “car” was an amazing learning experience. Forming the body, building the mechanical bits, and testing on our crappy gravel track.

    I would love to do something like this again. What these students built won’t translate into any useful fuel-saving technology, but the students themselves may develop something great in the future.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      See FIRST Robotics Competition, and get involved. While the vehicle of choice is a robot rather than a “car” it provides an amazing learning experience for the students. Key to the success of the program is adults helping to guide the students. It is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life and it is a great experience for the students involved, including my own.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Please let’s drop the habitual TTAC snark and self-satisfaction here. Though Laval is a college, much of the competition is from high schools, including my neighbor, Wheat Ridge High which won top hydrogen fuel cell award. This is a public school, and not one of the best-funded in my state of low-funded schools. Let’s also note that Laval’s entry won the “prototype” crown, not an award for more practical vehicles.

    Sure, any desk-bound blog writer could have imagined something bigger and better, but these kids actually built something that runs and wins! Let’s give them credit for what they achieved, rather than griping about how these aren’t practical, usable cars.

    What did you invent and build this spring, Matt?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “What did you invent and build this spring, Matt?”

      Unnecessary snark.

      cripes, the Supermileage competition has been going on since 1980, yet somehow TTAC and the “Best & Brightest” decided this year’s competition deserved their scorn and derision?

      These are high school and college students, you idiots. They’re not doing this to design something you can buy from a dealership tomorrow. They’re doing this as (usually) a Senior project, and the whole thing is as much about learning how to work in a group and use engineering principles to design and build something which meets requirements within the constraints they’re given.

      It’s no different than Formula SAE or Baja SAE. These are students learning to be engineers and project managers. They’re not making stuff just for you.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        These sorts of projects are almost a requirement for getting into college or a job post graduation. Colleges and companies want to see some hands-on experience. My son is in bioengineering and his project along with a friend’s project became the basis for them starting their own successful biotech company in a shared incubator space when they were having trouble finding jobs (although I suspect that was the plan all along ;^)).

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        I forgot to mention the fact that they are learning to do this as an engineering team. That means in addition to learning the basic engineering principles they are learning to manage the project and work together as a team. The people designing the transmission have to work with the specs provided by the power plant team and those from the people who are designing the final drive who have to work with the wheel/tire specs so the entire thing works together.

  • avatar
    wsn

    Well, if you want the contest to be for practical and safe vehicles, then you don’t really need a contest. We have a winner already: Toyota Prius.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    A world record of 5107 mpg was set in 1985, to much the same rules (Shell mileage marathon). So, it’s nice that students are in the same ball park, thirty years later, but half as good is still only half as good.

    In 2005 the record was about 9000 mpg

  • avatar
    ReSa

    Could TTAC do a piece on a very different student developed, but more realistic vehicle for the future? It’s runs on Solar, seats 4, is street legal and has already won 2 1500 mile endurance races:

    http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1099022_new-stella-solar-electric-car-produces-more-energy-than-it-uses

    https://solarteameindhoven.nl/stella-lux/

    The next Solar Challenge race across Australia is 8-15 Oct 2017, would be great to cover a bit of that as well!

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      “Could TTAC do a piece on a very different student developed, but more realistic vehicle for the future? It’s runs on Solar, seats 4, is street legal and has already won 2 1500 mile endurance races:”

      But then how could the kids be unwitting shills for 710 77345? (the old calculator joke).

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      I’d be happy to see coverage of this event. Would be even happier seeing a projected range estimate for more typical real-world drives than one across the god-forsaken Australian desert, which probably has a much higher actual amount of solar energy than the cloudier climes we drive in.
      Nothing against the important experience the team members are getting – I just don’t want to hear about how solar is real world ready until it is a reasonable assertion.

      • 0 avatar
        Camber Gain

        There are endurance solar car competitions in the US as well. They tend to run in the Midwest and south to avoid elevation.

        But you’re right, the energy density per area is just too low. A midsize car will only get you 2.2kW of electric power with state of the art monocrystalline silicon cells. Multi-junction cells that cost around $50/square centimeter (!!) will get you around 3.3kW of electric power at peak solar intensity during the height of summer if you’re around St. Louis’s longitude. It’s never going to work unless we get rid of crash standards and move at under 25mph everywhere and never have to go up a hill.

  • avatar

    guy did 85mph in a pedal powered cycle.

    http://newatlas.com/cyclist-human-powered-speed-record/39472/

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    I was in a physics club about 20 years ago and I was part of an electric car project. The original competition was how many “laps” off of fixed charged batteries we could get. Our particular car was more a low slung go-cart. It weighted in at about 1200 lbs, used small motorcycle tires with disc brakes, and used a very large DC electric motor connected to a a rear axle. We got it up to 60mph and it only completed about 15 laps. The competition had these 200lb fiberglass domes over minimal framing with 3 wheels. Their max speed was about about 15 mph, however, they went for close to 100 laps.

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