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Supermileage vehicle is all about the mpg, not the mph

BYU's slowest race car ever wins big at 15 mph

For most people, having a car that can clock 50 miles per gallon is a dream. For a group of BYU engineering students, anything less than 1,000 mpg is a disappointment.

The students have built a car that needs only one gallon of fuel to travel roughly the distance from Utah to Michigan, which just happens to be the place they competed this month at the SAE Supermileage Competition.

BYU's supermileage car bested the competition at the annual event to determine which university has created the most fuel-efficient vehicle in North America, registering a top mark of 1,331 mpg.

“It comes down to the smallest little details on race day,” said Gary Ellingson, one of seven engineering majors who built the car. “At the end of the day, it’s the team with the best run.”

During the competition, every team was given about 20 grams of fuel to race around a 10-mile track. Each car had to average 15 miles per hour during the run, and then afterwards the fuel tank was re-measured to see how much fuel was used. Judges then deduced the mpg capability based on the leftover fuel.

To maximize fuel efficiency, the BYU team added ceramic insulation to the lawn-mower engine they were required to start with, and then increased the 8-to-1 engine compression ratio to 14-to-1.They also made the engine fuel injected and modified it to be electronically controlled.

“It’s a cool project because you really see exactly how you get better mileage,” said team member Caroline Sorensen, who is also the driver. “Now we understand better what you can do to a regular car to get better mileage.”

BYU competed in the Supermileage competition for the first time last year and finished a surprising second place with a final mark of 1,135 miles per gallon.

This year’s team went for gold by focusing on both increased engine efficiency and reduced weight.

The 2013 version of the BYU Supermileage Vehicle weighs in at 99 pounds, 22 pounds lighter than its predecessor. Eric Wilcox, who oversaw the weight-loss plan, said they reassessed every element of the car to drop pounds.

“We shaved off five pounds by making our own starter, and we clipped another five pounds from switching the battery,” Wilcox said. “If we could use or make something lighter, we did it.”

The SAE Competition took place June 6-7 at the Marshall, Mich., proving grounds. In addition to their distance run, the BYU vehicle first had to pass an agility test and a strict technical inspection.

Then it was off to the track to see just how far the car could go. Although the team recorded the best miles per gallon mark, their overall scores were good enough for another 2nd place finish.

“Our plan was to get at least one qualified run in and then really push the limits of what the car can do,” Ellingson said.  "We're really pleased with the results."

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50 MPG should be easy to come by
  6/14/2013 9:29 AM by Adam

I love how the article says that 50mpg is a dream for most people. It would be so very easy if this country accepted and utilized diesel cars more than we currently are. My VW Jetta turbo diesel gets 50mpg easy, and if we had more of the direct injection turbo diesels in all makes and models, we all could be reaping the mileage benefits.

Reason for Second
  6/12/2013 4:41 PM by Trevor

The BYU team had the best mpg for a single run, but the winner is decided by averaging the runs. The average between BYU's runs was less than the average of the team that took 1st.

Why second?
  6/12/2013 12:05 PM by Mika

If the BYU team got the most mpg and that was what the race was for, why didn't they just give the first place prize to BYU? I can't imagine style points were a factor. The judges didn't like blue? Should've "done a barrel-roll!"

Driver weight
  6/6/2013 10:26 AM by Gary

In case anyone is wondering about the weight of the driver, in the video they state that the driver is required to weigh at least 130 pounds. Otherwise part of the competition might consist of finding the lightest, most precocious four-year-old driver to lighten the load!


  6/5/2013 12:31 PM by Philip

They don't. They just calculate the mpg based on smaller distances. "During the competition, every team is given about 20 grams of fuel to race around a 10-mile track. Each car has to average 15 miles per hour during the run, and then afterwards the fuel tank is re-measured to see how much fuel was used. Judges then deduce the mpg capability based on the leftover fuel."


  6/4/2013 9:00 PM by Brian

That is so cool! How will they test to see if the car actually drives 1,500 miles. at 15 mph on average, the poor driver will have to drive 100 simultaneous hours. Surely, there has to an easier way to see what the car is made out of. How will they do it?

Story Highlights

The BYU supermileage vehicle has the following specs:

  • Can drive at least 1,300 mpg
  • Weighs less than 100 pounds
  • Maxes out at about 25 mph
  • Is aerodynamic and low friction


Click here to download
BYU's supermileage vehicle is hoping to drive more than 1500 mpg at the SAE competition this week.

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BYU supermileage vehicle driver Caroline Sorensen gets ready for a test drive.

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BYU student engineers get their supermileage vehicle prepped ahead of this week's competition.

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The BYU supermileage vehicle is built with super aerodynamics to maximize fuel efficiency.

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BYU's supermileage vehicle is just big enough for one person to drive it -- lying down.
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