If College Kids Can Get 1000 MPG, Why Can't You?

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Many green car enthusiasts love a hypermiling challenge. They'll eagerly drive in the slow lane, forego air-conditioning, and take different routes to and from work to make the most of downhill traffic, just to boost fuel economy by a couple of miles per gallon.

But as hard as those folks try, they'll never, ever achieve the MPGs earned by students at Penn State University’s Behrend College. According to Detroit News, Behrend's budding engineers recently recorded fuel economy well over 1,000 miles per gallon.

Of course, they didn't accomplish that feat using a run-of-the-mill sedan. Like other teams from Brigham Young and Northern Illinois University, they built their car from scratch as part of the Society of Automotive Engineers' Supermileage competition.

For 34 years, SAE has sponsored the Supermileage challenge, inviting university students to design and build their own single-person, fuel-efficient vehicles. Those vehicles are put on a 9.6-mile track in Michigan, where they run until they can't run no more.

This year, the Penn State team managed to record a whopping 1,290 MPG. They didn't rely on newfangled hybrid or electric technology, though. Like every other team, they used a standard four-cycle engine built by Briggs & Stratton, installed on a specially built vehicle that was lightweight, aerodynamic, and generally as friction-free as possible. (We'd also wager that they put some of their skinniest members behind the wheel.) 

As impressive as such achievements may be, Penn State's supermiler won't appear on car lots anytime soon. Such special vehicles are far too low and slow for the road, reaching just above knee-height on your average adult and maxing out at top speeds of 25 MPH or so. 

However, if you own an electric car like the Tesla Model S or the Nissan Leaf, or if you sit behind the wheel of an extended-range vehicle like the Chevrolet Volt, you can already achieve well above the 1,000 MPG benchmark -- so long as you park near an electrical outlet.


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Comments (8)
  1. Many of us do, regardless of what we drive. I just started a column called Left Lane Psychosis where I highlight the virtues of driving on the right lanes in California. It's actually faster and you waste less gasoline.

  2. Or an extended range vehicle like the Ford C-Max Energi.

  3. "installed on a specially built vehicle that was lightweight"

    You mean that it is so lightweight and it can't even carry a cat?

    "Such special vehicles are far too low and slow for the road, reaching just above knee-height on your average adult and maxing out at top speeds of 25 MPH or so. "

    EXACTLY. That is a speed for a typical bicycle...

    Let us talk about real life design instead.

    This and the college "sun race" are both a waste of time, IMHO.

  4. You are missing the point, much like the article itself. These students are engineering ones and these are projects to learn. This is also called basic research. I am sure the students of four years ago in the sun race or other projects have gone to careers promoting EV or hybrid technology. Students learn more than technical knowledge. The ability to work in synergy with other is vital. No work is wasted in any form or fashion. Where do you think that "real life design" comes from? Thin air? Basic industrial research brought down the cost of solar panels as well. What used to take two months to build now takes several hours. In aviation, from the Wright brothers to the moon landing it was 66 years! Waste of time?

  5. also 1290 mpg in MPGe term is about 1290 miles for 33.7KWh of electricity. That would require an efficiency of 38 miles per KWh. About 10x the efficiency of the BEVs today.

    Electric motors are already close to 90% efficiency and you can double efficiency to about 8 miles per KWh by going slow. So, to get to 38 miles per KWh, you would really have to shrink the weight...

  6. Actually, you can more than double efficiency by going slow. I drove 188 miles on ONE charge in my LEAF and obtained 8.8m/kW h at the lowest CC speed. If someone were to drive 12-15mph they could go over 200 miles at 9.1m/kW h or higher.

  7. You are still NOT even close to the 38 miles per KWh mark...

    At that speed, the efficiency gain is almost meaningless. Just grab a bicycle...

    We need "real world" efficiency gain.

  8. All college kids get 1000mpg it's called a bike;)
    But seriously, while this is cool, it's totally unrealistic, hopefully however, paving the future

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