Canada's Laval University retained its championship status by taking top honors at the SAE Supermileage competition, recording 1804 mpg at the 2009 contest. The June 4-5 event at Eaton Corp.’s 1.6-mi (2.6-km) oval test track in Marshall, MI, attracted 25 teams from Canada, India, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the U.S.
"Of course, super fuel economy is the allure for teams to participate in this competition," said Jim Gluys, Principal Engineer for Heavy Transmissions at Eaton's Truck Components Operations and event organizer for SAE Supermileage. “But a key reason that SAE Supermileage remains popular is this event lets college engineering students—in less than 10 months—complete a vehicle from scratch or fine-tune an existing vehicle. It is rather like an accelerated internship where students move quickly from paper to hardware as a means of preparing for the challenges of the working world—something they need to be ready to do as soon as they enter full-time employment.”
SAE requires that teams design and fabricate a vehicle with at least three wheels. Although the vehicle's length, width, and height are at each team's discretion, the power supply for each vehicle must be a Briggs & Stratton air-cooled, single-cylinder, four-cycle, carbureted engine. But that base engine—capable of 2.6 kW (3.5 hp) at 3600 rpm—is fair game for alterations.
"This is a really good opportunity to compare the benefit of modifying the engine," said Malissa Vyce, a mechanical engineering student and team leader for VVCF-1, one of two vehicles entered by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. The VVCF-1 sported the base engine, while the school’s three-time Homewrecker SAE Supermileage vehicle used a modified stock engine with resized piston and cylinder dimensions and electronic fuel injection.
Wheel bearings on the U of M-Amherst's teardrop-shaped, carbon-fiber-bodied VVCF-1 (judged the most visually appealing vehicle) were shared with the Homewrecker, which has a fiberglass and foam body. “We did a lot of timed rolling tests with the actual vehicles to determine which bearings would decelerate the least,” Vyce said.
The U of M-Amherst Homewrecker vehicle recorded 893 mpg compared to the school's VVCF-1’s 536 mpg. The VVCF-1’s mpg rating was the highest for a rookie vehicle. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT) was one of three colleges making a first-time SAE Supermileage appearance on the track. SDSMT’s 94-lb (43-kg) open-cockpit vehicle recorded 313 mpg, employing a stock engine, an electric starter with aluminum flywheel, and a unique steering system. “We went to the trouble of making aluminum steering spindles, which allowed the driver to get desirable steering characteristics with a minimal amount of tire scrub," said Jeff Comrie, the team’s steering project leader.
Like SDSMT, team members at Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico developed an SAE Supermileage vehicle as a senior project. The vehicle was designed and analyzed in various software programs, including Ansys Fluent, Dassault Systèmes’ SolidWorks, and PTC’s Pro/Engineer. “We wanted to be much more confident on what we were doing with our design concept,” said Noed Montes, team captain for Polytechnic. The four-member team's vehicle netted 209 mpg.
Designing and building a one-of-a-kind car is not a cheap undertaking, and the current economy made fundraising for all teams a challenging venture. Travel costs are always part of the cost to compete. For Polytechnic University, team members had airfare as well as a $600 expense to ship the team’s vehicle to Michigan. "Maybe we should strip it down and pack it in our suitcases to go back home," Montes quipped.