Engineering Students at UMass Amherst Hitting the Road to Improve Gasoline Mileage

AMHERST, Mass. - Tired of pulling into the gas station nearly as often as you pull into your own driveway? Six University of Massachusetts mechanical and industrial engineering students have spent the academic year designing and building a car that may deliver as many as 1,000 miles per gallon. Led by professor Ian Grosse, the team will compete in the National Supermileage Design Competition in Marshall, Mich., June 12. It will be the University’s fifth year of participation in this collegiate competition, which draws roughly 30 teams from throughout North America, and is sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineering.

The vehicle’s ultra-high fuel efficiency is due to a number of factors, including a highly efficient single cylinder, internal combustion engine with a fully programmable electronic fuel-injection system, a lightweight aerodynamic vehicle design with extremely low wind and rolling resistance, and use of an accelerate-and-coast driving pattern. During performance runs, the vehicle goes no faster than 35 miles per hour, and periodically slows to five miles an hour. And don’t expect to haul groceries or the kids around town: the vehicle resembles a closed-in kayak on three bicycle wheels; all weighty extras have been eliminated. The shell was tailor-built to fit team member and driver Pam Pyzocha, with one-quarter inch to spare on all sides, and the vehicle weighs a grand total of 230 pounds ? with Pyzocha in it. The car’s simple appearance belies the exhaustive engineering that produced it, much of which relied on computer simulations, according to Grosse. A $5,000 grant from the UMass alumni association helped fund the project.

"This is a hands-on engineering experience which allows students to work together and put their engineering classroom knowledge to use," said Grosse, who noted that the car went through seven redesigns before passing muster with himself and the team. "You have to get the calculations correct. It’s engineering, not trial-and-error."

Last year, the UMass vehicle, "The Super II," placed first in the U.S. and second worldwide. The car was displayed for several months at the Yankee Candle Car Museum in South Deerfield. This year’s team is optimistic about its chances, having redesigned the chassis, powertrain, and aerodynamic shell. The new car is approximately 20 percent lighter than last year’s model, has high-quality, 200 psi tires, engine improvements, a more efficient drive train with a custom-designed clutch, and a lower-profile body fashioned from Kevlar, which is one-third lighter than the fiberglass used last year. Plexiglas windshields have been treated for improved visibility.

Team members are Tom Toye, of Portland, Maine; Alex Elsy, of Fairfield, Conn.; Nathaniel Mulcahy, of Amherst; Kevin Delaney, of Dalton; Abram Hernandez of Eagle Bridge, N.Y.; and Pyzocha, of Ludlow. Jeinfeng Situ, a student from the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, worked with the members of the team as they designed and fabricated the aerodynamic vehicle shell.