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3,000+ MPG : Why Cars 4 Real People never Live up to What is Possible!

Starting in 1985 Royal Dutch Shell started hosting the Eco- Marathon. The $64 trillion dollar questions is : why are the engineering lessons learned at these events not visible in modern car designs? 
The Vehicles of the Eco-Marathon Event ^^ 

The Eco-Marathon teams use recumbent trike vehicle designs, usually two wheels in front with one wheel in back, bicycle style high pressure tires and a fully enclosed highly refined wind tunnel tuned complete aerodynamic shell for ultra low rolling resistance and the minimization of aerodynamic drag. 

The average human being weights less than 200lbs! This means that most cars today are vastly out of proportion with their primary task of moving a single person, or small group of people. Deam Kamen, inventor of the Segway echo's this sentiment when describing how the segway was the difference between walking and driving, known by segway operators as Gliding. 


The Bicycle is the most efficient vehicle ever developed, as human geared machine hybrid, the small skinny tires and relative mechanical simplicity of the bike results in a machine that can carry a 300lb person, while the machine (bicycle) usually weighs less than 30lbs, and is available in steel, aluminum, titanium, carbon-fiber, and composite combinations of special metal alloys, often for less than $600 new. 

The Eco-marathon vehicles make use of super ultra-light material and designs. Automakers still use iron in 9 different alloy configurations they like call High Strength Steels. While these new super strong steel alloys allow the space frame of the CR-Z I drive to be stronger, stiffer, and lighter, they are still made of heavy Iron. Honda was able to to reuse the second generation Insight design with the CRZ, by computationally pinching 600lbs of iron away. If Honda had done something bold like they did with the original generation Insight, the 2639lbs CR-Z would be made of aluminum, and would weigh 450lbs less! 

In the 2017 Ford F-150, aluminum will be used to shave off 600lbs of mass vs the previous generation Steel version. Tesla Motors uses aluminum extensively in the Model S to achieve a power to weight ratio that gives astounding performance! Other automakers like Audi have used aluminum to achieve weight savings in the S8 and R8 for enhanced performance. 

Today you can buy a car that is cool, fast, luxurious or a mixture of these, but the only super fuel efficient models are hybrids like the Toyota Prius. Conventional vehicles fail to get even 30MPG in CITY use cases, at neighborhood speeds. The average car in America achieves a mediocre 24MPG, in large part due to the Ford F150 being the most popular vehicle. To this end Ford's switch to aluminum in the next F150 was intelligent and will save America billions of dollars through the resulting fuel economy improvements. 

So why are we not seeing something aerodynamic like the Aptera, and instead we get a somewhat ugly boxy by comparison Elio Motors? The high long term costs for low upfront prices seems to rain supreme in the ideological index of vehicle decisions made in America. The answer to the first question is upfront COST's. Narrow minded consumers as a whole do not take into account the Total Costs of  Ownership when they are buying that new F150. If they did they would see a lifetime fuel cost of more than $50,000!

Cost per Mile of operation, Total Cost per Month or Year, most consumers are not accountants, do not think with accounting, and generally tend to make emotionally informed vehicle choices based on safety fears, when the reality is that dangerous drivers are the real safety problem, not the vehicles. We could have people riding bicycles with cars, if the bicycles were fast enough, but the average car driver is so blind in their minds eye that the bicycle fatality rate would skyrocket. As a result SUV's not bicycles are popular, and not just in America. People have distorted ideas about what they want and what they actually need a vehicle to do. I watch people right now driving around with studded tires on their cars, and wonder if they are schizophrenic and believe that they are driving on compact snows roads as though western Washington was magically more like Norway!  


The 2008 Aptera (failed to launch) $26,000 : 100+ MPG

The Elio (Almost Mass Produced) $6,800 : up to 84 MPG 
Lets not get too Debbie Downer here, the reality is that the Tesla Model S is the coolest thing to happen to the automotive sectors of the world ever. The Model S raised the bar for what is possible with a vehicle, not just an electric one, the Model S outperforms most 9th generation classical gas powered performance luxury sedans in the same price class as the model S. Coincidentally, the vehicle that compete against the Model S are all gas guzzlers that have a hard time averaging better than 20MPG.

Things are also improving on normal vehicles. You can see on new SUV's these aerodynamic tricks, like the mini spoiler where the tail gate door meets rooflline of a Toyota Highlander for example. The headlight housings of cars like the Toyota Prius and Honda CR-Z make use of special geometries that divert air around the side view mirrors. Rear under spoilers are even being used on long haul trucks these days to reduce turbulent drag on the rear axle, and this saves trucking companies thousands of dollar per year in fuel savings.

VW built a vehicle called the XL1 that gets more than 250 MPGs using a small diesel engine with a plug-in hybrid electric motor assist and brake energy recovery setup. A combination of super light titanium, aluminum and magnesium makes the limited production XL1 one of the lightest vehicles every made by a major automakers. Sadly only 250 copies were produces, and at $92,000 per copy base price, all of them were presold before production. The XL1 exists for most people as an idea, a powerful idea that car can get more than 200 mile per gallon, not a Eco-marathon enclosed aero-optimized power recumbent bicycle, an actually car that is similar to the Honda CR-Z that Meg and I roll these days. The CR-Z burns gasoline not diesel, it is hybrid not a plug-in hybrid, and it gets up to 45 MPG with its 6sp clicky short throw Honda tuned manual gearbox; I typically average about 38 MPG.

2011 VW XL1 Diesel Plug-in Hybrid : 250+ MPG $92,000 Base Price
1992 GM Ultralite : $90,000 : 100MPG : Concept Car Limited Production 
The 1992 GM Ultralite was a 1400lb marvel of engineering, but never met the light of day for production, except for a limited run of 26 specialty built models for the film Demolition Man in 1993. A four passenger sedan capable of 100mpg, the body shell was built by Scaled Composites out of carbon fiber. Gullwing doors, no b-pillar, the exceptionally low CD was 0.19! Powered by a 1.5L 3 cylinder 2 stroke engine producing 111 hp, it could achieve 135mph, and did 0-60mph in less than 8 seconds. Here is an example of exceptionally designed applied materials science and engineering. The GM Ultralite is the spirit of the Shell Eco-Marathon, but the forward thinkers at GM never put it into production, and instead purchased the Hummer from AM General....... sad!

Here is the thing. If I distill down the essence of what this posting is about, it is this. We have been sold year after year boring recycled designs of mediocrity with dull fuel economy that has not really changed much in the last 30 years! With the exception of a few hybrids, few cars available today get more than 40 mpg average! Our cars are bigger in America, our Americas are bigger in America, our homes are bigger in America, and our cars today make more power, have better performance, lower emissions and improved safety, but fuel economy took a backseat to these other areas of improvement.

In a world with more drivers in more places every year and less oil in fewer places every year, the oil glut of today will be replaced by market scarcity and gas price increases, special emission taxes, and anti-car regulation to create pedestrian and bicycle only zones. The handwriting of the future is all over this issue, and you would have to be blind not to read between the lines. Climate change or not, the earth is not making any new oil on a scale that is relevant to the demands of the world. Foul smelling, toxic tail pipe pollution is being addressed in new vehicles, but when they become old they start to pollute and smell worse too, even old Prius vehicles spewing cancer causing fumes into the traffic corridors that commuters share, where the air belongs to everyone, but for whom no one is responsible.

Tail pipe smog sucks the most because the developing lungs of the next generation children are disproportionately negatively affected by the smog, making the children sick with brain cancers and immune cancers. Drivers over the age of 70 are expected to double by 2025, and elderly people are sensitive to tail pipe smog the same way that children are at increased risks of developing preventable endocrine, cardiovascular, and immune diseases, making the lives of the young and old and everyone inbetween worse off, the tail pipe is the externality of selfish ignorant thinking! While I might at some level want to get a diesel truck with turbo charger, I would only do that if I had a legitimate use case and need for such a big powerful vehicle. Moving Meg and I and some groceries and stuff from place to place, rarely if ever would need such a commercial vehicle, and even should such a need arise, we can borrow or rent one for the day or so that it is actually needed or useful.

Meg and I were out walking today and saw a number of different trucks parked, presumably meaning their owners were out and about in a smaller more efficient vehicle! In America it is not uncommon for a household to have 2 or more vehicles, and this is partially due to the very spread out nature of America. Even where Meg and I live in King County, the highest population density part of Washington State, there is a lot of land within King County, covered with highway, roadways, access streets, so while everything you might need is within short range, its just far enough apart in the suburbs that a motorized vehicle is required, also because our bus system is so poorly developed compared to most other industrialized parts of the world, the car remains the only attractive practical all year round time efficient transportation solution. You could even say that the way the suburbs were developed from the 1940's onward contributed to the spread out nature of the homes and businesses. The term Sub-Urban means outside of the urban area, or the lower density region around the dense city cores. Suburbs are safer than city centers where we live, as criminals and other unsavory types tend to concentrate in the downtown more densely populate older areas, like the zone in Seattle on 6th and Marion street where an indigent jerk broke the window of our CR-Z to steal our $12 bag of groceries, my non vehicle keys, the owners manual of the car??, and a handful of other things. That turned into a $600 out of pocket event!

The world is full of all kinds of different people! Meg and I are not the only ones wondering why the lessons learned at the Shell Eco-Marathon have failed to translate into a vehicle that real people can choose to buy, like the ill fated 1992 GM Ultralite or 2008 Aptera coupe, while other some what cool vehicles like our CR-Z and the Elio are becoming part of the vehicle mix used in the world!

The BMW i3 and i8 are really interesting

The Chevy Volt is cool

The Nissan Leaf is interesting

The whole Prius family of vehicles is cool

The Porsche 918 spider is cool!

There are a lot of cool vehicles like the Tesla Model 3 that are about to launch with 200mi of EV range :)

The Model S keeps getting cool updates and improvements in new revisions! Autopilot is here and just starting to enter the world! If not anything else, perhaps the Eco-marathon has inspired some of the engineers that work on the Hybrid Synergy Drive program at Toyota, engineers who work on the Tesla vehicle program, and those at Nissan and BMW who believe in clean vehicle technology; I am sure many of the these people find the exceptional designs of the Eco-marathon inspiring!

Eco Marathon ^^

There are even road legal "Urban Concept" vehicles that compete in the Eco-Marathon; the French Teams have won 21 of 26 total events!

Burn and Coast, Pulse and Glide, this is the hypermiling technique utilized by the teams!

I wish the automakers would have a single model each, something that is superlatively efficient, sold as a motorcycle, that sips fuel to the tune of 300MPG or better ! Perhaps one day my wish will come true!




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