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UMass Team Hits 775 MPG and Snags Fourth Place at National Supermileage Competition

Super Mileage Vehicle crossing finish line

At the 38th annual Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Supermileage Competition on June 8 and 9, the UMass team scored an impressive fourth place out of 20 collegiate teams by hitting 775 miles per gallon on the 9.6-mile course at the Eaton Proving Grounds in Marshall, Michigan. See competition website. Though this fourth-place finish was equal to the best ever done by the UMass Supermileage Vehicle (SMV) in recent years, the effort was marred by a fuel leak that cost our team some crucial miles per gallon.

“That made a difference,” said Dr. Robert Daniello, a lecturer in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department and the SMV advisor. “We did have our share of trouble at Marshall. We scored our 775 MPG mark on our only run, which happened to be our first. Then we observed that we had a minor fuel leak and some clutch issues. So we took the car down to fix it up and ran into a serious of unrelated ‘Murphy’s Law problems’ and then just basically ran out of time.”

Daniello added that “If we had had another hour or hour and a half, I feel confident we would have been able to get that number above 1,000 MPG.”

Daniello also noted that, of necessity, the driver was driving fairly conservatively during that initial run because it was the first time he’d been out on the track with this car.

“We would have picked up plenty of MPG from the driver having gained that experience, from our clutch adjustments, and from correcting the fuel leak,” exclaimed Daniello. “But I’m very happy that we did what we did, and I’m very proud of our team.”

The supermileage competition provides engineering and technology students with a challenging design project that involves the development and construction of a single-person, fuel-efficient vehicle. Each vehicle is powered by a small, one cylinder, four-cycle engine. All competition vehicles run the same specified course. The vehicle obtaining the highest combined MPG rating, with design points figured into the calculation, wins the event. Students have the opportunity to set a world fuel-economy record and increase public support for fuel economy.

The UMass SMV is the end result of a two-semester MIE course to create a streamlined, fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly car capable of competing in the famous SAE contest, which has been run since 1980. Some 20 MIE students from this course helped conceive, design, and build the vehicle, and about 10 of them were selected to travel to Michigan for the actual competition.

This year the big focus was on upgrading the engine. “This car was substantially rebuilt from last year’s model, which we built from the ground up,” explained Daniello. “There are elements that look the same. The frame is the same as last year. But the engine’s completely different. There were a considerable number of upgrades.”  

Daniello noted that each team is given the same basic engine to work with, but teams are relatively unlimited as to what they can do to it, other than using the initial crank case itself. The stock engine isn’t made for doing this competition because it’s actually a go-cart engine, which Daniello said is “way too powerful. The size of the thing is just huge. The majority of our time was spent scaling down our engine.”

The engine head in this year’s SMV came from an 88 cc Honda motor with an overhead cam and valves.

“We sleeved down the engine, using a fairly novel way of building the sleeve by combining the sleeve with the head,” as Daniello said. “There were essentially no modifications to the Briggs and Stratton block that we had to start with. We spent a lot of time redoing chain tensioners and how the camshaft is driven. We also spent a fair amount of time playing around with the fuel injection, because that was something we had trouble with last year. For last year’s contest, we ended up installing a carburetor, which a miserable way to run in a competition like this.”

By contrast, this year the fuel injection worked very well. As Daniello explained, “This fuel injection system is actually a commercial system. We modified it a little, but not too too much, and it works pretty well if you get some students who know how to work with it, talk nice to it, and make it do what it can do.”

Daniello emphasized that “This success in Marshall is all about the students. Our students did a fantastic job all year long, and they deserve all the credit for this impressive performance. They deserve all the glory to be had.”

He added that “The real value of this competition is for our MIE students to learn a substantial amount about engineering vehicles. But another way to look at it is that doing well in the competition means we’ve learned a lot in the process.”

Hosted by Eaton since its inception in 1980, the Supermileage event is designed to generate public awareness of high-mileage fuel economy and to promote automotive engineering as a career choice for students. Participants are encouraged to use advanced materials and technologies, as well as their design creativity and imaginations, to get the most out of their vehicles.

SAE International is a global association with more than 138,000 member engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive, and commercial vehicle industries. Eaton’s partnership with SAE in Supermileage stems from its broad portfolio of technologies designed to improve the efficiency of specific systems and a vehicle’s overall fuel economy. (July 2017)