Two years ago, we did not know what kind of challenge was ahead of us.
The Alerion Supermileage team, from Université Laval in Québec City, Canada, already has pushed the boundaries on fuel efficiency, taking first place in Shell Eco-marathon Americas for three consecutive years. Last year, on our winning run in Houston, we achieved 2,564.8 miles per gallon (1,090 kilometers per liter), beating our previous year’s performance by 77 mpg (33 km/l).
But we had already resolved to push further. We decided to design and manufacture a brand new carbon-fiber shell. Our first intention was to be able to use Michelin tires designed especially for the purpose of fuel efficiency. But since these tires are larger than the ones we had used before, we found we had to adapt the design of our shell. Moreover, we desired to incorporate structural wheel covers in order to reduce the weight of our vehicle, which also results in the need for a larger shell.
Would we be able to increase size while maintaining the light weight crucial to the ultra-fuel-efficient performance we were seeking?
Fortunately, we had the opportunity to run numerical simulations which enabled us to know the aerodynamic performance of each of our designs, and to select the most appropriate shape. With the previous shell, no such simulations were made, so we had high hope for significant improvements. Despite all the constraints we faced, we found a way to reduce the drag by 15 percent, which means the car is now more aerodynamic.
Nevertheless, it takes more than a good design to make a good car. More than a year was needed to go through all the manufacturing steps. Indeed, we had to manufacture a wooden model of the car in order to make a mold out of it. After several hours of work, we were finally ready to laminate our car with carbon fiber. We are very proud of this achievement and we hope it will help us to raise our results at Shell Eco-Marathon Americas in Houston. [The competition begins today and continues through the weekend.] This competition is important for us, because it helps society to realize the importance of fuel efficiency.