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The Shell Oils Eco-Marathon

By jd in Op-Ed
Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 06:35:24 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

For several years now, the Shell Oil corporation has been doing something quite extraordinary, for a company that exists only because other people burn large quantities of fuel... They've been running a contest for people to build the most efficient combustion engine-driven car possible. The results are proving so outrageous, you'd almost say they were sci-fi...

There's a lot of information about the Eco-Marathon out there, by Shell Oil and by the competitors themselves:

As you can see from the images, these are NOT simply two-wheel powered roller-skates with seats. They're very elaborate designs, capable (as stated in the English PR release) of up to 10,227 miles per gallon.

Nice milage! Wish my car could manage that! :) But so what?

I'm going to argue two cases, here. First, I'm going to argue that the body shapes of ALL of these cars are very different from that of a classical road-car. Indeed, the only similar road-cars I can think of are the Jon Pertwee Special, and the McLaren road car.

The implication? The biggest implication I can draw is that the body-shape of modern cars is inefficient. In fact, it has barely changed in at least 60 years. (Television shows from the 1940s show cars not significantly different in design from today's. Museums can be... ...selective, but contemporary art tends to go for what is popularly recognised.)

So? Maybe the car design is fundamentally the best. Problem is, these eco-races say otherwise. Scale will make a difference, but even if you're talking an exponential increase in drag & ground resistance, there -has- to be something else to explain two and a half orders of magnitude to the next-best road-car. (And that's a hybrid!)

Ok, maybe there's a design flaw in the eco-cars, where they just aren't up to what people need in a car. Back-room space? Trunk space? Angle of vision?

I'd accept this, if it weren't just a variant on the scale thing. You can always scale up, with a penalty. The question is, can you scale big enough that it meets your needs & is still worth driving?

That I don't know. Anyone out there got any ideas?

The next thing is that these cars are VERY unconventional. And THAT, I believe, is the key, to both why you can recognise a 1940's vehicle AS a car, and why these ultra-sleek designs won't sell worth a damn.

People have a definite idea of what a car looks like. And NOTHING is going to shift that. You can babble on all you like about cost benefits, environmental benefits and garden gnome retirement benefits, but if it doesn't -look- like a car, feel like a car, act like a car, then nobody is going to believe that it IS a car. And no amount of persuasion will be worth a damn.

HOWEVER, maybe this technology is worth it in some other areas. These are VERY efficient designs, requiring minimal power to travel maximal distances. Add a battery and a motor, and you've a Mars Rover that can circumnavigate the planet on a single flashlight battery.

Or consider this. These designs teach a lot about aerodynamics. Stuff that isn't necessarily "obvious". Some of the designs are not miles away from the "blended wing" design that has been proving very interesting. As a teaching resource for people entering the field of aviation, these could prove fascinating, and lead to ideas that might not otherwise occur to engineers.

(Engineering is a very dusty field, and engineers have an unfortunate tendancy not to double-check results. Given the choice, I'll take one innovation over and above every R-101 crash, every Concorde disaster, and every DeHaviland Comet fiasco.)


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


My car...
o ...can do 10,000 mpg! 0%
o ...is called "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", flies, and has adventures with really boring people who can't sing. 6%
o ...It's not quite a Jaguar. 22%
o ...has an improbability drive, and is protected by a Somebody Else's Problem field. 16%
o ...violates all three laws of robotics 14%
o ...violates all known laws of physics 4%
o ...got ticketed by Einstein, for violating all known laws of physics 4%
o ...exists only in a parallel universe 31%

Votes: 48
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Press release from British Eco-Marathon (at Rockingham Motor Speedway
o French Eco-Marathon (at the Circuit de Nogaro)
o Milage Marathon Society, University of Sheffield
o Portuguese Eco-Marathon
o Remmi Team
o Also by jd

Display: Sort:
The Shell Oils Eco-Marathon | 34 comments (32 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
OT: Economical cars for homosexuals? (3.22 / 9) (#2)
by theboz on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 02:16:30 PM EST

This is not meant as a troll comment or anything, but I clicked on the link to the Mileage Marathon Society website, then clicked on the Pictures link and found something strange.

The 2nd picture down features a car that has the word FAG on the side of it. I'm just curious if there is some company called FAG or what. It's amusing to say the least for an American to read that, much like Bimbo bread.

If anyone could offer an explanation I would be interested in hearing it, otherwise I will have to use my imagination and come up with something completely silly to explain it.


Probably.... (3.20 / 5) (#4)
by jd on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 02:26:39 PM EST

Cigarettes. (In England, "fag" is slang for a cigarette, for reasons that escape me entirely. Unless it implies some early knowledge by an Englishman on what said cigarette companies were doing...)

[ Parent ]
origin of term fag (4.25 / 4) (#8)
by jonnyq on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 02:54:33 PM EST

disclaimer: i am not british, i have never even been there, and I only know a couple british people at all.

That said, I know that in the past, a faggot was the name given to a small bundle of firewood or sticks. from there, I would surmise that since a cigarrete is similarly shaped and you burn it...

[ Parent ]
"Fag" etymology... (4.00 / 4) (#9)
by slaytanic killer on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 02:57:08 PM EST

"Faggot" used to refer to kindling, which are sticks of wood for making fires. The two main explanations are:

1) They were the kindling for burning heretics.
2) In the 19th century, "faggot" took on a more feminine meaning, similar to "ball and chain."

A witch told me the first one, but later I found the second explanation.

[ Parent ]
Another meaning in English... (5.00 / 2) (#24)
by Obvious Pseudonym on Wed Sep 05, 2001 at 02:29:28 AM EST

1) They were the kindling for burning heretics.

2) In the 19th century, "faggot" took on a more feminine meaning, similar to "ball and chain."

3) Faggots are a type of meatball (usually with a fairly low meat and high cereals content). The most common brand in England seems to be "Brain's Faggots" which come pre-cooked in gravy and you just re-heat them. They are actually really nice when eaten with mashed potatoes and carrots and swede. A lovely meal to fill you up and warm you up in winter.

Obvious Pseudonym

I am obviously right, and as you disagree with me, then logically you must be wrong.
[ Parent ]

Clarification (5.00 / 1) (#28)
by slaytanic killer on Wed Sep 05, 2001 at 07:13:32 AM EST

They were the kindling for burning heretics
Shouldn't post when I'm real sleepy. I meant, the gays were used as kindling.

[ Parent ]
faggot (4.00 / 2) (#16)
by fluffy grue on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 03:44:06 PM EST

As others have pointed out, "faggot" is a bundle of kindling wood. What they fail to mention is that the bodies of homosexuals were used as kindling...
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Way, way offtopic... (5.00 / 1) (#31)
by rusty on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 12:09:08 AM EST

I apologize, but if you've read this far, you probably already realize this thread os OT...

This "kindling" thing never made any sense to me. So, you want to burn a body, right? That takes a lot of heat-- human flesh doesn't combust easily. So you light a bunch of wood on fire, and then throw some homosexuals on top... haven't you just made it a lot harder to keep that fire stoked up to the proper temperature? I mean, now instead of burning one body, you have to burn two or three. Didn't anyone at the time take a step back and say "whoah, that really kind of damped this whole heretic-fire," or does it actually work, or what?

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Re: Way, way offtopic... (5.00 / 1) (#33)
by driph on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 06:18:23 PM EST

In the pursuit of big S science, perhaps a scaled down experiment using toothpicks and slugs is in order?

"Burn heretic slugs, burn! Asexual infidels!"

Vegas isn't a liberal stronghold. It's the place where the rich and powerful gamble away their company's pension fund and strangle call girls in their hotel rooms. - Psycho Dave
[ Parent ]

FAG (5.00 / 4) (#10)
by joegee on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 03:01:36 PM EST

Would appear to be a horribly-named (in U.S. English) ball bearing company.

<sig>I always learn something on K5, sometimes in spite of myself.</sig>
[ Parent ]
Other considerations (4.00 / 4) (#5)
by twodot72 on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 02:28:19 PM EST

These cars might be fuel-efficient. But for a mass-market car there are more than that to consider.

These cars are certainly ultra-light, I suspect that explains a lot of the efficiency. But how would they handle a crash? They're probably not very safe. I can't imagine these cars having a steel crash cage.

How do they behave on the road, are they easy to drive? Cargo capacity? Comfort? How rugged are they?

I'm sure there's usable technology in there, but unfortunately, making a car this fuel-efficient most likely mean tradeoffs the average car-owner is not ready to make.

i'd have to assume (3.33 / 3) (#6)
by Defect on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 02:42:54 PM EST

The hope for this challenge would be to gain ideas and proven techniques, rather than to simply create the next-gen car right off the bat (and by the looks of them, it's damned obvious that these things aren't going to be manufactured as they are).

If just a few good ideas come out of this, it's bound to be worth it.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
[ Parent ]
I share your assumption (4.50 / 2) (#12)
by twodot72 on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 03:04:52 PM EST

Just got the impression that jd's idea was of a "scaled up" version of these cars going to the mass market. I don't believe that would be a feasible proposition.

Otherwise, this Eco-Marathon seems like is a good way to show off new concepts, and probably great fun too :)

[ Parent ]

Sorry for not being clear (4.00 / 3) (#17)
by jd on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 03:45:23 PM EST

I rarely am. :) My assumption is that these cars, or even the mere presence of a race to showcase them, provides a pressure to find ever-better solutions to the problem of building an efficient car.

I didn't state this, but it's my belief that there is some truth to the maxim that "necessity is the mother of all invention". It's also my belief that "politics is the enemy of necessity (and therefore invention)". But when your competitors are college kids who think "upper management" is a type of female underwear, you're playing by different rules.

IMHO, companies are always going to be inhibited by the risk/benefit ratio, in the marketplace. If the risk is high, and the potential benefit is low, you're usually not going to find many managers who throw the dice. (And those that do usually don't stay managers for long. They usually end up sweeping the floors for someone who takes far fewer risks and therefore makes a lot more money.)

The Eco-Marathon changes all that. There are no shareholders to pacify - and those who -are- there are probably going to ask any corporation who enters why they're a good investment, if they can be beaten by a bunch of student hippie-types.

This means that politics has to take a side-line. As does the text-book. If you're playing by the text-book, you can never do better than the text-book's author. And that ain't going to put you in first place.

What it means is that you've got to come up with new models, original solutions, and a novel way to turn those solutions into a vehicle you can fit a person into.

In short, the models used by motor manufacturers today will involve assumptions, some stated and some hidden. Not all these assumptions are valid; some are just approximations, to make equations easier to solve. Others are simply valid for a specific context.

(Classic example: No matter how many times a physics teacher will tell you this, sin(x) does NOT equal x, even for small values.)

Because the Eco-Marathon is run under conditions that are very different from "normal" road conditions, any pre-existing models will only get you so far, before breaking down. It follows that to -really- succeed, you have to find the points that the existing models won't hold up, and correct them.

This, in turn, is inevitably going to lead to that information finding its way back to the shop floor. More accurate, more flexible models will, sooner or later, result in changes in car design.

This requires extreme conditions. Models are most accurate at, or around, the mean point in the system, and fall off in quality towards the edges. Ultra-light, ultra-low, ultra-efficient cars push you to three simultaneous extremes. Three assumptions invalidated. You can either upgrade your model to handle a much greater range of conditions (and therefore be able to design a much better car for any given set of conditions), or you can commit PR-suicide.

IMHO, it's not a question of whether technology developed at the Eco-Marathon is "useful"; rather, it's when will it be used? Even if we never see a single one of these cars on the road (always a strong possibility! :), we are bound to see spin-offs, eventually. It's just a question of when.

[ Parent ]

Safety (4.00 / 3) (#7)
by Sawzall on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 02:53:27 PM EST

If we want fuel efficent transport, we need to move the trucks and similar traffic off the same roads. I don't care if you make it out of carbon fiber and some other stuff that only Superman could bend, if your 1000lb car is hit by 40 tons of truck, you are going to lose very bad.

The current difference is bad enough - and it does encourage people to buy the SUV's and such.

[ Parent ]

A bit of reality... (4.00 / 9) (#11)
by trhurler on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 03:02:13 PM EST

First of all, these are generally single seat vehicles whose weight is rivalled by that of their drivers. They're using kids to drive them because kids don't weigh as much. Nice as a demonstration, but useless for any practical purpose.

Second, we know precisely how to build more aerodynamic cars; there are car designs out there with coefficients of drag lower than these cars are achieving. However, drag increases with speed(these cars aren't as fast as you'd like,) and cross section(these cars are uselessly small) at a much greater than linear rate, and you seem not to be aware of that fact. Decreasing scale increases milage at a rate that is probably super-exponential as a result of these factors and also because mass of a 3d object increases much greater than linearly with scale. In general, the most aerodynamic cars today, contrary to your claims, are often orders of magnitude better than cars of the 1940s, and yet you don't really see the difference as much as you'd think, because weight and frictive losses dominate at the speeds ordinary people travel at and on the scale of their vehicles.

Third, the most fuel efficient gasoline engines per unit power output are still coming from major manufacturers; nothing anyone else is doing even comes close to achieving production engine levels of fuel economy per unit torque-rpm, which is probably the most useful metric of efficiency in a hydrocarbon internal combustion engine. I haven't actually examined their engines, but I bet they're sticking quite close to major engine trends, because those trends have been maximizing fuel economy for about 25 years now using a lot more manpower and a lot more experience than these contest people have.

The major factor, though, is not size, speed, weight, or shape. Acceleration is the key. If a car takes 30 seconds to reach 60mph, or can't do it at all, nobody will buy it, regardless of whether it seats one child or ten seven foot tall obese adults, weighs an ounce or fifty tons, looks like a car or a donut, and so on. This is why fuel cell/hydrogen cars have a possible future, and electric ones probably do not. They're both clean, efficient cars, but one performs like a car, and the other like a car dragging a freight train.

Also, as another poster pointed out, put the safety gear required of a street car into one of these things and see what kind of mileage it gets. Tens or hundreds of thousands more dead motorists a year is not an acceptable price to pay for fuel economy.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

do you really think they don't know this? (2.50 / 2) (#13)
by Defect on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 03:18:58 PM EST

You're going on as if you believe you know more than anyone participating in this 'Marathon' which, while you may very well be extremely smart, i doubt is the case. It should be entirely obvious that these vehicles are merely the physical interpretation of ideas which can hopefully be used to spur enhancements in the automobile industry.

Do you honestly think anyone actually believes this car is going to be the product that Ford buys and sells millions of in the next couple years?

It's not unreasonable to think that the a car may implement something in a unique way that gives ideas to the people who can really make it happen.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
[ Parent ]
Of course (3.00 / 2) (#15)
by trhurler on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 03:27:06 PM EST

The point was not about the people in the contest; the point was addressed to the guy who wrote the k5 story about it, who seems to think there is some sort of inertial force conspiring to keep us from driving 10,000mpg cars down our highways at 60mph+ carrying four or five adults, luggage, and so on, and I have now made my attempt to disabuse him of this notion. I doubt he'll be impressed; the difficulty of engineering tradeoffs is easily lost on those who focus on one and only one aspect of a product.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Oh, well of course. (4.00 / 1) (#19)
by Defect on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 04:03:15 PM EST

In that case, ignore me and continue to have at it. Sorry to have been a nuisance.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
[ Parent ]
hybrid! (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by anonymous cowerd on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 04:07:28 PM EST

This is why fuel cell/hydrogen cars have a possible future, and electric ones probably do not. They're both clean, efficient cars, but one performs like a car, and the other like a car dragging a freight train.

You're in the dark about today's electric cars. Lack of convenient recharge sites and the lengthy downtime associated with charging limit the appeal of all-electric cars like the Saturn EV1; but gas/electric hybrids avoid these problems while achieving both excellent mileage and ultra-low emissions.

Go down to your local new car dealer today and test drive a Toyota Prius or a Honda Insight. I've never ridden in a Prius yet, but the Insight f**kin' scoots off the line. As far as safety goes, both of these are mass-production cars on sale in the U.S.A. today, so at the least they must meet fairly stringent Federal crash-worthiness specs. Both the Prius and the Insight are quite moderately priced, too; but if you happen to be a car nut like me (zoom zoom!), willing to trade off practicality for sports car performance, check out AC Propulsion's tzero .

Or right around the corner (the 2003 model year), how about a small mass-market SUV that tops 35 MPG in city driving? While you're looking at that web page, check out Ford's proposed hybrid Explorer as well (it's in there somewhere, I saw it before). An Explorer can transport five big adults in lofty comfort - big enough for you? Ford claims it will be able to top 30 MPG!

Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

The one thing that really disturbs me about America is that people don't like to read. - Keith Richards
[ Parent ]

Your IgnoranceIs Showing (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by MrAcheson on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 04:32:30 PM EST

gas/electric hybrid!=electric car

Hybrid cars are not electric cars, they are gas burners that get significantly better mileage due to their hybrid powertrain.

In general purely electric cars do suck. Batteries are heavy and not powerful enough. Engines suffer similarly.

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

[ Parent ]
Um... (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by trhurler on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 04:53:27 PM EST

An electric car is not a hybrid. Electric cars DO suck, by and large. On the other hand, hybrids are a nice interim solution. The problem is, your Insight may take off nicely with just you in it and no luggage, but I basically am not interested in cars that won't fit at least four people in reasonable comfort, along with enough luggage for all of them for a weekend. Not only won't your hybrid "scoot" off any line carrying that much, it won't even carry that much, period! As for that tzero, with a price higher than a Porsche, a highway range of only 100 miles, and no evidence that they'll ever be street legal, I am, to say the least, uninterested. A nice car - for someone else:)

I'd like to see 2000-2500lb cars with regenerative braking, but building durable, dependable regenerative brakes for cars that heavy is hard. I'd like to see electric torque boost for acceleration to reduce the need for massive torque output from gasoline engines in such cars - but again, the power output requirements for a car that heavy are basically prohibitive. What I'd really like - and what will be a reality soon enough - is practical fuel cell vehicles. Fast, clean, cheap, and if you burn the hydrogen(water as exhaust, quite clean,) you even still have the roar of an engine:)

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
this n that (none / 0) (#27)
by anonymous cowerd on Wed Sep 05, 2001 at 06:38:38 AM EST

A few repolies to your two replies, yours and MrAcheson's.

First, what do you mean by a fuel cell? You talk about "burning the hydrogen" but in a fuel cell the hydrogen is reacted non-exothermically. The fuel cells that I was looking at about twenty-five years ago, like the electric power generator in the support module for the Apollo lunar spacecraft, react a fuel and an oxidizer, dissolved into electrolytes, generating electricity at the surface of the membrane, with no moving parts. Here is a web page of a manufacturer of small fuel cells with an illustration showing how they work. Fuel cells are exempt from the limitation in efficiency of heat engines described by the Carnot cycle; I've heard of fuel cells which achieved greater than ninety percent thermal efficiency!

Now that, after decades of development, manufacturers have worked a lot of the bugs (mainly membrane problems, I think) out of production fuel cells there's a lot of commercial potential, not so much for vehicles as for fixed power generation. Rather than electric power suppliers wasting energy due to the resistive loss in long power lines, power companies will be able to transport energy with much smaller losses by fuel trucks or buried pipelines to small, clean generation plants near the users. As I live in Florida, where there's more than enough sun (I wonder what percentage of Florida's electric power generation is used to run air-conditioners) the idea suggests itself to combine local fuel cell generation with extensive solar power exploitation; a fuel cell can (at least in theory) work in reverse, taking in current from banks of solar panels and electrolyzing water back to hydrogen and oxygen, to be extracted from the electrolyte and stored for fuel for night-time power generation.

Second, you were complaining about the limited size of today's production hybrids. I suppose the Corolla-sized Prius is a bit too small for your tastes (not mine, though, my family - me, my wife, and three kids - have been satisfied with the four Corollas we've owned). But did you have a look at that Ford Escape HEV link I supplied? That's a hybrid-powered SUV! You can easily carry your "four people plus luggage" in that. It's interesting to note that whereas ordinary cars get a better figure in EPA highway driving than in city driving, Ford estimates that the city mileage of the Escape HEV will be 40 MPG, while the highway mileage will only be in the high twenties. I guess that's the barn-door aerodynamics and huge frontal area of an SUV coming into play at highway speeds; even if you had a 100% thermally-efficient power train the limiting factor on a poorly-streamlined vehicle like a typical SUV would be aero drag loss.

Third, of course the tzero is not a practical vehicle, but then it isn't a mass-market production car, just an interesting technology demonstration. The reason I brought it up is to show that a purely-electric car is not necessarily limited to toy-car performance, but can have race-car-like acceleration. Don't be misled by that 200 HP figure; have a look at the power and torque curves of an automobile electric motor as compared with an ordinary gas engine, or even worse a turbocharged engine. For example you can get 250+ HP out of a street-legal turbocharged Miata 1.6 engine but you won't see even half of that horsepower until you rev it up over 5000 RPM, which is about where most people upshift. Whereas the power curve for an electric is as flat as a table, you're getting all that power from clutch slip all the way up to red line.

Fourth, I don't understand what the problem would be with regenerative braking. You don't need a big auxiliary system for braking alone, it's the same motor that drives the wheels under power. Apply current to an electric motor and it produces torque, or conversely apply torque and the motor produces current. Of course the problem isn't that simple, there are many mechanical subtleties involved. The most important is that for emergency braking the negative g force required is higher than the positive g force the motor can supply (maybe not for the tzero though) so you need to supplement the regenerative brakes with good old-fashioned "wasteful" braking systems, and then there's all the control circuitry. But hey, think of it like those inner-city "midnight basketball" programs; problems like that give technologists something besides dreadful new high-tech weapons to keep them occupied.

Finally, I wouldn't call someone "ignorant" over a difference in terminology, even if that is the K5 way. The term "electric car" isn't defined in some programming language spec, you know. I call the Prius and Insight "electric cars" because the wheels are driven by electric motors. Also, the idea that electric motors are inefficiently heavy is untrue; in fact, the small size, light weight, and broad torque band of electric motors are some of the feautures that makes them so appealing to vehicle designers. Rather than a complicated and heavy drive-train and gear-shift mechanism, one mounts the motor adjacent to the driven wheel and supplies it with power by a wire. As an extreme example of the weight-to-power efficiency of electric motors, my uncle designed the electric-powered liquid hydrogen pumps for the Saturn V. The pump's motor (it had superconducting windings, cooled by liquid hydrogen!) was small enough to pick up with one hand, and it produced one hundred horsepower at the shaft.

Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

The one thing that really disturbs me about America is that people don't like to read. - Keith Richards
[ Parent ]

Well, (none / 0) (#29)
by trhurler on Wed Sep 05, 2001 at 12:29:08 PM EST

As for the hybrid SUV, I confess: I hate SUVs and pretty much any other non-car vehicle. They're great for moving stuff, and other than that, I don't want to even be near one.

The cars are nice, but I'll be happier when they produce a midsize hybrid sedan. That, I might actually purchase at some point.

As for fuel cells, the idea behind the current automotive fuel cell research depends on who you ask. Some are using electricity generated, whereas some are using the fact that if you use water and I don't remember what else, you end up with hydrogen and oxygen gases, and you can then burn the hydrogen in a heat engine, getting water as exhaust. I'm not sure why the item at the fueling station is a fuel cell and not just a standard electrolysis setup, but the materials they provide aren't exactly technical manuals, so it is hard to say. The idea, I think, is not to have the fuel cell in the vehicle, but rather at something resembling a gas station. I think Ford was working on that, and I know I saw announcements from BMW and GM. You could probably find something from those companies that might enlighten you, if you're curious.

As for weight of electric motors, it isn't the motors that are the problem; it is the current supply. Yes, if you went and did a Saturn V style superconducting motor, you could probably build a beast of a motor, but your car would also cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and require liquid hydrogen to run. Not particularly practical:) For small vehicles, we can almost overcome this right now using fancy batteries, fuel cells, and so on. However, double the weight of the car(or triple it) to get it into the "usable for more than the daily commute" category, and all of a sudden we can't even come close without adding a heat engine.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
fuel cells (none / 0) (#34)
by janra on Fri Sep 07, 2001 at 10:39:13 AM EST

For small vehicles, we can almost overcome this right now using fancy batteries, fuel cells, and so on. However, double the weight of the car(or triple it) to get it into the "usable for more than the daily commute" category, and all of a sudden we can't even come close without adding a heat engine.

Oh, I don't know... Scroll down that page a bit, they've got several cars from compact to sedan, a couple of SUVs, and vans. They have a transit bus as well, but I can't find a picture of it at the moment. (I've seen it around town, though.) I don't know about you, but I'd call those 'usable for more than the daily commute'.

Discuss the art and craft of writing
That's the problem with world domination... Nobody is willing to wait for it anymore, work slowly towards it, drink more and enjoy the ride more.
[ Parent ]
What are you talking about? (none / 0) (#25)
by delmoi on Wed Sep 05, 2001 at 02:40:54 AM EST

This is why fuel cell/hydrogen cars have a possible future, and electric ones probably do not. They're both clean, efficient cars, but one performs like a car, and the other like a car dragging a freight train.

Huh? It's possible to build electric cars that outperform all IC engine cars. Getting 1,000hp is trivial (250hp motors on each wheel), and batteries can produce even more output if needed.

The problem is that they just can't get very far...
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
[ Parent ]
Yes, but (none / 0) (#30)
by trhurler on Wed Sep 05, 2001 at 01:08:18 PM EST

I was talking about the industry's current standard of "must be able to travel 100+ miles on a charge." You won't get any significant power at that range.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Audi (3.50 / 2) (#14)
by Refrag on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 03:24:01 PM EST

Audi has a diesel version of their A2 in Europe that does 100+ MPG. It looks like a car.


Kuro5hin: ...and culture, from the trenches

Here is the deal. (4.33 / 3) (#18)
by loualbano on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 04:01:37 PM EST

I see a lot of comments on here about these cars not being road worthy, safe, etc. I also see a lot of reasons why consumers wont use/like/buy a car designed like the ones in this contest.

What the bulk of you people are failing to realize is that these contests are not designed to produce a consumer type vehicle, they are designed as an incentive to engineers to push the envelope as far as possible in the hopes that new methods, materials, concepts and electronics can be transitioned to existing automobiles.

The same thing exists in auto racing. Everyone thinks that auto racing is all fun and games, but there is a real reason why teams get factory backing. It's an arena to test out new technologies that will eventually make passenger cars better. An example of this is the Honda VTEC engine. The main bearings used in this motor were designed using technology taken directly from Honda's F1 motor. This technology allowed Honda to make their VTEC block shorter due the thinner crank bearings. Another example is roller cams found in most later Ford 5 liter motors. This technology was proven in stock car motors. Turbos, superchargers, overhead cams, tuned intake/exhaust, fuel injection; the list goes on and on, all were proven on race cars before being designed for your car.

So look at these types of events from that angle. Contests like these are the breeding ground for technology that you might see on your next car.

Yes, but... (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by trhurler on Tue Sep 04, 2001 at 05:34:53 PM EST

The author of the original story made a lot of very silly claims, and I think people(I know me, for one,) are responding to those, rather than just mocking these cars. I think a car that gets 10,000mpg is pretty cool, even if all it ever can be is a closed track wonder, but I don't pretend the only reason road cars are much less fuel efficient is because carmakers are pigheaded, and the author does.

However, I seriously doubt any new technology from these cars is making it into any production cars. Similarly, I doubt any new technology from the solar car races colleges enter is doing so. The reason is simple - they're not using new technologies. They're just building better versions of what we already have. Want to set a new fuel record? Cut your cD by shaving a bit off the top of the car, or maybe put a better optimizing fuel computer in or something. New technology? That would cost money and require engineers and someone to actually have a bright idea and so on!

About the only place you see any real innovation in racing, in fact, is in F1. Stock cars are hideously primitive, even by road car standards, and only very occasionally do you see anything new out of them, CART is using last year's F1 toys, Indy cars are pretty much the same as CART cars, Le Mans sees some innovation, but usually in more streetable versions of stuff F1 already did, and so on. Rally cars have led to improvements in front drive components and a few active control and suspension toys, but a lot of that stuff gets banned before they even have a chance to really develop it much. Go much lower down the chain than these races, and most people are just buying ordinary performance parts for modified street cars.

There's a reason teams spend tens or hundreds of millions a year on F1, and it mostly isn't expensive drivers... innovation costs money!

By the way, which Honda engine do you mean? They have more than one engine equipped with electronic valve timing systems. In fact, they've got at least half a dozen, and probably more, and I seriously doubt they all use the same bearings or even the same general designs for them. I'm presently quite curious to see if an i-VTEC equipped six such as we'll probably see in NSX models for some time into the future can be made to outperform US large displacement designs; it seems quite likely, and with a lot less weight, too. Probably not without some "interesting" modifications though:( (I'm not talking about trailer queen closed course wonders, either; I mean street cars.) With enough fancy gizmos, you can in fact replace displacement... at least, until the high displacement guys do the same thing...

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
hmm... (none / 0) (#26)
by loualbano on Wed Sep 05, 2001 at 03:53:23 AM EST

I see the point of some of these posts, when taken in that context. You are correct in siting these aspects to debunk the author's conspiracy therapy of auto manufacturers keeping such technology away from us.

I agree with your points about racing except for one part about stock car racing. Your statement is correct when looking at modern stock car racing, but that aspect of the sport provided a lot of technology that was used in the 60's & 70's on the venerable V8 of the time. And it also is a good place for the gear head aftermarket to test and develop low tech things like connecting rods and what not for Joe Gearhead.

You are most certainly spot on about F1 really being the most productive class of the sport. A lot of really trick parts have come from there, just pop the hood of an Audi A4 1.8T and feel the warm an fuzzy feeling you get when you know there are 5 valves/cyl. It's just too bad they put that tiny turbo on there, effectively choking the motor off.

The VTEC I am referring too was the first gen one that was put in the mid 90's Acura Integra. I read an article in Turbo and High tech Performance (I think it was that mag) that talked about how the main bearings were made using a special process that made them able to make them thinner (width, not material thickness) that was developed for their F1 motor. The article I read talked about the thinner bearings making it possible for the block to be shortened to fit into the Integra. Apparently this also makes the crank shaft stronger by making it shorter:


That article will explain much better than I can.

I too like to see trick little motors that rev like a motorcycle and have the HP of a Vette. I myself have an 84 SVO Mustang with a 2.3L turbo. It's bone stock, but I have heard of guys like Joe Morgan who puts 400HP (on the bottle) 2.3L Fords into Pintos and turns 10's. The only problem I see with these motors is reliability. A friend of mine has a 12 second (at 5000 feet) AWD Eclipse. He did some very impressive work on it, but work on it he did, all the time. It was always breaking and having goofy problems. On the other hand, I have a friend who used to drive a '72 GTO. He built up the 455 and was turning 12's also, but he never had to work on it as much. He would just beat the piss out of it and it would just ask for more.

Here is a couple links about Joe Morgan's 10 second Pinto:



[ Parent ]
Nowhere near production (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by JonesBoy on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 08:32:18 AM EST

Here is another great link to USA's Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) supermilage collegiate contest:

These cars will never hit production, ever. Aerodynamics is a big factor in the design, but so is rolling resistance, enginge size and control, and mass. The bodies are all carbon fiber, fiberglass, or corrugated aluminum monocots, designed to be really light and not too strong. Forget a crash, kicking these things will screw them up. The tires are another story altogether. They are designed to deform as little as possible to reduce the contact patch, and therefore the rolling resistance. There is little traction, and not too much cornering ability. Interiors are rudimentary, if any. Don't expect a padded seat. Dont even expect to be sitting. Ventilation ducts cause drag, and the interior gets nasty hot. The engines are tiny and cycled on and off during the races to conserve fuel. Acceleration is almonst nonexsistent. In the SAE competitions, college students must drive, not children. They will, however, actively recruit the smallest person in the school.

The point of these races is not to develop a production car. The point is to make young engineers start researching ways to reduce emmissions and increase mileage. When they become professionals, effiency will be a personal concern and will probably get designed into whatever project they work on. It is also a relatively cheap way to do R and D for engine controls. You toss some schools 10k, and they will actually ENJOY doing the research, on their own time for FREE. Its a good deal for everyone. I participated in the SAE Formula-SAE competition (http://www.sae.org/students/formula.htm and http://www.clarkson.edu/~indy ) and it had a great effect on my performance as a professional engineer.

We may be driving cars that resemble the cars of the 40's, but they are very different. We learned a lot about alloys and reliability from the race cars of the 50s and 60s, and computerized engine controlls in the 80s and 90s. A lot of production cars have technology under the hood that was exotic 10 years ago. All thanks to racing.

Speeding never killed anyone. Stopping did.
The Shell Oils Eco-Marathon | 34 comments (32 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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