NIU student-designed vehicle gets 1,741 mpg

The NIU Supermileage team is celebrating a third-place overall finish and its best-ever combined score after last weekend’s SAE Supermileage competition in Marshall, MI.

In the competition, teams of engineering students design and build single-occupant, ultra fuel-efficient vehicles. The teams compete for the best design, highest fuel economy and greatest vehicle endurance.

The NIU vehicle recorded a jaw-dropping 1,741 miles per gallon – an improvement of more than 600 miles per gallon over when it placed sixth in the Shell Eco-Marathon in April.

“At Shell, we had some issues with rolling resistance, so we focused heavily on fixing that and on just getting outside and running the car,” team president Josh Helsper said. “We focused on working out any kinks we might have before we got to competition.”

The preparation paid off. In addition to placing third overall, the NIU team placed fourth in design and first in endurance at SAE. Helsper said the vehicle earned the Endurance Award by running a total of 60 miles over six successful runs with no breakdowns. The next-best team, which won the overall competition, completed four runs and broke down once.

“Even though our car had lower fuel economy than theirs, it was more reliable.” Helsper added, “It felt very good to get that award.”

Helsper, a mechanical engineering student who also competed in Supermileage last year, said the team’s big-picture vision was instrumental in making the competitions run smoothly. Members pored over the rulebook to ensure they would have no problems during the technical inspection and arrived early so they could have more time for practice runs.

With six Top 3 finishes in the last eight years, the team’s success has become a point of pride for the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, acting associate dean Shanthi Muthuswamy said.

“The Supermileage team has consistently performed well, and as always, we are proud of their team effort, determination and hard work,” she said.

Supermileage is one of five SAE-affiliated competition design teams in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. The college also fields teams in SAE’s Clean Snowmobile, Formula, Aero and Mini Baja competitions. Other competition teams in the college include Mars rover and robotics.

The NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology is ranked in the Top 70 engineering schools in the country not offering a Ph.D. degree. With hundreds of corporate partners and a focus on real-world experience, the college prides itself on graduating functional engineers ready for the workforce.

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