Driving across country on a single tank of gas is suddenly possible -- in theory. A new, tiny, gold car with a bullet-shaped front section, called the Lamina, gets 3,000 mpg. Designed by students at California Polytechnic University for the annual 2012 Shell Eco Marathon
, the vehicle maxes out at 25 mph, so it would be an extremely long coast-to-coast trip. But still, the fuel-saving concepts behind the Lamina are worth a closer look.
Size and weight are key. The designers used superlight carbon fiber, special low-resistance tires with BMX bike rims and a modified Honda generator, creating a vehicle that weighs just 70 pounds. "We aimed to create a modular engine and drive train in a single unit that can be taken out for tuning," Cal Poly team member Ann Peters wrote in a National Geographic blog post
. "Lamina utilizes a ... technique in which the external skin of the vehicle, instead of an internal frame, supports the structural load."
The 50-cc engine allows for a driving style called "burn and coast" in which the driver runs the engine to get up to speed, and then cuts it and coasts for as long as possible. "If you have to slam on your brakes when you come to a stop, you've probably used too much [fuel] to get there," Gabriel Mountjoy, a member of the Cal Poly design team, told Fox News (see below). "So that's just wasted fuel every time you put on your brakes."
The student designers concede that combining all of the weight- and fuel-saving concepts they used for the Lamina isn't practical for regular cars, but each could be applied individually. And overall, our vehicles could already be far more fuel-efficient than they are. "You can actually get 100 miles per gallon even in a truck or something that isn't nearly as sleek or small as this thing," Mountjoy said. "It's really just sizing an engine properly for your car. We don't need all that extra horsepower that people love."
The Lamina will make its debut in Houston this weekend at the Shell Eco Marathon, an annual contest that challenges students to build the world's most fuel-efficient vehicle with the fewest emissions.