The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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“Vroom Vroom” Gets 828 MPG

Vroom Vroom Carbon Fiber 1 (VVCF-1), the 2010 entry for the UMass Amherst Supermileage Team (SMV) in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) national supermileage competition in Marshall, Michigan, on June 10 and 11, finished a very respectable eighth in the field of 33 teams by logging an impressive 828 mpg. It was a big improvement over the performance of VVCF-1 last year, which did 536 mpg in the same competition. The inner mechanical workings of VVCF-1, which won the award for "Vehicle with the Greatest Visual Appeal" in 2009, were thoroughly modified to produce the jump in mpg this year. SMV faculty advisor David Schmidt modestly called the performance  a “pretty good showing,” which we all feel is an understatement. Professor Schmidt also told a very funny story about the competition. 

"We were having all kinds of problems when communicating with our driver via walkie-talkies," he said, "so for one run we switched to having her talk on a cell phone while driving around the track. However, the sound quality was not that good, and communication failed entirely while the car's engine was running. The engine is loud and very close to her head. A student came up with the idea that we could have the driver text-message us with updates while she drove, but then dismissed it with: ‘No, Professor Fisher would kill us.'"

Professor Donald Fisher, of course, is head of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department and director of the Human Performance Laboratory, which does extensive research, and gains a lot of national attention, on the dangers of text-messaging and other distractions while driving.

The sleek, teardrop-shaped Vroom Vroom Carbon Fiber 1 was named (or, at least, the “Vroom Vroom” part) by the then four-year-old son of Professor Schmidt. In this case “Vroom Vroom” must be pronounced with tongue planted firmly in cheek, especially since the object of the competition is to glide through the course on the Eaton Corporation Proving Grounds at only a few miles per hour, while using as little fuel, or iso-octane, as possible.

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 four-cycle engine. A Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine is given by SAE to every team registering for the competition as a “starter” engine, and most teams extensively modify this stock engine to get better gas mileage. The vehicles run a 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 awareness of fuel economy. (June 2010)