For just about every new technology invented, we've come to expect improvements over time. Whether it's powered flight or personal computers, we consider radical change over a few decades to be, well, normal.
Example: one of Thomas Edison's better-performing early light bulbs could last 1,200 hours before burning out. A compact fluorescent bulb of today can provide light for 10,000 hours. The next-generation technology, LED bulbs, can last a purported 25,000 hours.
Cars, on the other hand, have barely moved, at least not by one important measure. The Ford Model T, introduced in 1908, delivered a respectable 21 miles to the gallon (8.9 kilometers per liter). The average car's mileage in 2012 (in the United States) was 24 miles per gallon (10.2 kilometers per liter) [sources: Ford Motor Company and Eisenstein].
Have internal combustion engines reached their peak efficiency as some claim? Not completely, but pretty close. Plus, in all fairness, autos have made major strides in other areas. But it's clear that in order to boost fuel mileage and still hold on to the gains made safety, comfort, and performance, automakers will have to embrace different methods than the ones dominant today. Methods like those used to make the hypercar.
We're not talking about dreamy, theoretical science either. But real hypercar development could require a clean break with much of car-building orthodoxy. Take, for instance, the Wikispeed SGT01, an entrant in the Progressive Automotive X Prize competition. Team Wikispeed, led by software consultant Joe Justice, used management practices (collectively called Agile) from the software development world to lop years off of the auto industry standard time to build its SGT01 roadster. The resulting carbon fiber-bodied car costs $25,000, goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 96.6 kilometers per hour) in 5 seconds and delivers 108 miles per gallon (45.9 kilometers per liter) in combined city and highway driving. (The tradeoff at present is a harsh, noisy ride.)
For a more bespoke, but still sporty ride, there is the Rimac Concept One from Croatia. This sculpted beauty places an independently controllable electric motor at each wheel for the ultimate in speed (0 to 60 miles per hour in just 2 seconds) and efficiency (114 MPGe). They call it "All Wheel Torque Vectoring." We call it a pretty clever solution to the problem of drivetrain energy losses.
And many more examples abound of hypercar techniques being put to use. Hypercar-level mileage almost defies belief, but remarkably, the know-how to achieve it is within reach today. So the next time you hear people complaining about the price of gasoline or bragging about their 42-mile per gallon (17.9-kilometer per liter) car, feel free to drop some science on them: The hypercar leaves our fossil-fueled automotive legacy in the dust.