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.
Author's Note: 5 Impressive Qualities of the HyperCar
This is an amazing time to be a car builder not affiliated with one of the big, established auto companies. In the past, the field was mined with obstacles to inventors and small auto-building teams. Budget-busting research and development costs. Hard to source parts and components. Non-existent access to manufacturing at a profitable scale. And just forget about distribution. Today though, with the reach of the internet and global collaboration, those restrictions are tumbling down.
I'm excited to see such a diversity of size and nationalities in the groups attempting to build production-capable hypercars. Their work is expanding the body of knowledge we have to help re-imagine the automobile and its role in society. After decades of stagnation from major automakers, a bevy of unconventional thinkers are helping to shake up and expand our concept of what a car can and should be.
- American Meteorological Society. "Climate Change - An Information Statement of the American Meteorological Society." Aug. 20, 2012. (Aug. 30, 2012) http://ametsoc.org/policy/2012climatechange.html
- Blood, Lexington. "Hypercar: The car that pays you to drive it." TriplePundit.com. Dec. 29, 2007. (Aug. 29, 2012) http://www.triplepundit.com/2007/12/hypercar-the-car-that-pays-you-to-drive-it/
- Denning, Steve. "Wikispeed: How a 100 mpg Car Was Developed in 3 Months." Forbes.com. May 5, 2012. (Aug. 27, 2012) http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2012/05/10/wikispeed-how-a-100-mpg-car-was-developed-in-3-months/
- Eisenstein, Paul A. "U.S. fuel economy tops 24 mpg for first time." Nbcnews.com. April 12, 2012. (Sept. 1, 2012) http://bottomline.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/04/10/11122287-us-fuel-economy-tops-24-mpg-for-first-time?lite
- Ford Motor Company. "Model T Facts." (Sept. 2, 2012) http://media.ford.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=858
- Gunther, Marc. "Super-Light, 100 MPG Car Takes $5M X Prize." GreenBiz.com. Sept. 16, 2010. (Sept. 1, 2012) http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2010/09/16/super-light-100-mpg-car-takes-5-million-x-prize
- Holzman, David C. "Here Comes Hypercar!" Environmental Health Perspectives. 113(4): A250-A253. April 2005. (Sept. 1, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1278506/
- Hybridcars.com. "7 Far-Out Cars that Push 100 mpg." May 4, 2009. (Aug. 24, 2012) http://www.hybridcars.com/technology/7-far-out-cars-push-100mpg-25775.html
- Jones, Benjamin. "5 Real DIY Aerodynamic Mods Detroit Can Add for MPGs in '09." Popular Mechanics. Oct. 1, 2009. (Aug. 28, 2012) http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/how-to/4271181
- Lienert, Paul. "Rimac Concept One: Electric Hypercar from Croatia." Edmunds Inside Line. April 12, 2012. (Aug. 24, 2012) http://www.insideline.com/car-news/rimac-concept-one-electric-hypercar-from-croatia.html
- Muller, Richard A. "The Conversion of a Climate Change Skeptic." The New York Times. July 28, 2012. (Aug. 31, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/opinion/the-conversion-of-a-climate-change-skeptic.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
- Nelder, Chris. "Fighting Terror with Hypercars." Energy & Capital. April 13, 2007. (Aug. 27, 2012) http://www.energyandcapital.com/articles/hybrid-oil-electric/405
- Nova. "Car of the Future - Model of Efficiency." 2008. (Aug. 25, 2012) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/car/efficiency.html
- Renew Grid. "Smart Grid and Electric Vehicles: A Match Made in Heaven?" July 11, 2012. (Sept. 3, 2012) http://www.renewgridmag.com/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.8664
- Rimac Automobili. "Concept One." 2012. (Aug. 24, 2012) http://www.rimac-automobili.com/concept_one/introduction-20
- Rocky Mountain Institute. "Ultra-light low-drag autos." (Aug. 29, 2012) http://www.rmi.org/ultralightlowdragautoskeysolutions
- Taub, Erica A. "How Long Did You Say that Bulb Would Last?" The New York Times. Feb. 11, 2009. (Sept. 1, 2012) http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/11/how-long-did-you-say-that-bulb-will-last/
- Wikispeed.com. "Notable Facts." March 17, 2012. (Aug. 30, 2012) http://wikispeed.com/NotableFacts
- Wikispeed.com. "The Process." March 14, 2012. (Aug. 29, 2012) http://wikispeed.com/the-process
Does stop-start technology really help with fuel economy? HowStuffWorks talked to experts to find out.