Student Drive Seeks Car of the Future

For a group of engineering students at Cal State Northridge, it’s the ultimate test in car-conscious Los Angeles: Create a fuel-efficient automobile that can go 80 miles per gallon. On Friday, they’ll receive their canvas.

“What we’re getting is a made-to-order, 1996 five-passenger, four-door sedan,” said mechanical engineering professor Tim Fox, the faculty member overseeing 52 students who have been working on the project since April.

Part of a partnership between the federal government and the Big Three auto makers announced in September, 1993, the “FutureCar Challenge” will involve 12 universities nationwide. CSUN and UC Davis are the only West Coast colleges participating, Fox noted.

“The idea here is to develop technology and demonstrate emerging technology that would lead to an 80-m.p.g. sedan by 2004,” he said. The figure is roughly three times the current standard.


Once the car arrives, it will be transported to CSUN’s new, 3,000-square-foot automotive engineering lab where students will “take the engine and transmission out and throw it away,” Fox said.

Although the dozen colleges will be working independently toward the same goal, early consensus is that only a mostly electric motor will reach the 80-m.p.g. mark, he added. Sponsors are optimistic that existing automobiles can be modified to surpass the range and speed limitations of contemporary electric cars.

“This program reflects in many ways what went on in the Apollo program,” Fox said, referring to the space-exploration drive that landed astronauts on the Moon in 1969.