Cars Built By Kids Show Future To Better Mileage

In a heavily car dependent city like Houston prices at the pump are important. And as those prices rise, miles per gallon become a major consideration. So if you could get over 2,000 miles to the gallon in a car designed by a kid would you consider it?


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“Well, my car gets 470 miles per gallon.”

Semira Kern is a high school junior from Granite Falls in Washington state. She’s brought her team’s car “Iron Maiden” over two and half thousand miles to Houston to compete in the Shell Eco-marathon. A contest which has one goal only, finding the most fuel efficient vehicle. The speed limit is 15mph and the participants range from 16 to 25.

Kern’s car is in the prototype category and looks almost futuristic.

Semira Kern and team with car Iron Maiden
Semira Kern and her team shop girls with their car Iron Maiden at the Shell Eco-marathon

“It’s very bright pink and green because those are our team colours and it’s about 10 feet long. The tallest person that can fit in our car is about 5’10. It’s about 2 1/2’ tall. It has three wheels two in the front and one in the back.”

Kern’s classmate Jasmine Bates car is in the other category.

“So our car is an urban concept car. It’s the only two-seater it the competition and last year we got 186.5 mpg with it and that’s the new Americas record in urban concept diesel category.”

Both cars are diesel, but Bates’ car “Phillipe’s Bulldozer” looks a little like a smaller version of a Smart car. The girls spent a school year with their teams building their cars. Now they get a chance to see how they fair against the other 116 cars in the contest.

They’ll drive a number of laps and their best lap with the best mileage will be logged. But they’re not just going up against other American schools. Kelly Op De Weegh is with Shell Oil.

“We have Canadian teams. We have a team from Brazil. I believe this year we have a team from Mexico, so it’s a North and South America competition.”

Last year it was the Canadian team that reached over 2,000 miles per gallon in an urban concept gas powered car. Every gasoline and diesel car has the same sized tank, 250 ml. Yes you heard me right, that’s over 2,000 miles on a 250 ml tank. Of course the reward for this contest is not just winning it’s the elements involved in building something as a team. Kelly Op De Weegh says this journey often leaves students with a much clearer picture of their future careers.


“What I love about it is it’s not just college students who are already focused on a career in engineering and maybe know what they’re gonna be when they grow up it’s also high school students who are already so passionate about what be it science or engineering or design.”

While Op De Weegh says these cars won’t be sold in local dealerships tomorrow, it does plant the seed for future alternatives to today’s automobiles. The cars will be tested around Discovery Green and displayed at the George R. Brown Convention Center over the weekend.

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