Local Motors LITECAR Challenge: ‘Adding lightness,’ improving fuel efficiency

As Lotus founder Colin Chapman famously said, the best way to improve a car is to “simplify, and add lightness.”

That maxim is becoming more important for carmakers every day, as they attempt to cut weight for better fuel efficiency, while still loading up their vehicles with the safety equipment and convenience features consumers demand.

ARPA-E and Local Motors hope to crack this problem with its LITECAR Challenge, which asks designers to create a “purely conceptual, novel lightweight vehicle” using any advanced technology or materials they can think of.

However, each entry must still meet current safety standards, and take the form of a conventional five-passenger sedan.

The goal of the contest is to find ways to unlock fuel economy savings by putting cars on a diet. Local notes that average new-car fuel economy has nearly double over the past 40 years, but average curb weights have remained stagnant.

It’s estimated that reducing a vehicle’s weight by 10 percent can boost fuel economy by 5 to 8 percent, but the beefy structures that allow cars to meet modern crashworthiness standards have to be preserved.

Since the LITECAR Challenge only includes concept vehicles, cost will likely be emphasized less. Yet in the real world, it is a major factor in attempts to make cars lighter.

That’s because, for now, it generally means using more-expensive materials like the aluminum used in the body of the 2015 Ford F-150, or the carbon fiber-reinforced plastic of BMW’s “i” cars.

Local will begin accepting entries for the LITECAR Challenge this Friday, and the deadline for submissions is March 6.

Each will be reviewed by a panel of judges, and the top prize is $60,000 cash.

Full details are available on the LITECAR Challenge website.