As the auto industry looks high and low to eke out every last drop of fuel returns, the GM Ultralite concept continues to provide a guiding light. Even though it was built nearly three decades in the past, the Ultralite was a fully functioning vehicle that could achieve upwards of 100 mpg thanks to clever design and innovative technology, all without sacrificing on passenger room, acceleration performance, or emissions.
Unsurprisingly, one of the GM Ultralite concept’s greatest strengths is how much it weighs. During the vehicle’s development, GM partnered with California-based aerospace company Scaled Composites to produce the Ultralite’s carbon fiber monocoque, resulting in a vehicle shell weighing just 420 pounds. The completed concept tips the scales at 1,400 pounds, and interestingly, the concept’s development resulted in a new patent for GM for low-cost carbon fiber production.
In addition to its feathery curb weight, the shape of the GM Ultralight is another key component to its efficiency. Thanks to a 0.19 drag coefficient, the concept can slice through the air without burning extra fuel to overcome air resistance. By comparison, the modern Chevrolet Corvette C8 has a drag coefficient of 0.32 when equipped with the downforce-generating (i.e. drag-heavy) Z51 Performance Package.
Although the GM Ultralite was designed for maximum functionality, the form was still a stunning thing to look at, and it continues to look modern and futuristic today. The curves are rounded and sleek, running together in a single shape with a long windshield, circular windows, and covered rear wheels.
Notably, the Ultralite was featured in the film Demolition Man, underlining its sci-fi appeal, and although GM never gave the green light for full-time production, the design did provide inspiration for the company’s first major effort in modern all-electric vehicles, the GM EV1.
Despite its ultra-high fuel returns, the GM Ultralite concept still managed to include space for four passengers inside the cabin, with ingress and egress made possible via a set of top-hinged gullwing doors. Motivation is sourced from a rear-mounted 1.5L three-cylinder two-stroke engine rated at 111 horsepower, enough to send the airy Ultralite to 60 mph in less than 8 seconds, with a top speed of 135 mph.
Now, the GM Ultralite can be seen on display at the recently reopened Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.