What better place than the Motor City – Detroit, USA – for more than 1,000 students from Toronto to São Paulo, and many places in between, to roll up for the 10th Shell Eco-marathon Americas?

Running from April 22 to April 24, the event is a chance for nearly 130 teams of high school and college students across the Americas to showcase their own extra-energy-efficient, custom-built cars designed as much to captivate as to innovate.

All are pulling out all the stops to push the limits and innovate solutions to the world's most pressing mobility challenges, and win awards on and off the track. They still have an event best of 3,587 miles per gallon (1,525 km/l) as inspiration, set by Quebec's Université Laval in 2013.

Seven nations compete

These students from around the United States, Guatemala, Mexico, Canada, Brazil – and this year Ecuador and Puerto Rico for the first time - will be testing and fixing their cars right down to the wire to pass a tough technical inspection. On the competition days, they will need to circle the downtown track at least 25 times for the chance of an on-track award.

"Shell Eco-marathon has allowed us to apply what we're learning in the classroom and develop the hands-on experience that automotive and engineering companies are looking for," said John Clairmont, a member of the team from Cedarville University, in Cedarville, Ohio. Students from university have participated in every Shell Eco-marathon Americas since the first in 2007.

"Being part of, and witnessing, all the strides in innovation from other schools over the years, and to see them all come together in one place, has been extremely rewarding and inspiring," added Clairmont, co-leader of the group working on Cedarville's Prototype/Gasoline car, dubbed Sting.

A global challenge

For more than 30 years, Shell Eco-marathon competitions around the globe have challenged students to build energy-efficient cars that can travel the farthest distance on the least amount of energy. With events now held in Asia, the Americas and Europe, teams can choose from seven energy classes.

After settling on a category to compete in—be it diesel, gasoline, ethanol, gas-to-liquid (GTL), compressed natural gas (CNG), hydrogen or battery electric technologies¬—teams then choose between two vehicle categories.

There’s the Prototype division, which has typically included vehicles with futuristic, streamlined looks. The UrbanConcept category, focuses on near-roadworthy, fuel-efficient vehicles aimed at meeting real-life driving needs.

Over the last 10 seasons, about 20% of all teams have competed in the UrbanConcept category, while nearly 80% went for the Prototype class, with design concepts that often look ahead of their time.

Teams win awards on the track, but also off it – for their approach to safety, vehicle design and technical innovation, and their ability to run a good promotional campaign. Judges give a special award for perseverance and spirit.

Who’ll go to London?

This year, UrbanConcept cars will be the centre of attention as a new Drivers’ World Championship brings together the best-performing UrbanConcept teams from around the world in London, UK, at Shell Eco-marathon Europe. Teams will compete for the most energy-efficient drive around a circuit in the city’s Olympic Park.

Read more about the Drivers’ World Championship

More in Shell Eco-marathon

For Americas participants

If you’re a participant or want to join Shell Eco-marathon Americas, see all you need to know about the competition.