Virginia Tech and 16 Other Colleges Compete in EcoCAR Challenge with Saturn's Vue

Virginia Tech

The U.S. Department of Energy, General Motors, and Natural Resources Canada announced this week that my alma mater – Virginia Tech – and 16 other teams have been selected to participate in EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge, a collegiate vehicle engineering competition set to begin in the fall of 2008. EcoCAR will challenge university engineering students across North America to re-engineer a Saturn Vue to achieve improved fuel economy and reduced green house gas emissions, while retaining the vehicle's performance and consumer appeal.

Students will design and build advanced propulsion solutions that are based on the vehicle categories from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) regulations. They will be encouraged to explore a variety of cutting-edge clean vehicle solutions, including full-function electric, range-extended electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell technologies. In addition, they will incorporate lightweight materials into the vehicles, improve aerodynamics and utilize alternative fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen.

The following teams have been selected to compete in the EcoCAR competition:

  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Daytona Beach, FL)

  • Georgia Tech (Atlanta, GA)
  • Howard University (Washington, D.C.)
  • Michigan Technological University (Houghton, MI)
  • Mississippi State University (Starkville, MS)
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology (Rolla, MO)
  • North Carolina State University (Raleigh, NC)
  • Ohio State University (Columbus, OH)
  • Pennsylvania State University (University Park, PA)
  • Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Terre Haute, IN)
  • Texas Tech University (Lubbock, TX)
  • University of Ontario Institute of Technology (Oshawa, Ontario, Canada)
  • University of Victoria (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada)
  • University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada)
  • University of Wisconsin (Madison, WI)
  • Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA)
  • West Virginia University (Morgantown, WV)

During the three-year program, General Motors will provide production vehicles, vehicle components, seed money, technical mentoring and operational support. The U.S. Department of Energy and its research and development facility, Argonne National Laboratory, will provide competition management, team evaluation and technical and logistical support. Through sponsoring such advanced vehicle engineering competitions, GM and the U.S. Department of Energy are developing the next generation of scientists and engineers.

"We're excited to see what these student engineers will develop over the next three years," said Beth Lowery, General Motors Vice President, Environment, Energy, and Safety Policy. "The objectives of EcoCAR are right in line with GM's strategy."

"EcoCAR is the latest in a series of Department-sponsored student competitions that will foster the training of the next generation of engineers who will develop the clean vehicle technology solutions to enhance our energy security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Ed Wall, DOE's Vehicle Technologies Program Manager. "It will be exciting to watch as the students work over the next three years to design, build, test and showcase their vehicles."

Vehicle Development

In the first year, teams will develop their vehicle designs through the use of GM's Global Vehicle Development Process - the modeling and simulation process currently used to develop all of GM's vehicles. Sophisticated hardware in the loop (HIL) and software in the loop (SIL) systems will be utilized, and teams will be challenged to model and simulate the integration of their subsystems into the overall vehicle design. The emphasis is on optimizing a practical, realizable solution that will meet the goals of the competition.

During the second and third years of the competition, students will build the vehicle and continue to refine, test, and improve vehicle operation. At the end of Years Two and Three, the re-engineered student vehicle prototypes will compete in a week-long competition of engineering tests. These tests will be similar to the tests GM conducts to determine a prototype's readiness for production. The Greenhouse gas, Regulated Emissions, and Energy in Transportation (GREET) model, developed at Argonne National Laboratory, will be used to assess a well-to-wheel analysis of the greenhouse gas impacts of each technology approach the teams select.

Sponsor Support

In addition to sponsorship from GM and DOE, Platinum sponsor Government of Canada is providing extensive operational support. The other Platinum sponsors, dSPACE, National Instruments, The MathWorks and Freescale Semiconductor are providing critical software and hardware components.

Gold sponsors are The National Science Foundation and MotoTron Corporation. Silver sponsors are: SnapOn Tools and Renewable Fuels Association. Bronze sponsors are: Delphi Corporation, EcoMotors, CarSim and Bosch.

Additional information about EcoCAR is available on the Web at

Go Hokies!

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