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EcoCAR Challenge: Finish Line


The EcoCAR Challenege is a competition that challenges participating students from across North America to re-engineer a vehicle donated by General Motors. With the goal of minimizing the vehicle's fuel consumption and emissions, while maintaining its utility, safety and performance, teams had to find the best combination of cutting-edge technologies to meet these objectives.
Secretary Steven Chu; MIchael Bly, Lynn Gnatt, Carlos Cubero-Ponce, Ryan Melsert, Eric Schacht, Andrew Eldridge,
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LYNN GANTT (Virginia Tech):  There are 16 universities that compete in the EcoCAR Challenge.  The main goal is to reduce petroleum energy use, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, while maintaining consumer acceptability.

CARLOS CUBERO-PONCE (Georgia Tech):  In EcoCAR Challenge, the real benefit is empowerment, I feel.  So you always see on the news here people talking about how there are so many problems we’re facing – energy security, climate change, economic crisis with fuel here.  As engineers, we have some of the tools to help solve those problems, and this competition really helps us move from talking about it to doing something about it.


ERIC SCHACHT (Ohio State University):  Challenging yourself is probably one of the best things you can ever do because everyone in the whole organization, from industry all the way to the student body, has a lot of respect for a big challenge.  We’ve got one electric machine here, as well as the compressed natural gas engine that was converted to E85.

MR. CUBERO-PONCE:  This touchscreen allows the driver to monitor different parameters inside the vehicle:  electrical, mechanical, diagnostic information.

ANDREW ELDRIGE (Penn State University):  Our battery pack is different than most teams in that it is clearly air-cooled.

MICHAEL BLY (Executive Director, General Motors – Electric Vehicles):  We’re in the Georgia Tech car, their entry into the competition, using a 1.6-liter gasoline/E85 capable engine.  So you can kind of see the capability of electrification, where they can go from a very large utility vehicle like a Yukon down to a small crossover in a front-wheel drive configuration like this.

We’ve hired over a hundred new engineers off this program because we do have access to the best and the brightest.  But it’s also kind of a training ground.  Who can perform under the stress?  Who wants to work in this industry?  Who’s got the passion and desire to work on sustainability and the problems and solutions around it?

And to be honest with you, we all have to work at this together:  industry like General Motors, government like the DOE, but it also has to be the private sector, businesses.  We’ve got over 50 sponsors here.  We have to put our combined resources and intelligence together to make this sustainability a reality.


SECRETARY OF ENERGY STEVEN CHU:  This is training the new cadre of automotive engineers.  It’s real hands-on experience on a real project that really matters, where you have to eventually sit in it and drive, pass all the safety standards, and then be competitive, not only in gas mileage but also in performance.

So is this in the Volt kind of design where it sits and charges the battery, or it’s in the Prius design, where it can actually improve the –

It’s a – it’s a mixture of both.

Yeah – (inaudible).  I think also the Volt’s a lot quieter, you know – (inaudible) – overall, like – (inaudible).

SEC. CHU:  Think about this, you’re doing 16 different experiments and you can look at actually how these 16 different experiments can be used in a way that perhaps GM using professional engineers might not be able to chase every path.  So there are opportunities, there are systems integration that they’ve done that might be novel.

MR. GANTT:  We have an electric tractor motor on the rear that gives us the ability to go 54 miles as a pure EV, and then after that we use it to load-level this.

SEC. CHU:  The 21 kilowatt hours, is that the usable kilowatt hours or is that the full capacity?

MR. GANTT:  If you absolutely had to, you can use all of that.

SEC. CHU:  Yeah, but you’d kill the battery

MR. GANTT:  But because of reliability, we chose to go about only 85 percent of that.

SEC. CHU:  Oh, so you’re using 85 percent.

MR. GANTT:  So we’re using most of it, but not all of it.

SEC. CHU:  Oh, OK.

This is what it’s all about, training the next generation of engineers in the automobile industry in the United States so that we can remain leaders in this area.

MR. ELDRIDGE:  Finishing my undergrad in the fall, so I will be helping out with the start of EcoCAR II.

MR. SCHACHT:  Yeah, I’m going to be going into industry for a startup that’s doing battery testing at a company called Car Technologies that started up out of Ohio State’s Center for Automotive Research.

MR. GANTT:  I’m actually moving up to Michigan. I’ll be working for General Motors, along with five other students from our – for my team.  So because of working on EcoCAR, I’ve decided to go work on the automotive industry.