The University of Washington team works on their vehicle while lifted on a hoist. Teams are working in a garage that is fully equipped with tools that will help them make the most of their time this week. | Photo courtesy of EcoCAR 2.

A team member from Purdue University works on a line for their vehicle’s high voltage battery. Purdue University’s vehicle is a split parallel hybrid. | Photo courtesy of EcoCAR 2.

A team member from the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University team checks the main point of connection of the low voltage system. This connection allows communication with the charger, eventually ensuring the vehicle’s battery will stay charged. | Photo courtesy of EcoCAR 2.

The University of Tennessee - Knoxville team verifies the proper wiring for gear selection before their vehicle is inspected for safety. All teams must pass a safety technical inspection before competing in any driving events. | Photo courtesy of EcoCar 2.

A team member from North Carolina State University prepares for high voltage testing on their battery pack. The team has built a series hybrid. | Photo courtesy of EcoCAR 2.

The California State University-Los Angeles team competes in a gradeability event to test the endurance of the vehicle. The trailer attached to the vehicle simulates the same pull the vehicle would go through if climbing up a steep hill. | Photo courtesy of EcoCAR 2.

Last week, all 15 EcoCAR 2 teams arrived in Yuma, Arizona, jump-starting the EcoCAR 2 Year Two finals. This week, they’ll be competing for the top prize in the two-part competition, which consists of on-road vehicle testing at the General Motors Desert Proving Grounds in Yuma and presentations in San Diego, California.

EcoCAR 2: Plugging into the Future is a three-year collegiate engineering competition that challenges 15 student teams from across North America to develop highly efficient vehicles using technologies that can save consumers money at the pump and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Student teams use a variety of powertrain architectures -- with a focus on electric drive technology -- to improve vehicle efficiency and retain consumer acceptability, performance and safety. The competition is sponsored by the Energy Department and General Motors -- as well as Natural Resources Canada and 25 other industry sponsors who make this competition possible. 

Last week, the teams wrapped up dynamic vehicle testing, which began with the crucial first step of a safety inspection. These vehicles must be safe enough for students to drive now as well as be as road-worthy as commercial vehicles by the end of the competition’s third year. As each team passed, they entered queues to compete in vehicle tests on the proving ground course -- the same course that GM uses to test its own vehicles. In the stressful, hot desert environment, the tests assess a variety of vehicle characteristics, including their 0-60 acceleration, emissions and drive quality. During the week, the garage was full of activity as students made last-minute fixes and alterations to their vehicles to gain a competitive edge. But the atmosphere was also full of collective excitement, collaboration and team spirit. Many teams loaned equipment, components and helpful advice to competitors who were encountering challenges.

The week wasn’t just about working on vehicles, though. In addition to the technical work, team members visited a local middle school to speak about the competition, energy efficiency and advanced vehicle design. On Friday, several of the participating universities demonstrated their moral support as their administrators visited the proving grounds to see the competition in full swing.

Yesterday, teams arrived in San Diego for the second half of the Year Two finals. During presentations to expert panels of judges from sponsoring organizations, students will explain why and how they designed their vehicle, how they implemented that design, and how they integrated the correct components into the vehicle. Teams also created business plans and an outreach program to communicate the messages of EcoCAR 2 to the public and K-12 students. The business managers and communication managers from each team will describe how they implemented these programs in a professional and effective manner.

The Year Two competition will end this Thursday with an awards ceremony, where teams will hear their final Year Two scores. Whichever team wins, we’ll be proud of all of them for taking a leadership role in the race to build a clean energy economy.