This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

February 04, 2009

DOE and GM Unveil 17 EcoCAR Challenge Designs, and They All Plug In

Photo of a crossover vehicle with an elaborate paint job, including the word 'EcoCAR' emblazoned on its side.

University teams competing in the EcoCAR challenge will add advanced automotive technologies to a 2009 Saturn VUE. Enlarge this image.
Credit: EcoCAR

The 17 student teams competing in EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge appear to have a clear vision of the automotive future, as all of the teams are pursuing designs that incorporate lithium-ion batteries and the ability to plug the vehicles into an electrical outlet. All of the vehicles will also use renewable energy or renewable fuels to minimize their consumption of petroleum. Established by DOE and General Motors Corporation (GM), EcoCAR is a three-year competition that challenges engineering students at North American universities to re-engineer a 2009 GM Saturn VUE vehicle to achieve improved fuel economy and reduced emissions while retaining the vehicle's performance, safety, and consumer appeal. It also gives the students a chance to design and build advanced vehicles that demonstrate cutting-edge automotive technologies. GM is providing the vehicles, components, seed money, technical mentoring, and operational support for the competition, while DOE and its Argonne National Laboratory are providing competition management, team evaluation, and technical and logistical support. Along with DOE and GM, EcoCAR sponsors include the Canadian government and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

The common approach of the 17 EcoCAR teams is not a huge surprise, as the teams are trying to meet CARB's regulations for zero-emissions vehicles. To meet those regulations, one team—the University of Ontario Institute of Technology—plans to build an all-electric vehicle, also known as a full-function electric vehicle. Eight teams are building extended-range electric vehicles, which are electric vehicles that include a small engine and generator to provide extra electric power on extended trips. Six teams are building plug-in hybrids, which are essentially hybrid electric vehicles with oversized battery packs. Those battery packs allow for trips of up to 40 miles using electric power only, but otherwise, the vehicle acts as a typical hybrid, with the engine and electric motor working together to propel the vehicle. Finally, two of the teams will build plug-in hybrids that feature hydrogen-powered fuel cells instead of engines. Choosing the design is the first-year goal for the competition; over the next two years, the teams will develop working vehicles that will face off against one another in competitive events. See the GM press release and the EcoCAR Web site, and for details about the teams and technologies, see the new Green Garage Web site.