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Winners Near Finish Line in EcoCAR Competition

A three-year project by the United States Department of Energy and General Motors to woo engineering students into learning next-generation automotive technology comes to a close this month as teams from universities around the continent participate in the final rounds of competition. But even as the latest EcoCAR Challenge winds down, new student teams are forming to participate in EcoCAR 2.

Students on 16 college and university teams will meet at GM's Milford Proving Ground outside of Detroit to undergo safety, emissions, and other technical inspections in the same facilities used to test GM production vehicles.

"Allowing the students behind-the-scenes access to our proving ground really gives them a fuller picture of what their future can hold as a leading automotive engineer," said Mary Barra, senior vice president of global product development for GM. "It's this real-world experience that makes the EcoCAR program so valuable to both the students and our industry partners."

This event marks the next-to-final step of a three-year effort to train students in alternative powertrain technologies. All teams had the chance to redesign a traditional, combustible engine vehicle provided by GM.

The final event takes place immediately after the inspections, when all participants will head to Washington, DC, where the winners will be announced June 17. That event will give the student teams a chance to show off their vehicles for Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and others at Department of Energy headquarters. Top teams will win cash awards, contributed by industry sponsors.

During the first year of the EcoCAR competition, students developed their skills with the use of math-based design tools and other applications for engineering and design problems, such as comparing vehicle powertrains, making sure chosen components would fit into their vehicles, and ensuring that electrical, mechanical, and software systems functioned properly. Throughout the program, participants used a vehicle development process modeled after GM's own processes.

During the second and third years, students developed and refined a working vehicle that met the competition's goals. At the end of the year, the teams came together to compete against each other a dozen events. Among the many goals: to incorporate technologies that reduce petroleum energy consumption and to increase vehicle energy efficiency.

EcoCAR 2 will also last for three years. The contest, which starts in fall 2011, challenges 16 universities in North America to reduce the environmental impact of a new Chevrolet Malibu without impairing or dampening the vehicle's performance, safety, or consumer acceptability.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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