It's hard enough building an electric car from the wheels up, carefully selecting lightweight materials and creating an efficient yet robust power train with commercial appeal. But it's arguably tougher to take a stock approximately 4,000-pound hybrid SUV, remove its internal bits, design and squeeze in alternate components not designed for automotive uses around an existing infrastructure, put everything back together, and hope it passes a 300-point safety check.
Now try tackling all this during finals.
As part of the GM's EcoCar Challenge, a program sponsored in conjunction with the Department of Energy and several automotive suppliers, 16 university teams of undergraduate and graduate students are competing in a three-year competition to plan, develop, and refine an alternative fuel SUV that meets commercial and consumer standards.
Competing for more than $100,000 in prizes each year, teams are required to replace the SUV's existing hybrid engine and transmission with an extended-range, plug-in electric, fuel-cell, or all-electric power train using their choice of B20, E85, or liquid hydrogen fuel. The vehicles are judged on fuel economy, well-to-wheel emissions reduction, performance, and towing, to name a few factors.
On May 20, I visited GM's Desert Proving grounds in Yuma, Arizona as the teams prepared to test their vehicles in the second stage of the competition. Seeing these modified SUVs in various stages of undress and watching students racing to troubleshoot and reassemble their vehicles like young Nascar pit teams, I quickly realized that my college experience was a waste of time. … Read more