In early 1986, Al Streb, former deputy assistant secretary for the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), called for a workshop on competitiveness and trade to be held in January 1987. He asked employees of EERE for workshop ideas as well as funding for the most innovative idea.
Phil Patterson, a data analyst for the Vehicle Technologies Program (VTP) at DOE had an idea to start a program that would get university students involved in designing vehicles to run on alternatives to petroleum fuel. Patterson recommended working with the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and offer prize money to the school teams that developed the most energy efficient vehicle using an alternative fuel.
EERE chose to fund Patterson’s proposal because it dealt with getting students to work with technologies of interest to the VTP. He enlisted the assistance of Bob Larsen at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) to help come up with initial ideas. After discussions with SAE, ANL, and DOE, the first Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) was formed – Methanol Marathon.
Since then, the initiative has grown into 11 AVTCs: Methanol Marathon (1988-1990), Natural Gas Vehicle Challenge (1990-1993), HEV Challenge (1992-1995), Propane Vehicle Challenge (1995-1997), FutureCar Challenge (1995-1999). Ethanol Vehicle Challenge (1997-2000), FutureTruck (1999-2004), Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility (2004-2008), EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge (2008-2011), EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future (2011-2014), and EcoCAR 3 (2014-2018).
The AVTC program has evolved over the years to include various forms of electrification, as well as alternative fuels like natural gas, propane, ethanol, biodiesel, and hydrogen. Other student competitions were held in collaboration such as American Tour del Sol, Sunrayce, Clean Air Road Rally, and EV Grand Prix. However, these competitions, often involving high school students, did not officially fall under the AVTC category which concentrated on collegiate-level students.
The year 2013 marked the 25th Anniversary of AVTCs. Since the beginning, more than 16,500 students at 93 universities in North America have participated in the program. Check out the video below and see how the program has evolved: