AVTC’s History

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 13 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), EcoCAR 3 (2014-2018) EcoCAR Mobility Challenge (2018-2022) and EcoCAR EV Challenge (2022-2026).

AVTCs represent a unique coalition of government, industry and academic partners who join forces to execute North America’s premier collegiate automotive engineering competitions. AVTCs provide a challenging, real-world training ground for North America’s future engineers, business and communications students, and automotive leaders and accelerate the development and demonstration of technologies of interest to the DOE and the automotive industry.

Featuring opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines including engineering, business, program management and communications, these competitions challenge students beyond the traditional classroom environment. Students re-engineer a donated production vehicle to improve energy efficiency and to meet the toughest emissions standards, while maintaining the features that make it attractive to the customer: performance, consumer acceptability, safety, and cost. Students incorporate advanced powertrains and alternative fuels as well as their own innovative technologies to maximize their vehicle efficiency and performance results. Students apply their theoretical knowledge to solve not only complex engineering challenges, but to also learn valuable leadership and project management skills, as well as public relations, marketing and business development.

AVTCs also provide significant technical, educational, and promotional benefits to DOE and the nation. The 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.

More than 30,000 students from 95 educational institutions in North America have participated, gaining real-world, hands-on experience tackling the challenges associated with building fuel-efficient vehicles.

2022

EcoCAR EV Challenge Begins

EcoCAR EV Challenge will challenge up to 15 North American universities to engineer a next generation battery electric vehicle (BEV) that utilizes automation and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity to implement energy efficient customer-pleasing features, and meet the decarbonization needs of the automotive industry. EcoCAR will also include a major focus on equity in mobility, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in STEM to help build clean energy mobility solutions and opportunities for all.

2018-2022

EcoCAR Mobility Challenge

The 11 EcoCAR schools have logged >10,000 test miles on their vehicles in Year 4.

By the numbers: A total of 2646 students have participated in the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge. EcoCAR students from more than 38 college majors have participated in the latest EcoCAR Mobility challenge. More than 200 companies have hired an EcoCAR student (either full time or for an internship)

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2020

Human Machine Interface / User Experience added as a focus area of EcoCAR

The objective of the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge HMI/UX initiative is designed for teams to effectively educate a driver about their team vehicle’s Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) features such as adaptive cruise control (ACC), lane centering, and many more. EcoCAR prepares students to tackle the real-world problem of educating drivers about these new and ever-advancing features.

2019

Implementing powertrain control based on perception system inputs

EcoCAR Mobility Challenge is the first AVTC where teams can implement powertrain control based on perception system inputs

2018

Celebrating 30 Years of AVTCs

Since 1988, the U.S. Department of Energy has sponsored Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs) in partnership with the North American automotive industry. Managed by Argonne National Laboratory, AVTCs represent a unique coalition of government, industry and academic partners who join forces to execute North America’s premier collegiate automotive engineering competitions.

2014–2018

EcoCAR 3

EcoCAR 3 was the 11th U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) series and is North America’s premier collegiate automotive engineering competition. The U.S. DOE and General Motors are challenged 16 North American universities to redesign a Chevrolet Camaro into a hybrid-electric car to reduce environmental impact, while maintaining the muscle and performance expected from this iconic American car.

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2015

New Competition Feature: Advanced Driver Assistance System Applications

EcoCAR 3 teams began utilizing computer vision for Advanced Driver Assistance System Applicationss!

2015

2016 Chevrolet Camaro Donated to EcoCAR 3 Schools

General Motors donates a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro to each of the 16 EcoCAR 3 participating schools.

2014

New Competition Feature: Innovation becomes a new focus area in AVTCs

Teams develop unique innovation concepts for their EcoCAR 3 vehicle.

2013

Celebrating 25 Years of AVTCs

Since 1988, the U.S. Department of Energy has sponsored Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs) in partnership with the North American automotive industry. Managed by Argonne National Laboratory, AVTCs represent a unique coalition of government, industry and academic partners who join forces to execute North America’s premier collegiate automotive engineering competitions.

2011–2014

EcoCAR 2: Plugging Into the Future

EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future was a three-year collegiate advanced vehicle technology engineering competition established by the United States Department of Energy and General Motors (GM), and was managed by Argonne National Laboratory. The competition challenged 15 universities from across North America to reduce the environmental impact of the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu by improving its fuel efficiency and minimizing the vehicle’s emissions while retaining its performance and consumer appeal.

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2012

New Competition Feature: Emissions Testing added to AVTCs

AVTCs added upstream criteria (CO, NOx, THC) emission testing into the scored deliverables, as well as measuring electric energy consumption during EcoCAR 2

2014

Testing Method Update

EcoCAR 2 implemented a 4-cycle drive cycle to reflect current test methods at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

2008–2011

EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge

EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge was a three-year collegiate advanced vehicle technology engineering competition established by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and General Motors (GM), and was managed by Argonne National Laboratory.

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2009

Implementing SAE J1711 Utility Factor (UF) standards

Emissions and energy consumption events using SAE J1711 Utility Factor (UF) standards were introduced

2008

Teams were introduced to prismatic energy storage systems for the first time

Teams were introduced to prismatic energy storage systems for the first time

2008

Hardware-in-the-Loop Activities introduced

EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge marked the first time a hardware-in-the loop activity was introduced into an academic setting

2006

Fully functional fuel cell vehicle introduced

University of Waterloo competed successfully in every event as a fully functional fuel cell vehicle – a first for a fuel cell vehicle in AVTCs

2006

Outstanding Women in Engineering awards were introduced in AVTCS

These awards honor women from across many STEM disciplines who are demonstrating outstanding technical excellence both within their university academic programs, and most notably, through the AVTC program. 

EcoCAR

2004–2008

Challenge X: Cross to Sustainable Mobility

In the first decade of the new millennium, the American automotive customer market trended toward larger family-sized vehicles. At the same time, an increased need to reduce energy consumption, as well as decreased vehicle emissions, was becoming imperative. As a result, the automotive and electronics industries, the U.S. and Canadian governments, and the academic community worked together to launch Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility.

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2005

Introducing Communications & Outreach

The first scored communications/outreach program was introduced in AVTCs

2001

World’s first Tri-brid!

University of Idaho created the world’s first Tri-brid, combining hydraulic, ultracapacitors, and a combustion engine in one vehicle.

1999–2004

FutureTruck

In the early 2000s, the demand for light-duty trucks, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and vans posed opportunities and challenges for the automotive industry. In response to this demand, General Motors and Ford Motor Company teamed up with the U.S. Department of Energy to create FutureTruck.

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1998

Introducing Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions

The student competitions program officially becomes known as Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions

1998

Fuel cell technology is introduced into the program

Fuel cell technology is introduced into the program

1997–2000

Ethanol Vehicle Challenge

The Ethanol Vehicle Challenge was developed to demonstrate the potential of ethanol to significantly lower emissions, improve performance, increase fuel efficiency, and improve cold starting of vehicles. During the three years of this Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition, the platform changed from a 5-passenger Chevrolet Malibu to a full-size Chevrolet Silverado to reflect consumer demands for larger vehicles and more power.

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1997

Ethanol Vehicle Challenge marked the first time in AVTCs that teams were allowed to reconfigure and alter the vehicle’s powertrain control modules

1995–1999

FutureCar Challenge

FutureCar Challenge, conducted annually between 1995 and 1999, challenged North American universities to design and apply advanced technologies to mid-sized sedans. Parallel to the goals of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), the FutureCar Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) series utilized advanced technologies and hybrid electric vehicle powertrains to achieve 80 miles per gallon, while offering the same comfort, safety, and affordability that consumers expected from conventional vehicles.

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1995

Propane is introduced as an alternative fuel

Propane is introduced as an alternative fuel for AVTCs with Chrysler-donated Minivans for the Propane Vehicle Challenge

1995

Consumer acceptability was added into the competitions

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1995

Largest fleet of hybrid electric vehicles in the United States

HEV Challenge marked the largest fleet of hybrid electric vehicles in the United States at that time, with a total of 51 vehicles

HEV Challenge

1995–1997

Propane Vehicle Challenge

The Propane Vehicle Challenge (PVC), held between 1995 and 1997, focused on converting 1996 Chrysler Minivans into dedicated propane vehicles, while maintaining the performance that consumers expected from gasoline vehicles.

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1994

Hybrid electric vehicle Developed by the University of Maryland

The University of Maryland developed a hybrid electric vehicle similar to the Toyota Prius, which didn’t debut until 1996

1994

HEVs used to evaluate SAE draft HEV emissions test procedures for J1711

HEVs built by University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Maryland, and University of California-Davis were used to evaluate SAE draft HEV emissions test procedures for J1711

1993

UC-Davis successfully built the first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in AVTC history

1993

Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Challenge

The competition added a mini-series, Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Challenge, to test the electric vehicle aspect of the ground up vehicles

1993

First ground-up vehicles were built during HEV Challenge

1993

Introducing dynamic events

AVTCs added dynamic events including ride and handling and engineering design review into competitions

1992–1995

HEV Challenge

The Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) Challenge, conducted annually for three years, was an intercollegiate competition created by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE). The HEV Challenge began with 18 Ford Escorts and 12 Ground-Up vehicles in 1993, 12 Saturn SL2 sedans were added in 1994, and 12 Dodge Neons were added in the 1995 HEV Challenge.

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1992

Siemens Automotive implemented Old Dominion University’s design for a multi-alternative-fuel injector, which was used in Chrysler CNG vehicles

1990–1993

Natural Gas Vehicle Challenge

The Natural Gas Vehicle (NGV) Challenge began in 1991 when General Motors donated a GMC Sierra 2500 pickup truck to 24 engineering schools that submitted the best design proposals for the purpose of converting the vehicles to dedicated natural gas use. Natural gas was selected as the next fuel for the students to work with because the U.S. has an abundance of domestic natural gas resources and many natural gas companies were promoting its use in motor vehicles.

1989

First full emissions testing event at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Ann Arbor, Michigan

1988–1990

Methanol Marathon

Methanol Marathon (1988-1989) was an alternative fuels competition for 15 colleges and universities in North America. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors Corporation, schools were selected based on the best proposals for converting 1988 Chevrolet Corsicas to operate on M85 (85% methanol, 15% hydrocarbons). General Motors provided kits of specialized parts to assist the schools with the conversion and teams were tasked to re-engineer these vehicles in under five months.

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1988

AVTCs Begin

Methanol Marathon begins with converting 1988 Chevrolet Corsicas to operate on M85

1986

Conceptualizing AVTCs

In early 1986 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. 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 concept for Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC) was formed.