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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.

The competition challenged 16 universities across North America to reduce the environmental impact of a Saturn Vue by minimizing the vehicle’s fuel consumption and reducing its emissions while retaining the vehicle’s performance, safety and consumer appeal.

Students used a real-world engineering process to design and integrate their advanced technology solutions into a GM-donated vehicle. Students designed and built advanced propulsion solutions based on vehicle categories from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) regulations. They explored a variety of cutting-edge clean vehicle solutions, including full-function electric, range-extended electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell technologies. In addition, students incorporated lightweight materials into the vehicles, improved aerodynamics, and utilized alternative fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen.

Teams followed a real-world approach modeled after GM’s global vehicle development process (GVDP), which gave students valuable experience in real-world engineering practices, resource allocation and meeting deliverables. While previous student engineering competitions focused primarily on hardware modifications, EcoCAR included a unique focus on modeling and simulation, as well as subsystem development and testing.

In the first year of EcoCAR (2008-2009), participating teams used math-based design tools—such as Argonne’s Powertrain Systems Analysis toolkit (PSAT) or similar vehicle models research—to compare and select an advanced vehicle powertrain that meets the goals of the competition. Teams used software to ensure that their chosen components fit into their vehicle and that the electrical, mechanical and software systems functioned properly. Teams also used software-in-the-loop (SIL) and hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) to better develop controls and subsystems. During the Year One competition, the teams traveled to Toronto, Canada to participate in the year-end event which featured several static presentations and a trade show display.

During the second year of EcoCAR (2009-2010), teams had to translate their design into reality by developing a ‘mule’ vehicle. By the end of the academic year, the student vehicles had to be 65% complete. General Motors hosted the teams at their Desert Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona for all dynamic vehicle events, including accelerating and braking, emissions and energy consumption, dynamic consumer acceptability, AVL DRIVE Quality, autocross, and more. Teams then headed to San Diego, California for several other events and the awards ceremony.

In the third and final year (2010-2011), EcoCAR teams had to refine their existing student powertrain vehicles into a 99% showroom-ready vehicle. The students vehicles were heavily tested at General Motors Milford Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan before heading to Washington, D.C. for a ride and drive event.


Inovations & Hightlights

Over the course of three years, EcoCAR teams had to reduce the environmental impact of a Saturn Vue by minimizing the vehicle’s fuel consumption and reducing its emissions while retaining the vehicle’s performance, safety and consumer appeal.

Teams had to meet the competition’s technical goals, which included incorporating technologies that reduced petroleum energy consumption on the basis of a total fuel cycle well-to-wheel (WTW) analysis, increase vehicle energy efficiency, reduce criteria and well-to-wheel greenhouse gas (GHG) and criteria emissions, and maintain consumer acceptability in the areas of performance, utility and safety.

  • EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge marked the first time a controller hardware-in-the loop activity was introduced into an academic setting, providing teams the opportunity to test control software before driving the vehicle
  • All competition vehicles featured some plug-in capability.
  • The competition marked the first time in AVTCs where teams designed their own energy storage systems, using lithium ion prismatic cell technology
  • Teams used tools such as Powertrain Systems and Analysis Toolkit (PAST) to help define their vehicle technical specifications and architectures what would satisfy those spec’s
  • Mississippi State University achieved 118 MPGGE (miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent)
  • on the EcoCAR Cycle in Year Two
  • EcoCAR teams followed industry-standard design practices such as DFMEA and fault tree analysis to develop their control systems
  • Ohio State University built powertrain controllers from the ground up in an impressive and industrial-grade display of Model-Based Design with automatic code generation.
  • In Year Three, Virginia Tech was able to increase fuel economy over 70% above the stock vehicle to 81.9 MPGGE while demonstrating the lowest tailpipe emissions (Tier 2 bin 2) amongst all teams with combustion engines
  • University of Ontario Institute of Technology built a custom designed Li+ pack based on Kokam technology
  • In Year Three, two hydrogen fuel cell vehicles placed in the top 6 overall – an AVTC first!
  • During Year One, teams had to produce a trade show display that highlighted and featured powertrain components
  • The program offered fellowships to communication students provided by Clean Cities – a first in AVTC history!
  • The University of Waterloo developed a carbon fiber hood for their vehicle in Year Three
  • In Year Three, the University of Victoria had a 0-60 MPH acceleration time of 6.35 seconds!
  • EcoCAR introduced emissions and energy consumption events very similar to real-world plug-in hybrid vehicle testing that used SAE J2841 and J1711 standards to utility factor-weight electricity consumption in vehicles that do and do not have charge depleting ranges
  • Teams utilized Rapid Control Prototyping Systems to develop advanced controller and communication based models of production vehicle
  • Ohio State University developed and deployed a dual clutch automated manual transmission in their E85 PHEV

Universities Involved

Winners & Awards

Each year, university teams compete in a variety of static and dynamic events that range from oral presentations to on-road vehicle testing to communications and business tactics. These static and dynamic events are judged by industry sponsors and professionals, both throughout the year and in-person at the year-end competition. Below includes more detail about event awards and winners:

EcoCAR The Next Challenge Media Coverage

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