Close this search box.


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.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), PNGV, and other North American automotive suppliers, the competition challenged university students to reengineer a Dodge Intrepid, Ford Taurus, or a Chevrolet Lumina. A prototype Mercury Sable was added in to the program for the 1997-1999 years.

Fuel used by the teams included reformulated gasoline, diesel and fischer-trophsch diesel, ethanol, compressed natural gas, liquid petroleum gas, hydrogen, dimethyl ether, and electricity. A wide range of events were held to test the vehicles’ performance and the teams’ ability to communicate their design choices and rationale. Performance improved over time with better batteries, control strategies, and experience. During the later years of the program, two universities were able to experiment with fuel cell stacks and had to adapt the technology to their competition vehicle.

In 1995-1996, 12 university teams competed in a series of dynamic and static events at the Ford Proving Grounds in Dearborn, Michigan. Emissions and fuel economy testing took place at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Vehicle and Fuel Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The teams then had to embark on a road rally throughout the Detroit metropolitan area.

In 1996-1997, those same 12 teams switched gears and tested their vehicles at General Motors’ Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, followed by emissions and fuel economy testing at U.S. EPA. The teams then participated in a more aggressive over-the-road endurance event, which took place from Warren to Washington, D.C.

During the 1997-1998 program, 13 universities competed in the FutureCar Challenge program. The year-end competition took place in June 1998, which began with technical evaluations at Oakland Community College in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Industry and government engineers measured a variety of vehicle attributes, including range, acceleration, driveability, exhaust emissions, and fuel efficiency. Once again, vehicle emissions testing was held at U.S. EPA and the finale events were held at the Detroit Grand Prix, Chrysler Technology Center, and Greenfield Village.

For the fourth and final year of FutureCar, teams began their technical dynamic and static events again at Oakland Community College with emissions testing at U.S. EPA. However, teams were challenged with an over-the-road endurance test as vehicles were driven in a road rally from Michigan to Washington, D.C. for the finale awards ceremony. Teams made a few pit stops along the way, including stops at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia and the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland.

Inovations & Hightlights

FutureCar Challenge was a unique competition in which teams used advanced control strategies and hybrid electric vehicle powertrains to incorporate small engine technology and efficient electric motors. The competition was successful because of the support from the Partnership for a New Generation of vehicle (PNGV).

PGNV was formed by former President Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, and the CEOs of Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors. This government and industry partnership included research support from scientists and engineers at universities, automotive suppliers, and small businesses. The main goals were to improve competitiveness in manufacturing; apply commercially viable innovation to conventional vehicles; and develop technologies for vehicles to achieve more than 80 miles per gallon while maintaining performance, safety, and affordability.

Together with PGNV, students were able to develop sustainable and advanced vehicle technologies during the four-year competition.

  • Ten of the 12 vehicles were hybrid electric vehicle designs, including six parallel HEVs and four series HEVs.
  • Six vehicles increased fuel economy in just the first year of FutureCar, despite weighing more than the stock vehicle.
  • Both Concordia University and University of Wisconsin used dimethyl ether(DME) as their fuel selection in the 1998-1999 FutureCar Challenge.
  • Ohio State University had an acceleration time of 11.17 seconds during the 1996 competition finale.
  • University of California Davis, designed a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that averaged 62 MPG in 1996
  • In 1998, Lawrence Tech and University of Wisconsin-Madison demonstrated on-road fuel efficiencies above 70 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (mpgge).
  • Virginia Tech’s fuel economy in 1996 was 44.71 mpgge.
  • Concordia University develop an electronic solenoid driving circuit to open the injector needle of their DME-fueled vehicle.
  • Five vehicles met Federal Tier 0 standards, including five diesel hybrids and one ethanol hybrid in 1998.
  • Virginia Tech and Texas Tech received fuel cell stacks to implement into their vehicle. Virginia Tech successfully ran as a fuel cell in 1999 and was one of the first groups to demonstrate this in the United States.
  • The endurance event involved two 30-mile laps on Dearborn city streets. Five teams, including Concordia, West Virginia, Lawrence Tech, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, received the maximum score for this event by completing the distance in the allotted time.
  • In 1999, the University of Wisconsin-Madison demonstrated that lightweight materials, performance, and fuel efficiency improvements can make significant progress to meeting PNGV goals when properly combined.
  • In 1997, University of California – Davis demonstrated that aerodynamic improvements and a charge-depleting strategy could work.

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.

FutureCar Media Coverage

Open Dropdown

Select a tab above to view content