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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.

FutureTruck was a five-year competition (1999-2004) that challenged student engineers to redesign a full-size SUV to meet the needs of efficient transportation, while maintaining performance, utility, and affordability. FutureTruck helped to redefine the ways in which private industry, academia, and government could work together to overcome obstacles of fuel efficiency.

During the first two years (1999-2001), 15 North American universities modified a 2000 Chevrolet Suburban using cutting-edge technologies such as fuel cells and other advanced propulsion systems and alternative fuels. Vehicles underwent extensive testing in more than a dozen technical events including emissions and fuel economy, braking and acceleration, trailer tow, off-road and handling, and static oral presentations. During the 1999-2000 competition, teams were hosted at General Motors Desert Proving Grounds in Mesa, Arizona. In the final year of the General Motors sponsored competition (2000-2001), teams traveled to General Motors Milford Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan for dynamic testing before heading to Washington, D.C. for the finale event.

Starting in Fall 2001, 15 universities joined forces with Ford Motor Company and the U.S. Department of Energy to compete in the second phase of FutureTruck. Several previous schools remained from the first phase; however, all 15 universities involved received a mid-size Ford Explorer to re-engineer into a hybrid vehicle. The teams once again had to employ cutting-edge technologies including fuel cells, lightweight materials, and alternative fuels, into their hybrid electric vehicle design strategy.

Students traveled to Ford’s Arizona Proving Grounds in Yucca, Arizona for the 2001-2002 competition. The teams then traveled to California for emissions testing at the California Air Resources Board and dynamic vehicle testing at the California Motor Speedway. The awards ceremony was hosted in Los Angeles.

For a change of scenery, the teams traveled to Ford’s Michigan Proving Ground in Romeo, Michigan and Ford’s Allen Park Test Laboratory for the 2002-2003 competition. The competition culminated in conjunction with Ford’s Centennial Anniversary at Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.

In the final year of FutureTruck (2003-2004), the universities once again were hosted at Ford’s Michigan Proving Ground and Allen Park Test Laboratory for dynamic testing. Teams completed a road rally through Detroit and held a finish line ceremony at Ford World Headquarters.

The groundbreaking four-year competition (2004-2008) gave 17 universities in North America an opportunity to participate in hands-on research and development with leading-edge automotive propulsion, fuels, materials, and emissions-control technologies.

During the competition, students were challenged to re-engineer a 2005 Chevrolet Equinox to minimize energy consumption, emissions, and greenhouse gases while maintaining or exceeding the stock vehicle’s utility and performance. Using a development process modeled after GM’s Vehicle Development Process, teams gained valuable experience in real-world engineering practices. Participating teams were provided with a variety of resources to help achieve their objectives, including technical support and mentoring from General Motors and other sponsors. Each team also received $10,000 in seed money and were eligible to receive additional production parts, software, and hardware from competition-level sponsors.

Year One (2004-2005) focused on modeling, simulation, and testing of the advanced powertrain and vehicle subsystems selected by each school. Students used computer-based math modeling tools to objectively compare and select the advanced technologies to be used for their overall design. Teams also developed and used rapid prototyping and hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) tools to validate their models and control systems. The Year One competition was held at GM University and GM’s Milford Proving Grounds, where teams showcased their design efforts.

During Year Two (2005-2006), teams developed and integrated their advanced powertrain and subsystems into the donated vehicle. This year was often dubbed the ‘mule’ vehicle build year since teams had to get to a 65% buy-off stage. The year-end competition was held at General Motors Desert Proving Grounds in Mesa, Arizona and featured an extensive set of vehicle dynamic events including braking, handling, acceleration, fuel economy, drive quality, and trailer towing performance. Teams were also judged through technical design presentations and written reports.

In Year Three (2006-2007), teams had to refine their advanced vehicles into a showroom-ready vehicle. At the end of the academic year, teams traveled to General Motors Milford Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan for dynamic vehicle testing. Much like in Year Two, teams had the chance to compete in several dynamic events like braking, accelerating, dynamic handling, and drive quality. The awards ceremony was held at General Motors Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, Michigan.

The fourth and final year of Challenge X (2007-2008) featured additional refinement, as well as expansive outreach and media efforts throughout the community. The year began with a road rally through Los Angeles and a ride and drive at the Electric Vehicle Symposium 23 in Anaheim, CA in November 2007. In addition, teams showed off their vehicles to Jay Leno at his garage in Burbank, CA. Teams then had several months to refine their vehicle before taking part in vehicle testing at the Old Bridge Township Raceway in Englishtown, New Jersey in May 2008. After testing, teams began a three-day East Coast Road Rally, which began in New York City with a media event. Teams then made a stop in Baltimore for an education day, and then concluded at the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C.

Throughout the four years, students developed a strong understanding of advanced vehicle technologies that prepare them to become highly skilled engineers in the automotive industry and remain competitive in the global marketplace.

Inovations & Hightlights

The teams in FutureTruck employed many novel ideas, approaches, and technologies that provided solutions to increase the efficiency and reduce the overall environmental impact of SUVs. Various hybrid electric vehicle designs were demonstrated by the student-modified vehicles, including series and parallel hybrids and fuel cells.

Over the course of five years, engines were modified to run on bio-based fuels like ethanol and biodiesel, as well as homogeneous-charge compression ignition engines and hydrogen fuel cells. Teams combined these advanced power units with emerging exhaust gas after-treatment technologies to reduce emission and greenhouse gas production. Other systems, such as selective catalytic reduction, to control oxides of nitrogen emissions, were used with high efficiency diesel engines. Advanced electric drive systems enabled hybrid features such as regenerative braking, high load assist, and transient smoothing to improve vehicle-level efficiency.

  • Fourteen of the 15 vehicles were able to run their modified Ford Explorers during the 2002 competition.
  • The University of Wisconsin-Madison achieved 21.85 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent, which was a 45% increase.
  • Three vehicles qualified as an Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) during emissions testing in 2002.
  • Texas Tech was the first FutureTruck team to compete in the On-Road Fuel Economy, Acceleration, and Off-Road events under hydrogen power.
  • Teams included several emission reductions technologies, including diesel after-treatments like urea, EGR coolers, and titanium exhaust systems.
  • Seven teams obtained better fuel economy than the control vehicle in 2002, this increased to eight teams in 2003.
  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville used wind tunnel testing to implement a front air dam and a rear spoiler to improve their vehicle’s coefficient of drag.
  • University of Idaho has created the world’s first Tri-brid, combining hydraulic, ultracapacitors, and a combustion engine in one vehicle.
  • West Virginia University utilized urea injection which was performed upstream of the SCR catalyst to further reduce oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions.
  • Teams included modeling simulations, advanced control systems, and telematics into the program.
  • Ten of the teams completed the trailer tow event, demonstrating that they were capable of towing a 2,000-lb trailer at varying speeds for approximately 15 miles including a short 17% grade.
  • Michigan Tech accelerated in 11.238 seconds, beating the stock vehicle’s time in 2002, and Georgia Tech beat this in 2003 with 10.88 seconds.

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.

FutureTruck Media Coverage

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