EcoCAR The Next Challenge

EcoCAR vehicle at GM's Yuma, AZ Proving Grounds

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.