EcoCAR 3 teams work to improve fuel economy, reduce emissions of Chevy Camaro

  • 09-Jul-2014 02:29 EDT
EcoCAR 3 (Camaro).jpg

In the EcoCAR 3 challenge, collegiate teams will have four years to design and integrate technologies on a Chevrolet Camaro. The end goal is using innovative technologies to lower energy consumption and emissions in comparison to the production sports car.


Sixteen university teams from the U.S. and Canada will transform a Chevrolet Camaro into an energy-efficient, eco-smart muscle car without compromise to the vehicle’s performance, utility, and safety.

Since the first EcoCAR program in 2008, this multi-year challenge for collegiate teams has been an important venue for developing automotive engineers.

“We know that more than 30% of the engineers GM has hired with EcoCAR experience have submitted innovations through the GM intellectual property process, which is a higher rate than our overall engineering team,” according to James Kolhoff, Global Chief Engineer and Program Manager–Transmission & Hybrid Controls at General Motors.

Managed by Argonne National Laboratory and established by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors, EcoCAR 3 is the latest advanced vehicle technology competition (AVTC). Each collegiate team is tasked with using advanced technologies to transform a yet-to-be determined model year gasoline-fueled Chevrolet Camaro into a low-emissions, energy efficient sports car. Teams must retain the GM-provided production car’s performance, utility, safety, and consumer appeal.

For the first time in EcoCAR history, cost will be part of the project development equation.

“Cost is one of the key remaining barriers to market acceptance of advanced vehicle technologies and an important design tradeoff that OEMs have to consider when designing a vehicle,” according to Kristen De La Rosa, Acting Section Leader of AVTC and the Director of AVTC for Transportation Research at the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, IL. Adding cost considerations as a judging parameter “makes EcoCAR 3 more relevant to the real-world challenges that are facing the industry,” noted De La Rosa.

The 16 teams competing in the four-year (2014-18) event are: Arizona State University; California State University, Los Angeles; Colorado State University; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; Georgia Institute of Technology; McMaster University; Mississippi State University; Ohio State University; Pennsylvania State University; University of Alabama; University of Tennessee; University of Washington; University of Waterloo; Virginia Tech; Wayne State University; and West Virginia University.

Competition organizers want to see teams research and develop specific technologies for the event’s duration. “The only requirement is the innovative technology needs to be related to the competition through the areas of consumer acceptability, performance, energy consumption, or emissions,” explained De La Rosa, adding, “We’re gearing the students who participate in this competition to tackle the industry’s next biggest challenges. Big challenges require big solutions, so we’re really encouraging teams to dream big and show us what they can do.”

GM’s Kolhoff pointed out that EcoCAR 3 teams are involved with a long-term engineering project “that very accurately engages the students in examples of real-world engineering challenges facing the auto industry. GM provides engineering mentors to each team, and along with other sponsors, provide subject-matter experts who advise the teams as they design and develop their advanced automotive technology on the Camaro.”

During the four-year technology challenge, student engineers will get firsthand exposure to the latest technologies.

“The university teams have a broad ability to design their vehicles using systems and components donated by GM and other sponsors as well as building their own components,” explained Kolhoff, adding, “During the first year of EcoCAR 3, each team will be designing and analyzing in computer simulation multiple vehicle subsystem configurations to determine which one will have the best energy consumption and lowest greenhouse gases.”

Teams that competed in the three-year (2011 to 2014) EcoCAR 2 had support from 32 government and industry sponsors who provided more than $756 million in cash and support. According to De La Rosa, “This included everything from sophisticated industry-leading software engineering tools to 2013 Chevy Malibu (cars), engines, transmissions, and energy storage systems.”

EcoCAR 3 sponsor contributions include software tools for math modeling and simulation (MathWorks Matlab and Simulink), CAD (Siemens NX CAD), powertrain and vehicle modeling (U.S. DOE Energy Vehicle Technologies Program-funded Autonomie), vehicle dynamic evaluation software (AVL Drive), hardware-in-the-loop simulators (dSPACE) as well as engines, transmissions, electrics motors, and other powertrain components (GM, Magna, GKN).

The various hardware and software donations help team members in the short- and long-term. Noted De La Rosa, “Teams gain hands-on experience from using the latest industry-leading engineering tools that will enable them to (make) valuable contributions to the industry immediately after graduation.”

Kaylie Crosby, Project Manager for the University of Alabama EcoCAR 3 team, is eager to gain real-world experience. Crosby expects to make mistakes and have disagreements with teammates, but she also expects to overcome the obstacles. “Through these difficult times, we will learn to work as one group with our mind set on the common goal of successfully completing the competition,” noted Crosby, who is pursuing a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering as well as an MBA. The UA team is a newcomer to EcoCAR competition.

The addition of cost as a judging criteria puts the challenge in a real-world light, according to Trevor Crain, University of Washington’s EcoCAR 3 Team Leader. “UW students get to experience what it is like to design with one of the most important real-world constraints. Engineering problems suddenly become a lot more difficult when you no longer have infinite money to throw at them. And our students will need to weigh all the benefits of different technologies against how much they will cost the consumer,” noted Crain, a UW mechanical engineering graduate. A UW team competed in both of the previous EcoCAR competitions.

In addition to headline sponsorship from the DOE and GM, EcoCAR 3’s supporters include MathWorks; California Air Resources Board; Freescale Semiconductor; Clean Cities; AVL Powertrain Engineering, Inc; Robert Bosch LLC; ETAS; dSPACE Inc; Snap-On Tools; Siemens PLM Software; GKN Driveline; Transportation Research Center; EnerDel; Proterra; Ricardo; and A123 Systems.

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