This photo shows three students from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology working under the hood of their car.

For the last three years, teams from 15 colleges across North America have been putting the pedal to the metal designing, building and refining an energy-efficient, consumer-ready alternative fuel vehicle as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) EcoCAR 2 competition. In June, The Ohio State University was crowned the winner of EcoCAR 2: Plugging into the Future.

EcoCar 2, a collaboration between DOE and General Motors, challenges collegiate teams to develop innovative ways to improve the fuel economy and reduce the environmental impact of a vehicle without compromising its performance, safety or consumer acceptance. Over the course of the competition, EcoCAR 2 put students’ skills to the test while providing them with hands-on, real-world experience to become clean energy leaders.

To start, teams were challenged to incorporate advanced technology components — including electric drive powertrains (the part of the car that converts power from the fuel source into the mechanical power needed to drive the wheels) and battery systems — into an existing vehicle. After using software to model their proposed vehicle architecture, GM provided each team with a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu to transform into an advanced plug-in hybrid vehicle that can compete with the most fuel-efficient cars on the market. The teams then followed a real-world engineering process based on the same process GM uses for developing its own vehicles to re-engineer the vehicle with their advanced design.

During EcoCAR 2 Year 1, teams focused on designing their vehicles — including virtually testing their cars’ architectures and developing all the systems necessary to turn their vehicles into plug-in hybrids. In the second year, teams redesigned their physical vehicles using cutting-edge automotive engineering processes. Year 2 finals culminated with on-road vehicle testing at the same proving grounds course that GM uses to test its own vehicles.

As part of the last year of the competition, students have continued to improve their vehicles, refining them into near-production prototypes. They then traveled to Michigan and Washington, D.C., for a 12-day, two-part finale that included a 300-point safety inspection, a 100-mile emissions and energy consumption test to measure the vehicle’s fuel economy and an autocross event where professional drivers pushed the teams’ cars to the limits, zooming through a serpentine road course.

Throughout the entire competition, students were required to keep their vehicle’s viability and consumer appeal in mind, and judges graded the vehicles on their noise, vibration and overall finish.

Ohio State University’s vehicle came out on top after taking the lead in multiple categories, including best pre-competition safety & technical inspection, lowest criteria emissions and best communications plan. The team won a total of 21 awards over the course of the Year 3 competition — for their plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that runs on electricity and E85. This setup gives the car about 40 miles of all-electric driving with an additional 150-250 miles of driving using the internal combustion engine.

Read more about EcoCAR 2.

  • U.S. Department of Energy