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 vehicles 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. During the three-year program, General Motors provided vehicles, vehicle components, seed money, technical mentoring and operational support. The U.S. Department of Energy and its research and development facility, Argonne National Laboratory, provided competition management, team evaluation and technical and logistical support.
In the first year of EcoCAR, 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 function properly. Teams also used software-in-the-loop (SIL) and hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) to better develop controls and subsystems.
Years Two and Three
In Years Two and Three, students translated their design into reality and developed a working vehicle that meets the competition’s goals. The teams came together at the end of each academic year to compete against the other university teams in more than a dozen static and dynamic events.
During the weeklong competition, student teams demonstrated the vehicles so when compared to stock production vehicles they meet or exceed the following goals: