EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge, is a three-year competition involving 17 university teams from the U.S. and Canada trying to figure out ways to turn the Saturn Vue in to electric vehicles with improved fuel economy and lower emissions while maintaining the vehicle's performance and appeal to car buyers.
The competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors (GM), allowed the teams to explore a variety of options for electrifying the vehicles.
About half of the teams, including the Ohio State team, designed extended-range electric vehicles, six chose to go with plug-in hybrids, two went with fuel cell plug-in hybrids and one chose to design a fully electric vehicle. All of the teams used lithium-ion batteries and added plug-in capabilities, and the teams that made designs that utilize liquid fuel went with fuel from renewable resources.
The Ohio State team's design uses E85 (a fuel made up of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) to power a 1.8-liter Honda engine, which recharges a battery pack.
The first milestone was just designing the vehicles using advanced software and computer modeling tools from GM. Next, the teams have to build the vehicles they designed, and then they will be refined and go though engineering tests and improvements.
GM is providing the vehicles, parts, seed money, mentoring and operational support. The DOE's Argonne National Laboratory research facility is providing team evaluation, technical and logistical support, and is managing the competition.