Reaching the Goal of One Million Electric Vehicles by 2015

ecocar02June is usually the time when college students shift gears for the summer, but for some engineering students, June is the time to literally get everything in gear. The students involved in the EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge competition have spent this, their first year, designing a new and advanced architecture for a 2008 Saturn Vue to reduce petroleum use and increase fuel efficiency.

EcoCAR is a three-year competition that builds on the 20-year history of DOE advanced vehicle technology competitions by giving engineering students the chance to design and build advanced vehicles that demonstrate cutting-edge automotive technologies. This important partnership aims to inspire and support the next generation of scientists and engineers around the common goal of sustainable mobility. To prepare for the June 12 year-end EcoCAR Competition Finals, these students are preparing to dazzle GM and DOE officials with their designs – just as if they were designing the next car to roll off the production line.

As new automotive technology gets attention in the consumer market, it is also gaining political attention. President Obama recently announced $2.4 billion in funding as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to encourage the production of next-generation plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and advanced battery components for such vehicles. The Act also includes a $7,500 incentive for buyers of these vehicles. Many of the student teams are ahead of the electric curve, having already incorporated electric components into their vehicles.

Eight of the EcoCAR teams, including Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University, The Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, University of Wisconsin, University of Victoria and Virginia Tech chose to design extended-range electric vehicles (EREV), which, like GM’s Chevy Volt, demonstrate full performance with an electric powertrain that can extend the range of the vehicle with its onboard fuel storage. The EcoCAR Challenge teams that selected an EREV as their architecture will use either B20 biodiesel or E85 ethanol to extend the range of their electric vehicles.

Five of the 17 EcoCAR teams, including Georgia Tech, Howard University, Michigan Tech University, Texas Tech, and West Virginia University, have designed PHEVs which are constructed with a lithium ion battery, many of them generously provided by A123 Systems. The battery can be recharged by plugging into the wall and the vehicle may operate without using the engine at all. Once the battery is depleted the vehicle can still operate as a regular hybrid. The architectures will use either B20 or E85 to extend the range of the vehicles.
One EcoCAR team, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology has chosen to design a hybrid- electric vehicle, which uses two sources of energy – combining an engine with one or more electric motors and a battery pack, and will also use biodiesel.

Two teams, University of Waterloo and Missouri University of Science and Technology, have designed fuel cell PHEVs, which use onboard hydrogen fuel cells to either propel the vehicle or recharge a battery pack. The battery pack can be charged using a home electrical outlet. This type of vehicle uses significant battery energy before relying on the fuel cell to extend the range of the vehicle.

Finally, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology team chose to design a full function electric vehicle, which has an all-electric motor powering its drive train and has over 100 miles of range. It stores energy in lithium ion batteries that can be charged using a home electrical outlet.

Designing these vehicles is no small task; it’s not just a kit car put together in the garage. Students must follow engineering design principles set by GM professional engineers. And the technology used in this competition is certainly the most advanced available. All of the designs use state-of-the-art lithium ion battery technology, so the vehicles can store more electric energy in smaller, lighter packages. Rules of the competition also ensure that each vehicle architecture retains its real-world usefulness and safety.

If we’re going to reach our goal of getting one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, there’s nothing like the enthusiasm of young engineering students to help make it happen.

Follow the progress of the teams and the competition at

Connie Bezanson; Lead Engineer, Program Planning, U.S Department of Energy’s Office of Vehicle Technologies, contributed this blog post.

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