At the end of year two of the EcoCAR 3 competition, the team from West Virginia University won the “Team to Watch” award, which is presented to the school that shows strong improvement from year one as well as the potential to grow in future years of the competition.
That prediction came true on Tuesday, May 22, when WVU vaulted over perennial favorites University of Alabama, Virginia Tech, University of Tennessee and Georgia Tech to finish second overall in the four-year competition. The competition, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors and challenged teams from across the nation to redesign a Chevrolet Camaro to reduce its environmental impact while maintaining the muscle and performance expected from this iconic American car, was won for the fourth straight time by Ohio State University.
“Our students had a landmark year in the EcoCar competition,” said Andrew Nix, team advisor and associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. “I am so thrilled for all of my current students, especially those on the year four competition team, and to all of the past students who participated on the team since year one. We are bringing home some hardware and bragging rights!”
That “hardware” includes top honors in the AVL Drive Quality Event, which measures the balance between fuel economy and drive quality, the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems presentation, and second place in both the Final Technical Report and National Science Foundation Innovation Award.
Year four finals began with a week of rigorous safety, technical, drive quality and emissions testing at General Motors Desert Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona. For the second leg of competition, teams headed to southern California for track events, including autocross, acceleration and consumer appeal at the AutoClub Speedway in Fontana, California. Teams also spent several days presenting to judges and proving how they have developed into the next generation of engineers and business leaders who are prepared to enter the auto industry and related careers. Industry and government officials judged the presentations.
The teams then hit Los Angeles, California, roads for a 170-mile over-the-road event where the Chevrolet Camaros were scored based on performance with everyday driving applications. At the end of the second week, students had the opportunity to display their completed hybrid-electric Chevrolet Camaros with a car show at Hollywood's famed Magic Castle.
At the Desert Proving Grounds, the team was faced with some technical problems.
“When we went through the safety and tech inspections, we realized that the redesigned fuel tank needed a skid plate by competition rules,” said Nix. “We had to have that fabricated and tested to ensure it wouldn’t puncture. We also discovered we needed new control flashed onto the hybrid controller. That required us to wipe all of our scores in previous events off the board.”
Despite the setbacks, the team was still able to complete all events within in a 24-hour period.
“I am extremely proud of how our team was able to persevere through problems that came up during the competition,” said team engineering manager Matthew Bergman. Bergman, a native of Sewell, New Jersey, who is finishing his master’s degree in electrical engineering, will use the knowledge gained from this experience when he joins DENSO North America in July as a program manager for starters, alternators and hybrid electric vehicles.
OSU finished with 895 out of 1000 overall points, while WVU earned 817.
A three-year veteran of the program, Morgantown native Nick Connelly, who co-led the control team with Derek George of Ridgeley, admits to having lost a bit of his sanity these past few years.
“This project was the most challenging thing I have ever had to do,” Connelly said. “After three years in this program, I have lost a little sanity but gained so much more knowledge. I can’t wait to see where my experience in EcoCAR3 will take me in my future career.” Both Connelly and George are master’s candidates in mechanical engineering.
Joining Bergman, Connelly and George on the year-four team were graduate students Kelsey Plute (communications manager, MS, journalism, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Shane Haught (project manager and innovation team lead, MS, mechanical engineering, Mount Morris, Pennsylvania) and Priyashraba Misra (ADAS lead, PhD, computer engineering, Bhubaneswar, India). Undergraduates on the team include Zach Purdy (mechanical team lead, BS, mechanical engineering, Granville, Ohio), Thomas Harris (CSMS team member, BS, mechanical engineering, Falling Waters), Wyatt Kitzmiller (mechanical team member, BS, mechanical engineering, Morgantown), Curtis Stapleton (CSMS team member, BS, mechanical and aerospace engineering, Frederick, Maryland), Mark Hileman (ADAS team member, BS, computer engineering and biometrics, Morgantown) and Andrew Weers (ECE team lead, BS, electrical and computer engineering, Great Mills, Maryland).
The team was mentored by four-time WVU graduate Bill Cawthorne, who currently serves as GM’s senior manager for Propulsion Systems Global Transmission and Electrification Advanced Engineering.
“I don’t know that this team would be as successful without Bill’s daily guidance and mentorship,” said Nix. “We were able to tap into his vast experience in automotive technology.”
“I had the opportunity to join the team for the final couple Track Day at AutoClub Speedway and I was incredibly impressed by how hard they were working and how well they were performing,” said Gene Cilento, Glen H. Hiner Dean of the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. “Their performance in such a high-visibility competition not only elevates the visibility of WVU but also proves, yet again, that our students can successfully compete against the best in the country.”
“EcoCAR 3 is a great program that fosters future generations of automotive engineers and business people, encouraging them to become true innovators,” said Ken Morris, General Motors vice president of Global Product Programs. “This year's winners – and all the teams – are proof of that. It's a competition that GM is proud to support.”