EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge is a three-year collegiate advanced vehicle technology engineering competition established by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and General Motors (GM), and is being managed by Argonne National Laboratory.

The competition challenges 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 use a real-world engineering process to design and integrate their advanced technology solutions into a GM-donated vehicle.
Students are designing and building advanced propulsion solutions that are based on vehicle categories from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) regulations. They explore 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 will incorporate lightweight materials into the vehicles, improve aerodynamics and utilize alternative fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen.

Teams are following a real-world approach modeled after GM’s global vehicle development process (GVDP), giving students valuable experience in real-world engineering practices, resource allocation and meeting deliverables. While previous student engineering competitions focused primarily on hardware modifications, EcoCAR includes a unique focus on modeling and simulation, as well as subsystem development and testing.

During the three-year program, General Motors will provide 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, will provide competition management, team evaluation and technical and logistical support. Through sponsoring such advanced vehicle engineering competitions, GM and the U.S. Department of Energy are helping to develop the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Year One

In the first year of EcoCAR, participating teams will use 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 also use software to ensure that their chosen components fit into their vehicle and that the electrical, mechanical and software systems function properly. Teams also use 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 translate their design into reality and develop a working vehicle that meets the competition’s goals. The teams come 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 will demonstrate the vehicles so when compared to stock production vehicles they meet or exceed the following goals:

    • Incorporate technologies that reduce petroleum energy consumption on the basis of a total fuel cycle
      well-to-wheel (WTW) analysis;
    • Increase vehicle energy efficiency;
    • Reduce criteria and WTW greenhouse gas (GHG) and criteria emissions; and
    • Maintain consumer acceptability in the areas of performance, utility and safety.