KNOXVILLE—The University of Tennessee has been selected to compete in the EcoCAR 3 Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC), continuing a tradition of extended participation in all but one competition series in the twenty-six-year history of AVTCs.
"It is a tremendous honor for us, once again, to be able to be a part of such a prestigious competition," said Tickle College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis. "Dr. (David) Irick and his team really put in a lot of effort, and I think that is reflected on their continual inclusion in the event."
Sixteen universities will be competing, using a Chevrolet Camaro as their stock car.
"EcoCAR is an opportunity for the next generation of automotive engineers to help design and build innovative advanced vehicles that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect the environment and save American families and businesses money at the pump," US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced. "Through this competition, North American students gain valuable real-life experience that they can use to bring the auto industry into the cleaner energy future.
Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions began in 1988 when the US Department of Energy partnered with various automakers to sponsor the first AVTC. This will be the eleventh overall competition in a string that began with the "Methanol Marathon" and has included topics such as vehicle design, fuel challenges and vehicle electrification, and has expanded to include communications and business teams.
Established by the Energy Department and General Motors, and managed by Argonne National Laboratory, EcoCAR 3 is the latest AVTC aimed at developing the next generation of automotive engineers. The four-year program will conclude in the summer of 2018.
"Being selected to EcoCar3 validates our efforts in all of the AVTC competitions we've been in," said Irick, a research assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering and the ongoing faculty advisor for UT's AVTC teams. "It's an endorsement not just for our program and the support that the college has given, but also for the collaboration we have with the College of Business Administration and the College of Communication and Information."
"The competition used to be geared more toward alternate fuels, but it's been focused on hybrid vehicle technology since around 1992," said Irick.
Each competition lasts multiple years, with EcoCAR 2—including UT's current team—wrapping up this summer.
For EcoCAR 3 the goal will be for teams to focus on reducing costs and coming up with new innovations that make hybrid or electric vehicles more accessible and more likely to be adopted by the general public. The added challenge to teams this time is to make improvements in fuel efficiency and emissions reduction while maintaining performance, safety, and consumer appeal.
"That's the other part of the challenge," said Irick. "The end result of your car needs to be that you can't tell it apart from a stock model. It needs to look completely like something you could get at the dealer."
As part of the of the competition, teams are composed of engineers, researches and even their own media representatives. Typically, they contain fifteen to twenty team members, but some have as many as seventy-five.
UT's past teams—including the current EcoCAR 2 team—have been sponsored in part by local industries including DENSO and the Electric Power Research Institute, as well as the support that they've received from the university and alumni.
Support also comes in expertise, as General Motors and other auto-related businesses will be available to mentor and provide advice and feedback along the way.
"The help they give is just as important as anything financial," said Irick. "They really do give a lot to all of the teams in terms of support and advice."
In addition to the assistance that industry partners can lend teams along the way, students also have the added benefit of having worked with them throughout the process, leading many to employment with those companies.
"That's the great thing: It's not just simulated experience, it's honest real-world experience that these team members have once they are finished," said Irick. "At a minimum, it's like having a year of on-the-job training when they report to work. They're used to the software, the tools, the vehicle development process, so they can be immediately productive."
General Motors, in particular, has been a successful landing pad for UT's graduates.
"GM's EcoCAR 2 team quotes the statistic that approximately fifty percent of the students that go through AVTCs and then work for them have applied for a patent on a new idea or design within two or three years at the company," said Irick. "They've hired ten or so of our students from the last two AVTCs, and having that relationship is beneficial to the teams, to GM and to the students individually."
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