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including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Car factory team chosen for fuel-efficiency challenge

By Liz Crumbley

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 10 - October 26, 1995

The sponsors of the FutureCar Challenge have selected Virginia Tech as one of 12 universities nation-wide to help design the next generation of automobiles.

The challenge is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Council for Automotive Research, a joint research venture of Chrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co., and General Motors Corp.

The automotive manufacturers have donated cars to each of the 12 student teams, which will transform the standard cars into vehicles that offer up to three times their original fuel efficiency while maintaining the original prices, performance, and convenience.

The Virginia Tech "Car Factory" students received a Chevrolet Lumina, reported Doug Nelson, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and one of the team's faculty advisors.

The Tech team, composed of students from several engineering disciplines as well as a few non-engineers, will base their work with the Lumina on the Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) design that they entered in the 1995 HEV Challenge. The Tech Car Factory students placed best in safety and sportsmanship and second in design for their transformation of a Dodge Neon in the HEV Challenge in Detroit.

The Future Car Challenge is the next step in an effort begun in 1993 by the federal government and the Big Three car makers, who formed the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles to develop fuel efficient cars for mass production. The goal of the FutureCar Challenge, Nelson explained, is to turn a family-sized sedan into a low-fuel vehicle with all the conventional features, such as working air conditioners and heaters.

The Tech students will remove the Lumina's engine, gas tank, and muffler system and install a drive motor donated by the General Electric Corp., Nelson said. The redesigned car also will have a battery pack and an on-board auxiliary power unit.

The sponsors want the FutureCar entries to go 250 miles without stopping to recharge the batteries, Nelson said, so the Tech team hopes to find a gas turbine to put on board to drive a generator for recharging.

"This is a pragmatic competition," said Francois J. Castaing, vice-president of vehicle engineering for Chrysler. "Students won't be able to pull out the air conditioning to save weight or use the trunk to store a compressed natural-gas storage tank. These cars have to be marketable." Christine Ervin, DOE assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy said the student designers "must keep in mind that the vehicles should be capable of mass production by 2007."