At this year's SAE Congress, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz lamented about the lack of hands-on experience of newly minted engineers. Well, his company and other sponsors are doing something about it with the Challenge X competition. The three-year program tests teams from 17 universities to come up with technology to reduce automotive energy consumption and emissions, and integrate their solutions into a Chevy Equinox SUV/passenger-car crossover vehicle.
While previous student competitions focused on hardware mods, the current contest includes a strong modeling and simulation component, as well as subsystem development and testing. Using a real-world approach based on GM's development processes, the program looks to provide more hands-on experience in vehicle development to better prepare the students for industry careers. GM is also furnishing the vehicles and other sponsor contributions include software development tools and kits provided by Freescale.
The first year just completed encompassed modeling vehicle design and controls, including subsystems, and technology selection. The latter considered a "well-to-wheel" analysis that calculated "upstream" energy use as well as vehicle emissions. The University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) was judged winner of the first segment, but all 17 teams met minimum targets.
The Waterloo design is a series fuel-cell hybrid that uses a Hydrogenics fuel-cell engine with a COBASYS 288-volt NiMH battery and a Ballard Power Systems 54-kW electric drive. The second place propulsion design from students at the University of Akron is a through-the-road parallel hybrid with a 1.9-liter Volkswagen biodiesel engine and a Ballard 65/45-kW drive motor. Ohio State University's third place design is a through-the-road parallel hybrid that uses a Panasonic NiMH battery and a 1.9-liter Fiat 110-kW biodiesel engine. (For definitions and more on how different types of hybrid cars function, visit Hybrid Car Guide or the U.S. Dept. of Energy's hybrid pages.)
In the next year, the competitors will advance power train development, demonstrating energy use and emissions goals. The last year sees refinement and delivery of a "showroom" vehicle meeting consumers' needs.