From drawing board to proving ground: EcoCar 2 heads to final competition


- Suzanne Ahearne

UVic’s EcoCAR 2 team of engineering students aren’t just getting hands-on experience while they study—they’re getting their hands dirty.

Since April 2011, close to 60 students in mechanical, electrical, computer and software engineering, and business have been hard at work—using multi-million dollar dSPACE, Siemens and MathWorks modelling and testing tools, and a mechanic’s full suite of wrenches and ratchets—re-designing and retrofitting a GM-donated 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco into a next generation plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

The challenge is to reduce the environmental impact of the stock vehicle by improving its fuel efficiency and reducing its emissions, while retaining the vehicle’s performance and consumer appeal.

After three years of work, the team is taking their new and improved Malibu down from the hoist and shipping it off to the Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition—EcoCAR 2: Plugging into the Future—an elite challenge established and supported by General Motors, the US Department of Energy, Natural Resources Canada, and 28 other industrial and government sponsors.

UVic is one of 15 universities in North America, and one of only two in Canada, invited to participate. And the last stages of this multi-year competition take place at GM’s Vehicle Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan, and in Washington, DC from June 1 to 12.

The vehicle retrofit that the UVic student team has done means the vehicle can run in pure electric mode, or in different hybrid electric modes. In electric-only mode, it can run for 55 kms on a single charge, satisfying the needs of 80 per cent of North American commuters. This kind of hybrid-electric combination is especially suited to places like Victoria, where more than 90 per cent of commuters drive within that daily range, and where BC Hydro provides electricity that is relatively cheap and generated through cleaner technology, says John Jankowski-Walsh, MASc student and Mechanical Team Lead.

“The name of the game is to get the overall optimal performance of the two electric motors and an engine with a fuel blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.  We could run the vehicle in pure electric mode, or in different hybrid electric modes.”

Zuomin Dong, faculty advisor and UVic’s chair of mechanical engineering, says what’s happening in the Green Vehicle Research, Testing and Training Centre—a.k.a. the Green Garage—is bringing the frontier of green technology a lot closer, faster.

“UVic’s program is very research-focused,” Dong says, “and industry values this very highly.” The students who have participated in the EcoCAR program (now six years since the launch of the first EcoCAR) have been in big demand, he explains. “Over the past three years, GM has hired 10 of our past members to work in their hybrid power-train technology research and development, in Michigan and Toronto.”

And what’s next for the Green Garage? Future prospects include hybrid Formula SAE racing cars, as well as marine applications for ferries, tugboats and other ships.


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Keywords: ecocar, environment, General Motors, the US Department of Energy, Natural Resources Canada, technology, mechanical engineering, Green Garage, research

People: John Jankowski-Walsh, Zuomin Dong

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