For the past four years, 16 teams from across the country have been working to transform a stock Chevy Camaro into an efficient hybrid vehicle as part of EcoCAR 3, a challenge sponsored by the Department of Energy and General Motors.

The end of EcoCAR 3 marks the 30th year of Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC), starting with the 1988 Methanol Marathon. Since its inception in 1994, Virginia Tech's Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT) has taken part in nine AVTCs under the leadership of Doug Nelson, professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering. The run includes a fourth-place finish this year, missing third place by a single point to Alabama, to wrap up EcoCAR 3.

While featured as a senior design project, EcoCAR 3 isn’t limited to mechanical engineers. Students from the computer science and electrical and computer engineering departments and communications in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences also play crucial roles on the team, contributing both to success in the garage and earning points during the competition.

“All of the students involved in HEVT are gaining knowledge, not just in how to solve complex engineering challenges, but also in leadership, in project management, public relations, and communications. The AVTCs are an excellent way for students to learn how to problem solve and operate in a cross-disciplinary, collaborative environment,” Nelson said.

For EcoCAR 3, the HEVT team took a unique approach to a hybrid challenge by installing a V8 engine and modifying it with hybrid technology.

“We went big early,” laughed Nelson. “The Camaro is a quintessential American muscle car and when you put a four-cylinder engine in a Camaro, you really rip out the soul of the car. Part of the brief for EcoCAR 3 was marketability and consumer appeal, and we wanted to show that you could have the best of both worlds – efficiency and the exhilaration you get with a V8 muscle car.”

The team won first-place honors in overall project management, closeout report, execution plan, vehicle handling, 0-60 mph acceleration, emissions, energy consumption, well-to-wheel criteria emissions, and the autocross, where GM drivers test vehicle handling and performance on a closed course.

In addition, the team took second in emissions testing event test plan and 50-70 mph acceleration and third place in emissions and energy consumption well-to-wheel petroleum energy use, emissions and energy consumption well-to-wheel greenhouse gas emissions, 60-0 braking, and AVL drive quality.

“At the end of the day I think we accomplished most of what we set out to do,” Nelson said. “Of course a fourth-place finish isn’t what you’re trying for, but with each competition, we take what we’ve learned and we incorporate that into the next one. For our students, the competition results matter less than what they take away from the experience of HEVT. What they’ve learned here will help them every day of their working lives.”

HEVT would like to thank all of the EcoCAR 3 competition level sponsors and local team sponsors. 

Written by Rosaire Bushey

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