EcoCAR2 team searches for efficiency in design competition

July 30, 2013
By Chris Saunders

The College of Engineering has for years housed Wolfpack Motorsports, a student-run organization where members can raise money for the construction and racing of student-designed race cars. And during that time, the club has been instrumental in turning out engineers who have found success in NASCAR, like Sprint Cup crew chief Luke Lambert, who is part of a profile on Wolfpack alumni in motor sports in the summer issue of NC State magazine.

NC State's 2013 EcoCAR2 team.

NC State’s 2013 EcoCAR2 team.

But Eric Klang, the faculty adviser for Wolfpack Motorsports, cautions against thinking the club and other projects within the college are only producing graduates who work in NASCAR. “I would guess only 25 percent are in NASCAR,” he says. “Most of them are going elsewhere.”

That “elsewhere” is sometimes automotive suppliers and manufacturers that look to NC State to produce the next great wave of engineers. And one of the places they are currently looking is on a team of Wolfpack engineers currently competing in the EcoCAR2 competition, a college automotive challenge geared toward finding a way to reduce a car’s impact on the environment.

Established by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors, which donated the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu for the team to tear down and build back up, EcoCAR is a three-year competition where 15 teams at universities across the country design, build and refine a more fuel efficient car that’s ready for production.

Graduate student and NC State’s EcoCAR2 team member Jonathan Lohr says fuel efficiency is only one part of the equation. He says it’s entirely possible to design a car that gets 1,000 miles per gallon, but that no one would drive it. “It would be horrible,” he says. “It would go two miles an hour. You couldn’t turn.”

So the team, which is in the second year of competition, has to look at factors that would make the car consumer acceptable, like how the car accelerates and handles during a lane-change. And the team also has a business arm that has to seek out sponsorships and an outreach arm to publicize the team’s efforts.

It’s that practical thinking about an everyday car experience that Klang, who also advises the EcoCAR2 team, says presents a different challenge than building a race car. “EcoCAR is a lot harder. It’s more intense,” he says. “It’s a real car. [Race cars] don’t have to have turning signals, air bags, air conditioning and heating. Most cars now have 20-some computers on board.”

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