UVic Torch -- Spring 2009
Spring 2009,
Volume 30, Number 1

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Wise and Crawford, with hardware for simulating and testing vehicle systems.
Photography by JULIE NIXON, BA ’99

Students take the “EcoCar” challenge.

As the North American auto sector frantically restructures and seeks government bailouts, a group of engineering students is coolly working on building a greener car.

More than 40 UVic students and faculty are designing a vehicle that can minimize environmental impacts and have some power to boot. UVic is competing with 16 other universities in the continent-wide “EcoCar” challenge. The objective is to re-design a 2009 Saturn Vue into an extended range electric vehicle hybrid, similar to the soon-to-be released Chevy Volt.

The UVic crew recognized that reality and function had to go together, hence their plug-in hybrid concept. “Most of us drive something like 40 kilometres a day,” says Curran Crawford, BEng ’01, a mechanical engineering professor and EcoCar team advisor. As well, Team UVic wanted to design a vehicle that would be able to handle the island’s varied terrain and have enough power to tow a trailer or boat.

Accepted into the three-year competition last spring, the students have since designed an electric power train, ensuring all the components work together before their Saturn arrives in August.

“We have to make it better than the GM hybrids, otherwise we don’t look too good,” says Jeremy Wise, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, the project’s team leader.

So far, the UVic team has fared well, receiving top marks for the computer-designed plans they submitted to Argonne National Laboratories, a division of the US Department of Energy, a headline sponsor of the competition. GM is the other main sponsor.

“Right now we are at the head of the pack,” Wise says.

Excited by the prospect of working on environmental technology, Wise, now 29, went back to school four years ago. “The environmental aspect of the project was pretty appealing,” Wise says. “One of the reasons I went back to school is to work on this kind of project. It was kind of a no-brainer to work on something like this.”

Crawford is also heartened that the Detroit Three seem to be moving toward greener technology. “I think finally they have realized that building big SUVs isn’t the way to go.”

The UVic EcoCar team is supported by $3,000 in grants from the UVic Alumni Association.

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