MSU EcoCar 3 team heading into crucial stage of competition

Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

The team of Mississippi State University students working to transform a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro's fuel economy and power will begin installing modified mechanical aspects next week into the muscle car, team leaders said Wednesday.

EcoCar 3 is an advanced vehicular competition funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors. Sixteen universities from around the U.S. compete in a multi-year project to redesign vehicles into more powerful and sustainable models.

"The major implementation of our design into the Camaro will be over the course of next three weeks," said Ashley Madison, EcoCar communications manager. "We will disassemble the Camaro starting on Monday hopefully."

The MSU team will use a custom gearbox, a smaller engine and three separate motors in the modified vehicle. Two of the motors will supply power to the wheels, while the other will be used to generate power from the engine. Two of the motors will draw power from an electronic car battery pack, team leaders said in November.

"One of our biggest risks for our architecture is our gearbox, considering the fact we have seven gears," Madison said. "It's a very high risk for our design."

The majority of testing and design implementation takes place at the Center for Advanced Vehicular Services at MSU in the Thad Cochran Research Park on campus. Parts of the gearbox were machined at an outside facility.

MSU finished in first place in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012. The first year of competition focuses on development, the second year is devoted to integration of design components into the vehicle. In the third year, the vehicle will be 65 percent complete, and the final year focuses on consumer acceptability. The team is currently in year two of the four year competition.

At the end of January, the team sent hardware to be tested and green-lit for ripping into the new Camaro by the competition committee in Austin, Texas as part of a winter workshop in which all competing teams met to brief the committee. The tests will help coordinate the response of the car following all modifications being put into the vehicle.

Until next week the team will finish design testing on an open vehicle chassis, Madison said. The team had a slight setback after gearbox parts had to be sent back to be modified, but testing will proceed, she added.

The team hopes to complete design implementation into the Camaro by April to allow for a month of further testing until the modified American classic must be sent to the GM facility in Yuma, Arizona, where the final phase of the of competition year takes place.

"It's so daunting," Madison said. "It looks like a huge track. The average temperature there is 110 degrees Fahrenheit every day. You better drink a lot of water and wear sunscreen. We were told we can't wear shorts or open-toed shoes. It's going to be interesting. That's where the most team bonding will happen because we will be in the garage for 12 hours a day working. It's going to be fun."

The team will head out west to put the needed phases into the vehicle before hopefully achieving extra competition points, Madison said. The requirements at the end of year three call for an ignition-capable vehicle and proof of all presented design components in the vehicle.

"We are very confident in our architecture," Madison said. "If we pull off what we are saying we are going to, there's no reason for us to not be successful in the competition. It's aggressive and it's risky, but it's going to be really challenging. Our team is up for it. We are excited about our architecture."