EcoCar Logo

EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge is a three-year student led design competition co-sponsored by General Motors (GM) and the Department of Energy (DOE), and facilitated by Argonne National Laboratory. The competition focuses on development, exploration and implementation of advanced vehicle technologies. Competition participants include 16 top engineering universities from across North America.

The goals of the EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge competition are the same as its predecessors in the DOE’s series of vehicle design competitions, known as the Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition: To improve vehicle efficiency and reduce emissions, without sacrificing utility to the consumer. University teams will strive to do this through use of biofuels, plug-in energy, and hybridization. The platform for each team will be a GM donated 2009 Saturn VUE.

Students will follow a design process mirroring GM’s Global Vehicle Development Process (GVDP). This includes a heavy emphasis on modeling and simulation in the first year of the competition. The following years of the competition will then focus on implementation and refinement of the vehicle technologies. At the conclusion of each year, teams will gather together to participate in events designed to compare each team’s progress, and an overall winner for that year will be named.

EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge was established by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and General Motors (GM) and is being managed by Argonne National Laboratory. More information is available at www.ecoCARchallenge.org and photos are available at http://archive.ecocarphoto.com.


The 16 university teams participating in EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge are:

  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Daytona Beach, FL
  • Georgia Tech – Atlanta, GA
  • Michigan Technological University – Houghton, MI
  • Mississippi State University – Starkville, MS
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology – Rolla, MO
  • North Carolina State University – Raleigh, NC
  • Ohio State University – Columbus, OH
  • Pennsylvania State University – University Park, PA
  • Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology – Terre Haute, IN
  • Texas Tech University – Lubbock, TX
  • University of Ontario Institute of Technology – Oshawa, Ontario
  • University of Victoria – Victoria, British Columbia
  • University of Waterloo – Waterloo, Ontario
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison – Madison, WI
  • Virginia Tech – Blacksburg, VA
  • West Virginia University – Morgantown, WV

Competition Details

Year One

In the first year of EcoCAR student teams receive $10,000 to begin developing their vehicle designs through the use of GM’s GVDP. Year One is an essential foundation for establishing a successful vehicle by emphasizing the use of math-based design tools – such as Powertrain Systems Analysis toolkit (PSAT) or similar vehicle models – and the development of software-in-the-loop (SIL) and hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) simulation techniques.

After researching, comparing and selecting advanced technologies that meet the competition and team goals, students will procure hardware to develop and test their powertrain and other subsystems.

The emphasis is on optimizing a practical, realizable solution that will meet the goals of the competition. Vehicles are evaluated on a well-to-wheels approach, which highlights all the issues involved in energy efficiency and emissions including the fuel source, the propulsion system and the vehicle’s real-world utility and consumer appeal. By broadening the technical focus of the competition to include more aspects of the entire vehicle development process, the university teams will have a greater opportunity to expand their learning and refine their vehicle solutions. Teams that successfully complete this first year of EcoCAR will earn a key to a new 2009 Saturn Vue and a place in the second phase of the competition.

Year Two and Three

During the second and third years of the competition, students will build the vehicle and continue to refine, test, and improve vehicle operation. At the end of Years Two and Three, the re-engineered student vehicle prototypes will compete in a week-long competition of engineering tests. These tests are similar to the tests GM conducts to determine a prototype’s readiness for production. The Greenhouse gas, Regulated Emissions, and Energy in Transportation (GREET) model, developed at Argonne National Laboratory, will be used to assess a well-to-wheel analysis of the greenhouse gas impacts of each technology approach the teams select.

During the week-long competition, student teams will demonstrate the vehicles so when compared to stock production vehicles they meet or exceed the following goals:

  • Incorporate technologies that reduce petroleum energy consumption on the basis of a total fuel cycle well-to-wheel (WTW) analysis
  • Increase vehicle energy efficiency
  • Reduce WTW greenhouse gas (GHG) and criteria emissions
  • Maintain consumer acceptability in the areas of performance, utility, and safety

Competition Judging

Competition judges will hail from industry, government, and academia. Team vehicles will be judged extensively in categories such as towing capacity, acceleration, off-road performance, greenhouse gas impact, total well-to-wheels fuel economy, emissions, and consumer acceptability. Teams will also be required to give technical oral presentations and submit an SAE-style technical paper.

Similar competitions previous to EcoCAR

Since 1987, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has sponsored more than 45 advanced vehicle technology competitions through DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, including Formula SAE, Tour de Sol, Propane Challenge, FutureCar, Ethanol Vehicle Challenge, FutureTruck and Challenge X. These competitions represent a unique coalition of government, industry, and academia who have joined forces to explore sustainable vehicle solutions.