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EcoCAR 2 Team Selects Plug-In Hybrid Architecture for Development of Efficient Vehicle

March 1, 2012

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology students have selected the use of split-parallel Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) technology in its General Motors-donated 2013 Chevrolet Malibu for the EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future automotive engineering design challenge.

     Eco Car 2-1

On The Right Track: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology EcoCAR 2 team members are getting ready to incorporate hybrid vehicle architecture to improve the energy-efficiency of a General Motors-donated 2013 Chevrolet Malibu.

Rose-Hulman is one of the 15 North American universities participating in the three-year competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Argonne National Laboratory and General Motors and 20 other government and industry leaders.  The challenge gives students the opportunity to gain real world eco-friendly automotive engineering experience while striving to further improve the energy-efficiency of an already highly-efficient vehicle -- the Malibu.

However, Rose-Hulman students won't stop there.  Much like the challenges facing U.S. automakers, EcoCAR 2 team members must balance the challenge of increasing the vehicle's energy efficiency, and reducing the vehicle's greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum consumption with maintaining the performance, safety and overall consumer acceptability of the original Malibu.

To meet these technical challenges, each EcoCAR 2 team designed its own unique PHEV architecture and utilized a crowd-sourcing format to select the powertrain components that will be integrated into their advanced technology vehicles.  This technique mimics industry's global vehicle development process, which has its eyes set on advanced controls and software to develop future vehicles. 

Hybrid vehicles on the road today already reach peak efficiency, so Rose-Hulman's EcoCAR 2 team must aim to get every last drop of energy possible out of the vehicle. This hands-on experience is made possible by the sponsor contributions that exceed $24 million in software, hardware and cash donations to the team, and more than $745 million to the 15 teams combined.

"Architecture is a powerful way to reduce the fuel consumption and emissions of our Chevy Malibu, while maintaining its status as a top-of-the-line consumer car," said Rose-Hulman EcoCAR 2 Engineering Manager Jon Nibert.  "We chose architecture not only for its environmental benefits but because it is a technology that help reduce petroleum use and cut greenhouse gas emissions."

Eco Car 2-2       
Learning New Technology: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Marc Herniter (left) , co-faculty advisor for the EcoCAR 2 team, helps students learn some of the cutting-edge technology that will used throughout the three-year vehicle development competition.

Split-parallel plug-in electric hybrid vehicles utilize two sub-systems: the pre-transmission, located in the front of the car, and the post-transmission, located at the back of the car.  The pre-transmission portion of the powertrain has an E-85 compatible General Motors-supplied 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.  The engine's conventional alternator is replaced with a small electric motor.  The post-transmission consists primarily of two components, the General Motors-supplied differential and the Remy-supplied electric motor.  The last part of the powertrain is an A123 battery that is part of both sub-systems.

The chosen architecture is very versatile from a controls standpoint, according to Nibert.  The vehicle can be operated in three different modes: E-85 fueling an internal combustion engine, electric and hybrid.  Both the internal combustion engine and the rear mounted electric motor have enough power to propel the car.  This will allow an engine-only mode and an electric mode to be used at all normal operating speeds. 

Hybrid operation adds some complexity to the controls strategy, but also a lot of options, stated Rose-Hulman EcoCAR 2 Co-Faculty Advisor Zac Chambers, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.  Hybrid operations require blending of the E-85 and electric powertrains.  This requires blending the front and rear electric motors with the internal combustion engine.  The chosen architecture also allows engine start/stop and regenerative braking.

"For this competition, we wanted to donate a vehicle that reflected today's consumers' needs, and the new 2013 Malibu made the most sense in terms of its size and flexibility," stated Kent Helfrich, executive director of electronic controls and software engineering for General Motors.  "EcoCAR2 students will take our Malibu and re-engineer their vehicle to reduce its environmental impact, yet still deliver real-life, practical results.  This is not an easy job, but it's very rewarding.  It's what we do at GM every day."


"Learn More About EcoCAR Vehicle Architecture Development"


Patrick Davis, program manager of DOE's Vehicle Technologies Program, added: "The future in hybrid technology is happening now.  It used to be that we were on the edge of this type of technology -- now we are there and these students are attempting to take it even further."

This first year of the EcoCAR 2 competition emphasizes the use of math-based design tools and simulation techniques for designing a successful vehicle foundation.  Each team will receive its' 2013 Malibu in May.  Then, students will spend the next two years rebuilding the vehicle based on their new architecture and continue to refine, test and improve the vehicle's operation.

EcoCAR 2 sponsors contributing to the $745 million in donations includes the U.S. Department of Energy, General Motors, Natural Resources Canada, MathWorks, California Air Resources Board, Clean Cities, dSPACE, Inc., A123 Systems, Inc., Freescale, AVL Powertrain Engineering Inc., National Science Foundation, ETAS, Snap-On Tools, Magna E-Car Systems, Magna Powertrain, Robert Bosch LLC, FleetCarma, Siemens PLM Software, CD-adapco, Ventor CANtech Inc., Woodward and Caterpillar.

Learn more about Rose-Hulman's EcoCAR 2 team at

Meet Rose-Hulman EcoCAR 2 team member Jon Nibert at