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Meeting the Challenge: Rose-Hulman Has Best-Ever Finish in DOE's EcoCAR Competition

June 24, 2011

The lessons were many and the sense of accomplishment grand from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's participation in the U.S. Department of Energy's EcoCAR Challenge.  The three-year advanced vehicle technology engineering for a select group of North American colleges has served as an incentive for the next generation of automotive engineers.

  Colorful Vehicle: Rose-Hulman's EcoCAR sport utility vehicle added lots of color to this year's U.S. Department of Energy's EcoCAR Challenge.

Rose-Hulman had its best-ever finish in the competition, with its modified biodiesel sports utility vehicle placing a strong ninth.  The team also earned second-place honors for the most innovative use of graphical system design, an award sponsored by National Instruments.

The EcoCAR Challenge gave Rose-Hulman students a chance to design ultra-fuel-efficient, low-emissions and high-performing vehicles with 300 miles of range.  Students re-engineered nearly every component of a gasoline-dependant SUV, provided by General Motors Corporation, with sustainable features.

Rose-Hulman was one of 16 colleges undertaking this challenge.

"As always, it was a challenging competition against the best schools in the nation," stated faculty co-advisor Zac Chambers, associate professor of mechanical engineering.  "We had some Original Equipment Manufacturer problems which kept our vehicle from running as intended and cost us some valuable points.  However, EcoCAR was an unparalleled learning opportunity for our students."

In the first year of the EcoCAR Challenge, students focused on the design process.  Meanwhile, the designs became reality in the second and third years.  Each year culminated with a systems and performance review.  This year's competition finals had the vehicles being tested at GM's proving grounds near Detroit and test drives in Washington, D.C.  The SUVs were judged for safety, braking, acceleration, emissions snd consumer acceptability.

On The Track: Rose-Hulman's EcoCAR vehicle completes one of the many tests during the Year Three competition at General Motors' proving grounds in Milford, Mich.


"Getting this car to operate safely and reliably was a real focus and challenge for us throughout Year Three," stated Jon Nibert, Rose-Hulman's electrical team leader.  "We're very proud of what we brought to the competition."

Kyle Mason, CAD team leader, added: "It was so awesome to get to test our vehicle at GM's Milford Proving Grounds.  Normally, I don't like getting up at 4 a.m. but to get to drive our car at Milford was totally worth it."

The drive behind the competition is working with and mentoring student engineers, stated Kent Helfrich, GM executive director for electronic controls and software.  GM's take away for sponsoring the competition is the ability to meet and hire some of the brightest students.  Over the past five years, GM has hired over 70 students from EcoCAR and its predecessor, Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainability.  Approximately 98 percent of participating students have a job offer before graduation.

"I can't say how much this program gives them a leg up on the rest of their career," stated Helfrich in a GM press release.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu also talked about how the competition helps train the next generation of U.S. auto industry workers.  "With the experience and skills these innovative students have gained through the EcoCAR competition, they will help reduce our nation's reliance on oil imports and keep U.S. industries competitive in the global marketplace," he stated in an event press release. 

  Happy Team: Rose-Hulman students, faculty advisors and GM mentor were proud of the team's effort after three years of the EcoCAR Challenge.

"As a brand new member to the team, I had no idea how high the expectation levels are for EcoCAR," stated Rose-Hulman team member Kenton Hochstetler, a junior mechanical engineering major.  "I'm really glad that I was able to see Year Three in action and understand the expectations GM and DOE have for this competition."

With EcoCar now history, Rose-Hulman's team already is preparing for the next challenge.  It previously accepted an invitation to enter EcoCar2: Plugging into the Future, another three-year challenge that, this time, involves a GM-donated Chevy Malibu.

"We look forward to applying what we've learned in EcoCAR into EcoCAR2," stated Chambers.

Hochstetler added: "I know that I've got a lot of work to do."

Learn more about the EcoCAR Challenge at and go behind the scenes of the competition at The Green Garage blog (  View videos (many of them featuring Rose-Hulman EcoCAR team members) at: and