UW-Madison hybrid-vehicle team places second nationally

MADISON - Tired of high gas costs and poor sport utility vehicle (SUV) fuel efficiency?

A group of engineering students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has spent the last three years building one of the cleanest and most fuel-efficient SUVs in North America. The principles behind the vehicle, appropriately named the "Moovada," could one day be incorporated into mass-production hybrid SUVs.

The effort is part of a contest, "Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility," sponsored by General Motors and U.S. Department of Energy.

Today (Thursday, June 8), in Mesa, Ariz., the UW-Madison team was awarded second place in the competition, coming in just behind a team from Virginia Tech University. Third place went to a team from Mississippi State University.

"We wanted to place in the top three, and we did that," says Glenn Bower, the team's adviser and a faculty associate in the College of Engineering. The UW-Madison team will bring home $6,000 in prize money and 10 individual awards. For the past week, UW-Madison engineering students put their vehicle to the test at a proving ground in Mesa during the final round of the competition.

The competition challenged students to revamp a Chevrolet Equinox, maintaining the SUV's performance while enhancing its fuel efficiency by 50 percent and decreasing tail-pipe emissions. UW-Madison is one of 17 colleges from the United States and Canada competing in the challenge to make the best hybrid SUV.

According to Liz Casson, team leader and UW-Madison student, the Moovada is unique because of the vehicle's power train, the design that transmits power to the vehicle.

"The power train is a through-the-road, parallel diesel-electric hybrid design," Casson explains. "It basically means that the electric motor powers the rear wheels while the engine powers the front wheels."

It is a design that maintains the Equinox's handling and performance, but improves its fuel efficiency and emissions. Casson says the Moovada gets approximately 35 miles per gallon (mpg) - 20 mpg better than the 15 mpg that a regular SUV averages.

In addition to fuel economy, events tested the vehicle's brakes and handling, its ability to tow a trailer and its emissions. UW-Madison has competed in events similar to Challenge X since 1992, winning five first-place finishes.

In the future, the principles of the Moovada and other participating vehicles could one day be incorporated into regular SUVs. Bower explains that if gas prices were greater than $4 per gallon, the Moovada would pay for itself.

"The Moovada is a highly hybridized vehicle," says Bower. "It would be a $3,000 to $5,000 cost premium to add this to a stock vehicle. Fuel prices would need to be around $4 per gallon for consumers to recapture their investment."

Challenge X is good for the future of the SUV - and for the future of the student participants. Bower explains that the event trains students in hybrid automotive concepts, skills that make graduating students extremely attractive to recruiters from the automotive industry.

As for the students, although they admit the competition has been time-consuming, it has also been rewarding.

"I've probably spent too much time on this project," says Casson. "[But] for me, it was a place for me to do something constructive, do something with my hands, learn something new - all while being with my friends. It was just where I wanted to be."

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For more information, visit http://www.challengex.org/.

- Niki Fritz, (608) 262-8287, nfritz@wisc.edu


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