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WVU team achieves fourth place finish in year three of EcoCAR 3 competition

EcoCarWith one year left to go in the four-year EcoCAR 3 competition, the team from West Virginia University finds itself in some pretty good company. After a two-week stint that featured stops in Michigan and Washington, D.C., the team from WVU placed fourth overall, joining Ohio State University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Georgia Tech at the top. 

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors, EcoCAR 3 is an advanced vehicle technology competition that gives teams from 16 universities across the nation four years to redesign a Chevrolet Camaro to reduce its environmental impact, while maintaining the muscle and performance expected from this iconic American car.

“One of the great things about the EcoCAR competition is that the student team members are faced with real-world situations and problems,” said four-time WVU graduate Bill Cawthorne, senior manager for advanced engineering in global transmission and electrification at General Motors and WVU EcoCAR team mentor. “They follow a vehicle development process similar to what is used in industry and use many of the same software design tools as industry professionals. They have to learn how to become leaders, to delegate, and to work as a team.”  

The WVU team, made up of students from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the Reed College of Media and the College of Business and Economics, headed to Milford, Michigan, to the General Motors Milford Proving Grounds where they underwent a series of safety and technical inspections including dynamic safety, acceleration and performance testing and energy consumption events. The WVU Camaro, which features a large electric motor that allows for easier maintenance and a higher speed threshold, performed exceptionally well during the dynamic and performance events that required the vehicle be evaluated in acceleration and braking, ride and drive quality, and consumer appeal, in addition to emissions and energy consumption.   

“We passed the dynamic safety test on the first attempt making WVU one of only seven teams that qualified for the autocross event, a cone course navigated at high speeds by GM professionals,” said Team Engineering manager Matt Bergman, a graduate student in electrical engineering from Clarksburg. “Our car finished the course in one minute and eight seconds, just three seconds more than the GM demonstration car.”   

The teams then headed to the nation’s capital, where they showcased their work in various technical, communications and project management presentations.  

“In preparation for the competition there was never a moment when the garage was empty. Our team worked day and night to get the wheels spinning in year three, however we went well beyond that,” said Team Communications Manager Caitlin Worrell, a graduate student in journalism from Virginia Beach, Virginia. “We were able to hold nine events both on campus and within our local community like our Snapchat Takeover and Camaro cookie decorating event. Through our outreach efforts we were able to reach more than 7,500 people in the Morgantown area and acquired four new local sponsors.”  

“The team as a whole worked extremely hard and spent countless hours to refine the vehicle and to improve project management while continuing our history of quality work in communications and outreach,” added Andrew Nix, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and EcoCAR 3 faculty advisor. “All the teams worked together throughout the year and having high-quality technical capabilities coupled with outstanding team leadership made the difference at this year’s competition.”   

The team placed fourth overall in the competition, up three spots from last year, and won first place in the AVL DRIVE Quality Event.  

“Throughout the two weeks of competition we had numerous judges and sponsors come up to us and comment on how impressed they were with the growth our team has made during the first three years of this competition,” said Team Project Manager Howard Bugg, a graduate student majoring in mechanical engineering from Morgantown. “EcoCAR can be a competition of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ with a few schools making up the upper tier year after year. Being able to break into that group with our fourth place finish was something extremely exciting for our team.”  

The team also placed fourth in project management with Bugg winning the Spirit of Project Management Award and Worrell placing third for Best Communications Program. When all was said and done the team brought home more than $8,000 in prize money.   

“I am so proud of the each and every member of WVU’s EcoCAR 3 team,” said Cawthorne. “This team worked extremely hard and was dedicated to being successful. They were able to build upon the strong foundation established by the year one and two teams to continue rising through the rankings. They have represented WVU and the Statler College in the best possible way.”   

The team has already begun preparing for next year’s fourth and final EcoCAR 3 competition, which will focus on refining vehicle controls to present a production ready prototype Camaro.   

“The competition is very strong and simply being one of the 16 participating schools is an accomplishment, which makes the fourth place finish all that much sweeter,” said Cawthorne. “The climb gets steeper as you approach the top, so the road to number one will be difficult. There are strong teams ahead of us and those behind us will be working hard to leapfrog us. However, I have confidence that with continued hard work, dedication, attention to detail and the support of the College and University that being the overall year four winner is a distinct possibility.”