COLLEGE PARK – Engineering students from the University of Maryland College Park see the future in the skeletal remains of a glossy red 1995 Dodge Intrepid.
The students — many wearing red, black and white jackets with “Maryland Future Car Team” emblazoned across them — gathered proudly around the gutted car Wednesday in a university laboratory.
In scientific lingo delivered in excited tones, they spent the afternoon explaining to representatives from the federal government and the Chrysler Corp. how they plan to rebuild the car. The vehicle will be powered by ethanol, making it more fuel efficient while keeping it affordable and comfortable.
“You’re taking part in some very important national initiatives. You all may hold a piece of the puzzle,” Peter Rosenfeld, a Chrysler representative, told the students.
And Richard Moorer, associate deputy secretary of the U.S. Energy Department, said the research not only gives the students a real-life experience, but could play a role in reducing energy dependence on foreign countries, cleaning the air, and making a stronger economy.
About 50 students at College Park are competing against 11 other North American engineering schools as part of the Future Car Challenge. The competition is sponsored by the Department of Energy and the United States Council for Automotive Research, or USCAR, a joint research venture among Chrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. Each school received a donated car from one of the three auto companies.
Final competition will be held at the Ford headquarters in Michigan this June. The revamped cars will be judged in 10 areas, including acceleration, emissions tests and consumer acceptability. A total of $60,000 in prizes will be awarded to the schools.
The students have been challenged to come as close as possible to tripling fuel economy, a goal set by Chrysler, Ford and GM, along with the federal government, through the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles program. This would mean cars would get about 80 miles per gallon.
Rosenfeld, who directs Chrysler’s partnership efforts, said the automobile industry could produce drastically more fuel efficient cars now, but it’s too expensive.
“The problem is, consumers aren’t willing to spend a million bucks to buy it,” he said.
Most of the College Park students have spent at least 40 hours a week since September working on the project.
“It’s sort of like a way of life,” said Summer Gilbert, a senior mechanical engineer major and project manager for the Future Car. “It’s addictive.”
The students are divided into six groups, each dealing with a different aspect of the redesign. For example, the mechanical integration team focuses on packaging, or putting all of the pieces back into the car. The simulations group determines how the car will react under different conditions, such as variations in weight and battery power.
Boyd Despard, a senior mechanical engineering major, said the project has been like a full time job for him.
“We’re in constant motion,” Despard said. “New discoveries just keep fueling us to work more.”
Gilbert said the Dodge Intrepid currently gets about 25 miles per gallon. She is not sure the students will be able to triple the fuel economy of the car, but said she is confident they will more than double it.
The car will be a hybrid electric, meaning it will be powered by both an electric motor and a gas engine.
Most of the designing is completed, and by March 15 the students hope to have installed the major systems, returning the seats, steering system, transmission, engine and wheels to the mid-sized car, Gilbert said. -30-