SEAS truck team set to design vehicle

The School of Engineering and Applied Science FutureTruck Team plans to convert an ordinary truck into a super-efficient electric vehicle beginning in November.

GW is one of 15 universities selected to participate in the FutureTruck 2000 Competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and major U.S. auto corporations. Each university is given $10,000 in financial support and a new 2000 GMC Suburban to serve as the platform vehicle.

The goal in the project is to increase efficiency while reducing emissions and maintaining environmental and safety standards. The competition will take place at an official General Motors testing site in Arizona next year from May 31 to June 6 and will award $40,000 in prizes to the best vehicles.

Graduate engineering student Zeki Gokce, captain of the GW FutureTruck Team, said the team already developed its plans for the vehicle and will begin work once the truck arrives in November. Local vendors largely have donated parts and supplies, he said.

Professor Vahid Motevalli, who developed and taught several courses on electric vehicles at GW, supervises the team, which will hold its kickoff meeting Thursday.

The GW team’s prototype will reduce the GMC Suburban’s engine from an eight-cylinder to a four-cylinder, thus increasing its fuel efficiency.

The modified diesel engine also will be able to store the electricity it generates, reducing the amount of gasoline used to power the motor and allowing no gasoline to burn while the truck is idling. A rechargeable electric battery will replace the conventional one.

Motevalli said the vehicle’s modified engine will be much more efficient in its fuel usage compared to engines in today’s cars. While gasoline engines today are only 18 percent efficient, the modified engines can be up to 45 percent efficient, he said.

Gokce said the increased efficiency is important to motorists. He said a truck that trucks with improved engines can get nearly “40 miles per gallon” or go almost 600 miles on a 16-gallon tank.

Motevalli said he thinks that by the year 2004, these types of vehicles could constitute about 10 percent of the world’s auto market and that pressures in California or an oil crisis could also accelerate the adaptation of more efficient vehicles.

The race to develop efficient, economically competitive vehicles began with President Clinton’s 1993 speech regarding a U.S. government partnership with major car manufacturers to research electric cars. The organization, called the Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle, has a budget of over half a billion dollars a year.

The PNGV’s FutureCar competition allows students to explore similar conversion techniques in smaller cars and sedans.

“It is a lot cheaper (for auto corporations) to see innovative ideas and test them than to experiment themselves,” Motevalli said.

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