Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina State University students hope that retrofitting a gasoline-powered car with an electrical engine sets a new standard for vehicles in the Triangle – and wins some prize money.
They are competing in the national Eco Car Challenge to convert a General Motors vehicle into an electric, hybrid or fuel cell vehicle without sacrificing its quality.
Last year, the team of about 30 N.C. State students designed an all-electric drive train.
"What we're moving towards is electrification of the automobile, where we'll just have electric motors providing power to the wheels," said Terry Gilbert, the team's faculty adviser.
Then, in October, GM donated a Saturn Vue to the students. They will replace the existing motor with an extended-range electric system.
"When you're driving around the city, you'll never hear your engine turn on," said graduate student Abram Harder, who leads the team. "It'll have a lot of power. Our electric motor's really powerful."
Students hope to get the Vue licensed to drive on local roads – and they foresee a fun time doing just that.
"Probably, you'll have a hard time not squealing the tires," Harder said.
The converted Vue will have to be drivable by next March, when the national competition is held in Arizona. The winning team gets bragging rights and up to $80,000 in prize money.
Such incentive from corporations could inspire a new crop of engineers, educators said.
"The General Motors of the world are wanting to create the next generation of engineers," said Gilbert. "It's going to be a moving billboard and a platform, I think, for education."