UA’s EcoCAR 3 Team Finishes Strong

UA team members around their car at the Year Four Competition include, from left, Holden Clark, Haley Loftis, Ryan McNealy, Joshua Stoddard and adviser Dr. Hwan-Sik Yoon. Photo courtesy EcoCAR 3.

By Adam Jones

A new participant in the national Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition Series, The University of Alabama student team finished the four-year program strong, racking up several awards.

The UA team in the EcoCAR 3 program, a competition among North American universities to design and construct an advanced, energy-efficient vehicle, placed first in several contest categories including ride quality, communications presentation and the most creative outreach event. To go along with those awards, Haley Loftis, project manager of UA’s team and recent STEM MBA graduate from Kansas City, won the Spirit of Project Management award.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the rewards our team members have earned through their commitment to this tremendous professional challenge,” said Dr. Paul Puzinauskas, UA associate professor of mechanical engineering and team adviser.

Overall, the team placed third, a great finish considering UA had not participated in the program, managed by Argonne National Laboratory, in more than 20 years, including the previous two EcoCAR programs.

“The third place finish in this competition shows just how much every member of the team pushed to succeed this year,” said Bethany Corne, communications manager for UA’s team and recent graduate in public relations and marketing from Newport, Michigan. “We were a team that worked together to be the best it could be in every category, resulting in such a strong finish this year.”

In 2014, UA was selected as one of 16 institutions to participate in EcoCAR 3, an engineering competition sponsored by General Motors Co. and the U.S. Department of Energy. The competition challenges students to transform a Chevrolet Camaro, donated by GM, to use less energy and emit less pollution without sacrificing performance, safety or consumer appeal.

The four-year competition engages the next generation of automotive professionals in engineering, business, and communications, allowing students to experience the vehicle development and launch process from design to marketing.

The students’ success in meeting these objectives was evaluated yearly before the final evaluation held in May in Arizona and California.

More than 200 students from eight different disciplines were part of UA’s team over the four years. The team also works with the Capstone Agency, a student-run public relations firm, to help with marketing and media relations.

The UA team turned the gasoline-powered Camaro into a blended plug-in hybrid with a smaller internal combustion engine supplemented by two electric motors. The vehicle ran as intended, competing and performing well in all dynamic events, Corne said.

Puzinauskas said the UA students showed high standards, work ethic and ingenuity throughout the four years. Participation prepared students for careers in engineering and technical fields along with business and communications while helping them develop networks with team members, students from other universities along with current and future leaders in the automotive industry, he said.

“Programs such as this develop students’ professional skills far beyond the capabilities they acquire in the classroom,” he said. “These include state-of-the-art analytical, project management and team building abilities that exceed my own and those of most professors.”

Puzinauskas praised the local and national sponsors including GM, the energy department and the UA College of Engineering for helping students participate in the program.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.