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Penn State’s Advanced Vehicle Team Built an (Eco)Car

It’s taken nearly three years to turn a plain old Chevrolet Malibu into an emissions free, eco-friendly ride, but Penn State students are almost there.

The Penn State Advanced Vehicle Team of about 50-70 members (mostly volunteers) is currently competing against 14 other colleges across the United States to create a hybrid Chevrolet Malibu with the smallest environmental impact possible. General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy joined forces to establish this competition, a follow up to the EcoCAR: the NeXt Challenge. Though the EcoCAR challenge is relatively new, the Penn State Advanced Vehicle team has been participating in similar competitions since 1988.

This particular competition will last three years and focuses on creating a car that meets consumers’ standards and minimizes harm to the environment. Here’s how it works: GM gives each team a normal Chevrolet Malibu and asks them to re-engineer the car in any way they think will make it most efficient. The team is comprised of mostly seniors who use the competition as a three credit mechanical engineering design course.

Because the competition takes place over three years, members graduate each year and the team re-focuses on a new aspect of the project. In the first year, their focus was on using mathematics and computer design programs to come up with the structure for the car, though they actually did not work on the physical vehicle that year.

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The second year, the team put their plans into action and focused on actually building the car. The team’s hard work paid off and the crew came in first place.

“It was the first time in 25 years that Penn State had won first place and our team, including myself, poured their hearts and souls in the project,” said Cheyenne Sexton, the team’s communications manager.

This final year, they’ll put their work to the test and see if their car meets consumer expectations. The vehicle they came up with is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or a PHEV. In other words, you plug the car in to charge it. The car’s electric charge means reduced tailpipe and greenhouse gas emissions, while also minimizing fuel consumption.

“We all know that hybrid vehicles aren’t too cheap right now, and the infrastructure is just not here in State College to support them,” Sexton said. “However, if we were to have this infrastructure and more support for hybrid vehicles in State College, most people wouldn’t have to use a drop of fuel going to and from work every day.”

It’s a noble cause, and the team is doing some amazing things. In the words of Sexton, “It is a great way for students to get hands-on experience using real world applications in this particular industry before graduation.”

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