Navigation Content
University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering
You are here:
  1. Home > 
  2. News > 
  3. News archive > 
  4. 1998 > 

Student engineers win FutureCar Challenge

A group of student engineers from UW-Madison has accomplished what many people not long ago believed to be "the impossible" -- doubling the over-the-road fuel efficiency of a mid-size American car without sacrificing safety, comfort and performance.

The effort came en route to Team Paradigm's tie for first place in the recently completed FutureCar Challenge, a year-long, 13-team competition sponsored by the Department of Energy and the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), which represents Chrysler, Ford and GM. UW-Madison shared the top honor with Virginia Tech.

FutureCar getting ready

Students work until the final moments preparing "AluminumCow" for competition. (large image)

In a series of road tests, College of Engineering students and their aluminum body Ford Taurus, "AluminumCow," demonstrated the equivalent of 75 miles per gallon. Running on the same course, a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle turned in a 37 mpg performance.

Team Paradigm's car uses a hybridized drive train, featuring a prototype 1.8 liter Ford European diesel engine. Thanks to Milwaukee Tool's donation of 65 "fat pack" battery packs, the engineers also assembled and incorporated a 1.8 kwh, 240-volt battery pack weighing only 110 pounds.

FutureCar testing took place June 3-10 at the Chrysler Technology Center and on the campus of Oakland Community College, both located in Auburn Hills, Mich. Cars were judged on acceleration, handling emissions, braking, fuel efficiency and consumer acceptability. They were also evaluated for their use of advanced materials technologies.

In addition to sharing first place in the overall standings, the UW-Madison team tied with Lawrence Technological University in the best over-the-road fuel efficiency category, and was recognized for demonstrating the fewest vehicle driving losses, the best use of advanced materials and the best teamwork.

The team also received the first-ever "Innovations in Aluminum Award" from The Aluminum Association, one of the competition's sponsors. Weighing in at 2,976 pounds, "AluminumCow" was the lightest entry ever in FutureCar competition.

Profile of FutureCar

"AluminumCow" at the recent FutureCar Challenge. (large image)

"Our panel of judges reviewed a number of impressive designs, but the University of Wisconsin's stood out by far as having the greatest appreciation of the importance that weight savings has for achieving the PNGV fuel efficiency goals," said Stephen Larkin, president of The Aluminum Association. "Although the aluminum parts within the car had to be made by hand, the team did not lose sight of producing equivalent parts in high production volume."

Larkin noted that the Wisconsin team converted more than 20 additional components and systems to aluminum, including parts of the suspension system, chassis, powertrain and electric controls.

The FutureCar Challenge was initiated to mirror the goals of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), a collaboration between the federal government and American automakers intended to develop technologies for a new generation of vehicles that will triple fuel efficiency.