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Trading up: 'FutureTruck' project rolls up to UW-Madison

Engineering students from UW-Madison will be in the thick of a national college competition to turn a sport utility vehicle into a leaner, "greener" machine.

Students with their winning car

The college's FutureCar team will turn its wizardry to the next generation of SUVs with the new FutureTruck competition. (large image)

FutureTruck 2000, recently announced by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors Corporation, will challenge student teams to convert a Chevrolet Suburban from gasoline power to an alternative propulsion system. The goal is to dramatically improve the fuel efficiency of the Suburban without compromising the features that make it popular.

Each of the 15 university teams received $10,000 in seed money from General Motors. In November, each team will also receive a spanking new, model year 2000 Suburban, straight off the assembly line.

This competition is an extension of the popular FutureCar competition, in which university teams improved the fuel ratings of midsize sedans by experimenting with hybrid electric power and other features. UW-Madison's Future Car team left competitors in the dust, taking first place the past two years by achieving fuel ratings of well over 60 mpg.

As part of this four-year competition, students will be encouraged to pursue the gamut of new auto technologies, including hydrogen fuel cells, electric-combustion hybrid engines, lightweight materials and alternative fuels.

The teams will have six months to modify their machines before steering them to GM's Desert Proving Ground in Arizona in June 2000. In addition to fuel economy, the SUVs will be judged on acceleration, handling, emissions, off-road performance and other features.