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The chancellor and the futuretruck

Chancellor John Wiley and FutureTruck

Chancellor John Wiley gets the details about FutureTruck from Team Paradigm at Bascom Hall. (38K JPG)

FutureTruck at Bascom Hall

FutureTruck at Bascom Hall (26K JPG)

UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley usually drives a workmanlike Ford Taurus. So several months ago, when offered the opportunity to drive the College of Engineering's FutureTruck, he jumped at the chance.

On May 13, Wiley took the FutureTruck out for a spin on the UW-Madison campus, departing from his Bascom Hall office and driving along Observatory Drive. In doing so, he fulfilled a promise he made to FutureTruck student teams leaders last fall, when he stopped by the truck when it was out for display at the start of the school year.

Student leaders of the FutureTruck program invited the chancellor to drive it, and the chancellor — known in several circles as a friend of technology, and a member of the College of Engineering faculty to boot — accepted the offer.

The FutureTruck is part of the College of Engineering's automotive program, in which students get to conduct hands-on research on trucks, cars, off-road and formula vehicles. Students can also work on a snowmobile research program.

For students working on FutureTruck, the goal is to create a truck that runs with cleaner fuel emissions and uses less gas, all without compromising the performance of a sport utility vehicle. This year's truck is a Ford Explorer, which the FutureTruck, team plans to take to Arizona and California in June to compete against other universities involved in a nationwide competition.

UW-Madison has done well in past national competitions. Its "Moolennium," a re-engineered Chevrolet Suburban, placed second in 2001 and fourth in 2000 in the FutureTruck competition.

The FutureTruck team expects to do as well or better this year, and Chancellor Wiley spent more than 30 minutes quizzing students about the truck and their research efforts.

"We want to make it nicer for the environment and better for fuel economy," said Jason Helgren, a senior mechanical engineering major from Beaver Dam. "You still want the vehicle to ride nice for consumer acceptance. You're getting a very clean, very efficient vehicle that doesn't sacrifice anything the consumer expects from an SUV."

The truck caused a bit of a stir on Bascom Hill, as the FutureTruck team decided to drive it right up to the front of the administrative building and park it next to the statue of Abraham Lincoln. Wiley peeked under the hood, peered into the back of the truck, and even inspected the tires.

Then he took it out for a quick drive, after letting the student researchers drive it off Bascom Hill and into the Bascom Hall parking lot. After his quick trip, the chancellor gave the truck a thumbs-up.

"OK, I'll order one," he said, emerging from the truck. "It rides great."