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Re-engineered UW-Madison car wins in clean-car competition

Moolander and Aluminum Cow

The Moolander (left) and the Aluminum Cow sit near the Golden Gate Bridge near San Francisco. (large image)

A car re-engineered by students at UW-Madison's College of Engineering has come away with two top awards at the world's largest environmental vehicle event.

The Aluminum Cow, a re-engineered 1994 Mercury Sable, won gold awards for its low greenhouse-gas emissions and for fuel efficiency at the recently completed Challenge Bibendum, sponsored by French tire manufacturer Michelin. The car also won a silver award for its acceleration performance.

The Cow's performance was even more impressive, according to Glenn Bower an associate faculty associate in mechanical engineering who oversees the college's student automotive programs, because it competed against specialty cars developed by major vehicle manufacturers like Ford, General Motors and Toyota.

"At first it was pretty intimidating," Bower says of the competition, held Sept. 22-25 in San Francisco and Sonoma, Calif. "But then we realized we had just as good a chance as anybody if our car stayed together."

Aluminum Cow and Moolander

UW-Madison students prepare the Aluminum Cow (foreground), a re-engineered Mercury Sable, and the Moolander, a re-engineered Ford Explorer, for competition in the Challenge Bidendum held in California. (large image)

The Aluminum Cow won the national collegiate FutureCar Challenge competition in 1998 and 1999, along with a major road-driving competition, Bower adds.

"That car basically has won every competition it's ever entered," he says.

The car and its big brother, the two-time national FutureTruck champion Moolander, were invited to the Michelin competition after the Moolander's win at the national FutureTruck competition this summer in Michigan. Only the top three competing university teams from the collegiate FutureTruck competition were invited to the Challenge Bibendum. The competition featured test drives on high-speed oval raceways, breaking and acceleration tests, and measurements of fuel efficiency and pollution control.

The FutureTruck, a 2002 Ford Explorer, did not receive awards in the Challenge Bibendum, as it was competing against much smaller vehicles in categories where its size was a detriment, Bower says. But it managed to hold up in the competition without any mechanical breakdowns, the only collegiate SUV to do so, he says.

Julie Marshaus, a 2002 UW-Madison mechanical engineering graduate who took part in the Challenge Bibendum, says the Aluminum Cow's performance showed student-led automotive projects could compete against the best in the automotive industry.

"The other companies have millions to spend on their vehicles," she says. "We were happy to see we could do some of the same things they did. I think we tested the vehicle in a manner in which we really hadn't before."