Students team up for EcoCAR

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In June, the University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT) will be competing in the final leg of the three year EcoCAR2 competition. Since 2011, UWAFT has been working on modifying a Chevrolet Malibu to reduce its environmental impact with the stipulations of not compromising the performance, safety and consumer acceptability of the vehicle.

The car they are currently working on is an E85 series plug-in electric vehicle architecture. The alternative fuel comes into play with the engine, which can run on ethanol.

UWAFT is one of 15 university organizations across North America in the competition. However, their team is unique in that it is comprised of students from the University of Waterloo (UW) and Wilfrid Laurier University.

“The partnership was formed between the University of Waterloo and Laurier because the University of Waterloo has a very strong engineering and technical background and they really wanted to leverage Laurier’s business skills as well as communication and marketing skills,” explained Eric Goll, business manager for UWAFT and Laurier student.

The team is made up of three sections: the Technical Team, which is mostly engineering students from UW, and the Communications and Business Teams, which are made up of honours business administration students from Laurier.

“It was a pretty good fit to bring the two schools together,” Goll continued.

The EcoCAR2 competition is organized by the US Department of Energy and General Motors Corporation. UWAFT is one of two teams that are from Canada in the competition.

To participate, they had to submit a proposal. For those who are selected, each year consists of a different competition. Throughout the year different tasks are scored.

“The final competition, at the end of the year, is where most of the score comes in,” explained Kelvin Law, a team captain and UW student.

This year, the last of the three years, they will be shipping the car to Milford, Michigan for the final competition which consists of dynamic events such as testing braking and turning.

“After that, there’s another portion which is going to take place in Washington this year,” he continued. “It’s kind of the static presentations where you talk about all the work you’ve done throughout the year and they kind of score you based on the dynamic events and the static presentations. From there they tally up the score.”

The prizes are largely cash-based, and Law noted that there are many you can be awarded besides being the overall winner.

The team itself is made up of 50 to 80 students, but the turnover rate is quick and positions are constantly being filled.

Goll and Viraj Patel, the communications manager, are masters of business administration students at Laurier who teach a fourth-year EcoCAR course that allows students to gain course credit for working on the communications and business aspects of the project.

“We are currently putting together an EcoCAR club— it’s going to be a joint club between Laurier and UW,” explained Goll, referring to himself and Patel. “[We are] really trying to integrate the two schools a little bit further with that club.”

As they are approaching the end of the competition, Patel reflected on his experience so far.

“I think for me it’s kind of coming up with an overall strategy. I’ve learned and am continuing to learn to manage the different aspects of a communication team.”

“I’ve learned a fair amount about the up and coming technologies, especially with the hybrid vehicles,” noted Goll.

“I come from a background where I was managing people. However, it’s a little bit different because I’m working with highly engaged students, which is a bit of a change from what I was doing before. Which is refreshing.”

UWAFT has already submitted their proposal for the next competition, EcoCAR3

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