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While Virginia Tech’s football team is the focus of a lot of local people’s attention right now, Tech is fielding a totally different team that has its sights on a national title.
It’s being led by a local fellow. It’s the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team and its goal is to win the EcoCAR 2 competition. Tech is one of 15 universities in the U. S. that were invited to participate in this competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors.
Eli White, a 2008 Liberty High School graduate, got involved with the team last year during his senior year at Tech. Now, he’s working on a master’s degree in engineering at Tech and is heading up the team.
Last year the team worked on their vehicle’s design phase, presenting their design for approval in May. White said that the purpose of that presentation was to prove that their design should work and will be safe.
“This past June GM shipped us our actual vehicle,” he said.
It’s a brand new, fresh off the assembly line 2013 Chevy Malibu and the team’s goal is to turn it into a hybrid.
The car isn’t the only thing that’s brand new.
“We have a brand new team of senior mechanical engineers,” White said.
This means leaders of the team need to get the new folks up to speed. Meanwhile, they are testing the new Malibu to establish a performance base line for this particular car. This will allow them to compare the car’s performance after their modifications and White said they are going to try to improve its performance. The goal of the contest is to produce a hybrid that uses less fuel and has less emissions while still retaining the car’s safety characteristics.
“We want it to look nice when we are done with it too,” White said.
Consumer appeal is one of the factors they will be scored on.
It also has to be street legal and be able to pass a Virginia state inspection when they are done.
The students started doing the actual modifications last month.
As team leader, White’s job is to manage the project and coordinate the sub-teams’ work. They have to have a working vehicle by March, when they will have a safety inspection.
“We have to pass that in order to compete,” he said.
The vehicle has to be finished and ready for the competition by May where it will be run through tests which will include determining if the car is drivable by the average person.
White said that the project is part of Tech’s mechanical engineering curriculum, so the students participating get class credit. White figures being the project’s team leader should also look good on his resume after he finishes his master’s degree.
According to White, General Motors is not looking for a vehicle that it will put into production. The auto manufacturer’s goal is to educate the next generation of automotive engineers, something they have a vested interest in.
White was a student at Thaxton Elementary School just a little more than a decade ago. He said that being a part of Viola Henry’s N.E.E.D. team gave him an introduction to sustainable energy. Being part of this Tech team has allowed him to combine this with his interest in engineering.