Sustainable SUV Challenge Kicks Off at Freescale

Designing the SUV that's fuel-efficient and marketable

Teams from UT and other schools are trying to make 
SUVs such as this both fuel-efficient and marketable
Teams from UT and other schools are trying to make SUVs such as this both fuel-efficient and marketable

Gov. Rick Perry and Mayor Will Wynn visited Freescale Semiconductor's North Austin facility last Thursday to inaugurate the first phase of Challenge X: Crossover to Sustain able Mobility. During the three-year program, 17 university teams, including those of UT-Austin and Texas Tech, will compete to improve the overall efficiency and reduce the pollutant emissions of a Chevy Equinox "crossover" sport utility vehicle, while maintaining its safety, performance, utility, and consumer appeal. Event co-sponsor U.S. Department of Energy has been holding similar events since 1987, encouraging academia to advance new vehicle technology. Other co-sponsors – General Motors (manufacturers of the totally nonsustainable Hummer), National Instruments, the Math Works, Argonne National Laboratory, and Freescale – offer students the use of their latest technology and state-of-the-art proving facilities, hoping to encourage industry progress. Participants can choose between alternative or traditional fuel types, transmission configurations, and hybridization techniques.

"The war in the Middle East tells us we should stop consuming foreign crude oil, improve fuel economy, and look at our alternatives," said Ron Matthews, a UT mechanical engineering professor and team adviser. He emphasized the need to produce something consumers will want to buy, noting greater national demand for vehicles like SUVs versus Honda and Toyota's current subcompact hybrid car offerings which, he said, have required both companies to take financial losses. "Ford and GM have a much better plan, hybridizing vehicles like light trucks, improving their poor fuel economy while making more money to support the hybridization itself," he said.

Matthews' UT team plans to follow that notion, hybridizing its Equinox, and taking advantage of a cutting-edge transmission developed in Austin by Fallbrook Technologies that's readily compatible with hybrids, something Matthews says will save the team major headaches. Electing to use gasoline reformulated with ethanol in an ultrahigh compression engine (originally designed as a diesel), Matthews said UT plans to achieve "diesel-like" fuel economy. Student co-leader Steven Hendricks said, "We'll show that we can meet strict 2006 California emissions standards with existing technology."

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