Compact mileage from an SUV: It's FutureTruck

June 03, 2001

A sports utility vehicle that gets up to 30 miles to the gallon is being built by engineering students at the University of California, Davis. The team will take their vehicle to this year's national FutureTruck competition in Michigan, June 4-11, culminating in an awards ceremony in Washington D.C. on June 13.

The UC Davis entry is a Chevrolet Suburban with a gas-electric hybrid engine. This type of vehicle is called a plug-in hybrid, because its batteries can be recharged by plugging it into the main supply overnight. Hybrid cars already on the market, such as the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius, cannot be charged up in this way.

"We feel that it's the most practical approach to a low emissions vehicle," said engineering professor Andy Frank, who is supervising the project.

Fully charged, the modified Suburban can drive up to 60 miles on battery power. As the batteries run down, the gas engine takes over to keep them charged, said Frank. The gas-electric hybrid engine gets 25 to 30 miles to a gallon of gas. With a 12 gallon fuel tank, that makes for 420 miles on a tank of gas.

Because most daily journeys are relatively short, plug-in hybrids would run on electric power 90 percent of the time, he said.

If enough people had plug-in hybrid cars, they could also store energy, soaking up excess electricity overnight and releasing some of it when needed by the power grid, Frank said. This would reduce the overall cost of electricity, he said.

This year's UC Davis FutureTruck entry is a total rebuild of last year's, which placed fourth overall. As well as the new power supply, the Suburban has more electronics, with nine computers on board to collect data and monitor performance, said Frank.

The FutureTruck competition challenges teams from 15 universities across the country to rebuild a Chevy Suburban into a low-emission, high-efficiency vehicle without sacrificing performance, safety or utility. UC Davis is the only California school represented this year.

General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy are major sponsors of the competition. Other sponsors include the National Science Foundation, Cisco Systems, BP Amoco, Arvin Meritor, Delphi Automotive Systems and the Aluminum Association.

Competition events will be held at General Motors Milford Proving Grounds, Milford, Mich. from June 4-11. The trucks will travel to Washington D.C. for an event on Capitol Hill on June 13, followed by an awards ceremony at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on the same day.
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University of California - Davis

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