MORGANTOWN , W.Va.A team of engineering students from West Virginia University earned eighth place overall in the first year of EcoCAR, a national collegiate competition in alternative vehicle design held in Toronto in June. The team also received theTeam to Watchaward for its use of computer-aided design and vehicle modeling.

The three-year competition, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Argonne National Labs and General Motors, gives students hands-on experience designing vehicles to be more fuel-efficient with reduced emissions while maintaining performance and reliability.

EcoCAR is part of a 20-year history of similar competitions, including Challenge X, Future Truck and others, that have challenged the nations students to come up with better vehicles for the future. Selected on the basis of competitive proposals, a total of 17 university teams from around the nation are participating in EcoCAR.

Scott Wayne, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, is an advisor to the WVU team, which includes 24 students, most of whom are mechanical engineering majors. Three electrical engineering majors and a journalism major are also active on the team.

Over the course of the competition, the students will convert a stock 2009 Saturn Vue crossover sport utility vehicle into an advanced-technology hybrid vehicle. The team has yet to receive its vehicle, though, Wayne said, as the competitions first year focused on computer modeling and simulation of the proposed vehicle design.

Team members, who attended the Toronto competition with Wayne, included Patrick Mancini, of Manassas, Va.; Matt Shelton, of Connecticut; and Andrew Yablonski of Six Mile Run, Pa.; and Howard Mearns, of Buckhannon, W.Va., an engineering graduate assistant who works with the team.

At the EcoCAR competition, team members presented several technical reports, presentations and demonstrations to illustrate the design work they have been doing all year to competition judges.

In addition to its overall eighth-place finish, WVU took fourth place for its demonstration of an advanced vehicle simulator known as Hardware-in-the-Loop, which facilitates testing of the vehicle control hardware through real-time computer simulation.

The WVU team design consists of a two-mode transmission similar to the one in production for the Chevrolet Tahoe, a 1.3-liter diesel engine, and lithium-ion batteries.

The students will receive their actual vehicle from GM in August and can then begin with their plans, Wayne said.

We are quite pleased with the progress our team made in the first year of the competition,he said,and excited to move on to the next phase of the project.

After receiving the vehicle, the team will begin the conversion process. The third and final year of the competition will be devoted to making additional improvements and getting the vehicle to the point of being nearly ready for production.