In the past five years automakers both here and abroad have made tremendous strides towards improving vehicle fuel economy, lowering emissions, all while still increasing performance and horsepower outputs. But the next generation of vehicles will have to be even cleaner and more efficient, which means the engineers of the future may have to embrace new ideas and unorthodox powertrains to get the job done.
The EcoCar3 Challenge gives college students access to the funding, technology, and vehicles needed to explore these new, potentially powerful technologies. In this case, a 2016 Chevy Camaro has been given to sixteen different student teams, and unsurprisingly, all the teams opted to build more or less the same kind of efficient drivetrain.
Rather than going for fully-electric or hydrogen-powered builds, 15 of the 16 teams will build plug-in hybrid drivetrains using E85 ethanol as fuel for their engine/generator. The only outlier is the University of Tennessee, Knoxville team, which is building a parallel hybrid similar to the Toyota Prius. The plug-in hybrids will use small battery packs to deliver zero-emission driving, before the gas-powered motor kicks in to charge the battery. The 2016 Chevy Volt is an example of a plug-in hybrid car.
While these test cars are being optimized for efficiency over performance, there’s no denying that the potential for a hybrid Camaro to deliver a seriously good time. The instant torque of an electric motor at the front wheels, with a turbocharged four or six-cylinder engine driving the back wheels, could make for intense acceleration with fuel economy that surpasses today’s subcompacts.
Now comes the fun part, building their ideas into workable machines that can compete and perform as well as conventional cars, but with better fuel economy and lower emissions. Every dollar not spent on gasoline is another dollar towards new wheels or go-fast goodies. Could you get behind the idea of a hybrid Camaro if it delivered as good, or better performance than its conventional equivalent?