The EcoCar: The NeXt Challenge is a 3-year competition among the advanced vehicle engineering departments of 17 different colleges nationwide. The parties putting on this competition include the U. S. DOE, General Motors and the Argonne National Laboratory.
The point is to take a GM Saturn Vue vehicle and design and build an advance zero emissions system that passes CARB (California Air Resources Board) regulations. At the end of the competition, all vehicles will have plug-in capabilities. This means that some vehicles will be battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and other plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).
All vehicles will use lithium ion batteries. Those universities that are building fuel cell vehicles will also use the PHEV capabilities of the vehicle. This can be used in one of two different ways.
The fuel cell may be used as the primary power for the vehicle with the battery pack kicking in when needed to supply extra power. Or, the battery pack can be used for the primary power and the fuel cell used to recharge the battery pack as needed.
The first year of the competition will be devoted mostly to computer modeling to make sure that theoretically all systems work well together. The second and third years of the competition will be spent with hands on testing and head to head competition verifying the viability of their projects.