Xconomy Editor Successfully Avoids Wrecking Electric Car. Entire World Rejoices.

3/15/11Follow @xconomy

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executive director of electronics integration & software. GM needs to develop a workforce with the necessary technical skills and engineering talent to design those electric cars promised by Obama.

“We are going to hire as many as we can,” Helfrich says, referring to the students in the competition. “These kids are the best of the best.”

Technically, the 16 student teams were required to design cars that reduce petroleum usage, boost energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gases, and maintain consumer acceptability in performance, safety, and utility. That’s a tall order and, judging from what I saw, the students chose to focus more on the first three criteria.

Take Michigan Technological University’s entry. The team, led by Jason Socha, designed a hybrid, plug-in electric car that contains an E-85 powered gasoline engine and not one, not two, but three electric motors. One of those electric motors is located in back, which helps the car to generate extra electric charges by exploiting the rear brakes, Socha explains.

But that electric motor occupies the entire rear of the hatchback, which would make it hard for consumers to store those twenty packs of bottled waters they just bought at Costco.

At least Michigan Tech’s car had room for backseat passengers. The car I test drove, designed by University of Ontario Institute of Technology, was the only 100 percent electric car in the competition.

Probably a good reason for that. The car’s batteries occupied about 75 percent of the vehicle, leaving room for only the driver and front side passenger. The team, though, plans to convert the design into a more consumer-friendly model.

The team chose a full electric design because Canada has more developed clean energy infrastructure to recharge such a car, says team leader Gavin Clark.

The kids have some work to do. Though the engine ran silent, the bulky battery shook and rattled as I drove over the pot holed road, nearly drowning out our conversation.

While the car boasts a range of 250 miles at 60 miles per hour, I doubted I could last long. The ride felt jagged and sluggish—and not just because of my bad driving.

The car could go as fast as 80 mph and Clark encouraged me to floor it. Um…thanks but no thanks. The road was curvy and I’m not going to risk this kid’s hard work, not to mention his life.

I stop the car before we returned to the crowded parking lot.

“Switch places,” I instructed Clark. “I don’t want to wreck your car.”

This is one reporter who’s not going to kill the electric car today.

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