Mississippi State students redesign car for maximum fuel efficiency amid gas crisis

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI) – While rising gas prices have drivers searching for new ways to save on fuel, a team of students at Mississippi State spent the last four years designing a safer, more fuel-efficient car.

“It’s a mild hybrid, not a plug-in hybrid,” says MSU associate professor Dr. Randy Follett. “All of the charging of the battery pack occurs from driving it and regenerative braking and the electric propulsion components are really there to enhance acceleration when needed, but also to recover energy where possible.”

Dr. Follett oversees State’s EcoCAR Mobility Challenge team, made up of close to 60 students across 15 majors, tasked with using advanced propulsion systems and vehicle automation to improve the performance of a 2019 Chevrolet Blazer.

“The system that we went with is a vehicle architecture where we have the gasoline engine that drives the front wheels and the electric motor in the back that drives the rear wheels,” says propulsion and modeling leader Jagdeo Singh.

When the team started, the Chevrolet Blazer got about 27 miles to the gallon. After all their modifications, the EcoCAR team says it should get at least 32 miles to the gallon.

“The whole goal here is to not only assist the driver but improve the fuel economy. So we’ve built our software systems to account for that,” says team engineering manager Vance Hudson. “What do we need to do for the vehicle that’s maybe getting in the lane in front of us or going slower than us?”

MSU is competing against 11 other schools in the latest of a series of Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions organized by the U.S. Department of Energy.

“It all plays together with the autonomous vehicle systems that they’ve had to create,” Dr. Follett says. “As well as talking with smart infrastructure in order to give additional opportunities for recovering energy.”

As gas prices continue to head toward record highs, the team says it’s a real-world reminder of how vital their work is.

“It does make me feel proud of what I’m doing,” Singh says. “It justifies all the late nights that we spent working on the car.”

The EcoCAR team says their vehicle is about 95 percent complete and they will spend the next few months on testing and calibrations before the contest in May.

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