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Auto Show:  2014 Alt Car Expo And Conference

CSULA EcoCar 2: Santa Monica AltCar Expo


author photo by Josh Sadlier September 2014

What Is It?

The EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future collegiate competition has just concluded its 3-year run, and the second-place team for year two -- from California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) -- brought its hybridized 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, also known as the CSULA EcoCAR 2, to the Santa Monica AltCar Expo.

Under the terms of the competition, each of the 15 competing teams was tasked with improving the environmental friendliness and energy efficiency of its own 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. The CSULA EcoCAR 2 team's creative solution was to convert the Malibu into a "Parallel Through the Road Hybrid Electric Vehicle." This unique configuration consists of an ethanol-powered 4-cylinder internal-combustion engine driving the front wheels and an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack driving the rear wheels. Notably, the CSULA Malibu is a plug-in hybrid, meaning that it can operate solely on electric power for extended periods -- in this case, up to 20 miles or so.

There were multiple highlights for the CSULA team over the course of the competition, including being the second of the 15 teams to get its Malibu up and running during the second-year desert testing at General Motors Desert Proving Grounds test facility in Yuma, Arizona. As noted, CSULA was awarded second place overall for the second year, and it also snagged the Most Improved Team Award that year. Three engineering departments -- controls, electrical and mechanical -- contributed to the CSULA project, with the help of the business/outreach department.

CSULA's team was ultimately eclipsed by that of The Ohio State University, whose Parallel-Series Plug-in Hybrid Malibu returned a remarkable 50 miles per gallon in final testing and also set a new low in emissions. The runner-up Malibu from the University of Washington was actually the most energy-efficient of all with its biodiesel parallel plug-in design.

Will They Ever Sell It?

While we love the idea of a homegrown hybrid-powered Malibu being produced for sale on a university campus in central Los Angeles, we don't see it coming to fruition anytime soon. Will actual car companies ever sell cars that use the CSULA team's "Parallel Through the Road" hybrid innovations? If internal testing validates it, we wouldn't put it past them. Hopefully CSULA is in a position to reap rewards in the event of any commercial implementation.

Why It's Important

Hybrids have been around for a while now, but the technologies they depend on are still in flux -- with plenty of room for improvement. Within reason, outside-the-box thinking such as that of the CSULA team can help challenge current paradigms and build things better the next time around.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
CSULA EcoCar 2: Santa Monica AltCar Expo - Autotrader