Futuristic automobile powered in two ways Innovation: A car of the future built by Maryland students uses ethanol and an electric motor.

February 20, 1997|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The car of the future passed through Baltimore this week, and on the surface, anyway, it looked more like something you would expect to see running in the Daytona 500 than crossing the bridge into the 21st century.

All you had to do was pop the hood of this multicolored four-door sedan decorated with corporate logos, the names of sponsors contributing to its construction and the number 24 painted on the door, to see that this was not an off-the-assembly-line 1991 Saturn.

The four-liter stock engine was gone. It had been replaced by a tiny one-liter power plant from a Geo Metro that ran on ethanol made from corn. There was also a 20 horsepower electric motor.

"It's a hybrid," said David C. Holloway as he slipped from behind the steering wheel. "Both engines are connected to the transmission in such a way that I can drive the car on the internal-combustion engine or the electric motor. When I need a little extra power, I can drive it on both."

Holloway is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland in College Park and the incoming president of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), a Detroit-based network of 70,000 engineers, executives and students from 80 countries who share information and exchange ideas for advancing automotive engineering.

The car -- built by engineering students at the university -- was to demonstrate the technology of hybrids as a possible solution to Detroit's goal of producing an 80-miles-to-the-gallon sedan by 2004.

The hybrid Saturn takes a giant step in that direction.

"We've gained an almost two-fold increase in fuel economy over the standard Saturn," Holloway said during a stop in Baltimore as he was driving the car to Detroit to be sworn in as president of the automotive engineers.

While it is configured to run on ethanol, Holloway said the car gets the gasoline equivalent of 32 miles per gallon in city driving and 58 on the highway.

The increased mileage doesn't come at a significant loss of performance. The demonstration car will go from zero to 60 mph in 15 seconds.

"It is almost as fast as the stock Saturn," said Holloway. "It's just a tad slower."

During normal operation, the car runs on the ethanol engine.

"But, if you want to accelerate to pass another car or climb a hill that's when I can bring in the power from the electric motor," Holloway said.

He said the electric motor "pretty much makes up for the difference in power I would have in the larger [standard Saturn] engine."

The car has a range of 300 miles, and Holloway estimated the university's car would cost about $750,000 if he hired an engineering company to build it.

"The challenge," Holloway said, "is for the so-called Big Three U.S. automakers to mass produce the car at the same price of conventional cars. That's the real challenge."

Despite the cost factor, Holloway said, "There is a good possibility that this technology will be in the new-car showrooms in six to eight years."

As president of SAE, Holloway said one of his primary goals is to create a program where college students around the world would compete to solve problems in automotive engineering.

He said it would be like an "engineering Olympics" where students from the United States, Germany, Japan and other countries could use their talents to develop high-mileage, low-emission automobiles.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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