Sunday, June 03, 2001

OSU students get 28 mpg from SUV

Gas engine replaced with hybrid powertrain

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — A group of Ohio State University students says it has found a way to get 28 miles per gallon of gas out of a sport utility vehicle at highway speeds.

        The secret involves replacing the traditional gasoline engine on a Chevrolet Suburban, which normally gets 18 miles to the gallon, with a hybrid diesel-electric powertrain.

        This improvement came with no loss of power, acceleration or passenger comfort — and despite an overall vehicle weight gain of 700 pounds.

        The students' enthusiasm for the hybrid is reflected in the nickname they gave the test vehicle — the Buckeyebrid.

        “I think the hybrid-electric vehicle technology is solid for the next 10 to 15 years,” said Yann Guezennec, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the university. “I think we'll all be driving vehicles of this sort, whether it's an SUV or something else.”

        The hybrid was Ohio State's entry in the FutureTruck program, a competition among 15 engineering schools sponsored by General Motors and Ford.

        Despite the mileage improvement, the engineers weren't able to reach the FutureTruck program's goal of doubling fuel economy.

        About 20 student engineers have participated each year in the program, which operates on a $20,000-a-year budget with about $250,000 worth of contributed parts.

        Mr. Guezennec said more basic changes must be made in SUVs to further improve gas mileage. One such change would be a body made of a lighter metal, such as aluminum. Streamlining would be needed to reduce wind resistance.

        “But otherwise, with a vehicle of that size, I don't think we can get 40 (miles per gallon),” he said.

        As of 1999, about 35 million SUVs were on U.S. roads, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Another 3.2 million SUVs were added in 2000, said R.L. Polk & Co., which tracks automotive data.

        Dan Becker, director of global warming at the Sierra Club, said 40 miles per gallon should be the target fuel economy set for SUVs by the Bush administration.

        Current requirements call for the industry to achieve an average fuel economy of 20.7 mpg for its entire fleet of SUVs and light trucks.


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