Photo: EcoCar 3

Do you like the sixth-generation Camaro? Have you always thought it could use a few more electrons in its powertrain? Probably not, but it’s good news anyway, we promise. GM is working with 16 colleges to help design a more environmentally-conscious Camaro, and one university’s plug-in hybrid system is looking highly badass.

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The Department of Energy’s latest Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition, sponsored by GM and run by Argonne National Laboratory, pits 16 universities against each other to see who can design the most efficient, and more importantly, the best-performing Camaro out there.

Photo: EcoCar 3

Called ECOCAR 3, the competition gives each school a V6 Camaro, a big stack of design criteria documents, and four years to design a car that performs like a sports car, gets good fuel economy, is manufacturable on a large scale, can easily be serviced, and won’t cost a million dollars (their estimated base price is $34,700).

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The criteria didn’t specify a powertrain setup, but Thomas Gorgia of Embry-Riddle told us a little about his team’s Camaro “Eco Super Sport,” a parallel-series hybrid, and based on pictures and their design targets, it looks pretty awesome.

Embry-Riddle’s plug-in hybrid powertrain mates a 2.4-liter E85 inline-four with two 70kW motors and an 8L90 eight-speed automatic transmission. Photo: EcoCar 3.

The powertrain, shown above, looks very clean and seamless. Two 70 kW motors are connected in-line via clutches to a 2.4-liter I4 E85 engine—pulled from an Equinox— and an 8L90 eight-speed transmission from the Cadillac ATS-V.

When in fully-electric mode, both motors drive the transmission input shaft and power the rear wheels for a maximum of 40 miles of range. Once the battery state of charge drops too low, the engine kicks in and either drives the wheels, or drives one of the motors to charge batteries, leaving the second motor as the sole locomotive force.

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Then there’s Sports mode, which we all know is always the best kind of mode. In this setting, the engine and both motors send power to the wheels. With a combined 350 horsepower and 657 pound-feet of torque, sports mode aims to rip the Camaro to 60 in a 4.9-seconds.

Yes, you read that right. 657 lb-ft of torque, much of which is low-end grunt from the electric motors. If there’s a Tesla Model-3-eque pre-order page somewhere, someone send me the link. That sounds awesome.

Photo: EcoCar 3

The batteries are 350v, 18.9 kWh lithium-ion cells, and they sit flat in the trunk. By themselves, they can drive the car 40 miles, but with the gasoline engine, range rises to a targeted 180 miles.

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Of course, those electron-tanks aren’t exactly lightweight, and add about 600 pounds to the back of the car. The motors up front add only about 100 pounds compared to the V6, so this might end up being a rather early-911-esque dynamic handling experience. Could be fun.

They’ll have a chance to test that handling, as well as their targeted 53 MPGe claim, at GM’s proving grounds in Arizona and Michigan, where they’ll put their car to the test on dynometers, fuel economy road courses and dynamic handling courses.

Photo: EcoCar 3

Gorgia told me that the students do all the work, and collaborate heavily with GM, Bosch, and A123 engineers to design the car.

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It all looks really awesome, and I’m kind of jealous. In college, I was part of a team that converted a used Volkswagen Jetta into an all-electric rear-wheel drive sports car. But our vehicle was a junker from an insurance company, and I wasn’t at all working with VW engineers. I was sorta winging it. So yep, definitely jealous.

Looks like Embry-Riddle’s already got the powertrain and battery were installed, and they’ve actually got a running, driving PHEV Camaro doing closed-course testing. Check it out:

It will be interesting to see how their car comes along and whether they’re able to meet their design targets. It will also be cool to see how other teams have come at this project with different powertrain setups. Who knows, maybe GM is using these schools as a testbed for vehicle development.

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Will a car similar to the “Eco Super Sport” someday make its way down the Lansing Grand River Assembly line?

Who knows. But either way, keep up the good work, future auto engineers of the world!