From General Mechanics to General Motors: Lynn Gantt's EcoCAR Experience

Ed. Note: Cross-posted with Energy Blog

Watch the video about Virginia Tech's winning EcoCAR Challenge Team here.

Since childhood, Lynn Gantt has had a deep seeded passion for cars and the mechanics that drive them. The Virginia native spent his weekends rebuilding antique tractors with his dad to race at tractor pulls across the state, and now the Virginia Tech graduate student is the proud team co-leader of Virginia Tech’s EcoCAR Challenge team—the winners of the three-year long competition, as announced last night at an awards ceremony in Washington, DC.

Lynn grew up around mechanics and engineering, which is why he says the Mechanical Engineering undergrad and graduate programs at Virginia Tech were a perfect fit for him. In addition to the family hobby of rebuilding antique tractors, Lynn’s dad runs a small electrical contracting business (Swing Electrical Company) out of Newport News, VA, and his older brother is an auto mechanic at a car dealership. “Clearly this program was just a natural fit for me,” he says.

Lynn has been a member of the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team of Virginia Tech (HEVT) for all three years of the EcoCAR Challenge, which began his senior year in Fall 2008. As the only remaining original Virginia Tech participant, Lynn has spent the last three years working with teams of 25 student volunteers modifying the team’s 2009 Saturn Vue—which the team aptly named the VT-REX (for Virginia Tech - Range Extended Crossover) . The car was donated to each of the 16 teams by General Motors, who partnered with Department of Energy to sponsor the competition and its predecessor, Challenge X.

Last week, his team got to put their finely tuned creation to the test at General Motors’ Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan, and the results were stunning. In addition to achieving an average of 81.9 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (70 percent higher than the stock Saturn Vue), the VT-REX demonstrated a braking distance of 132.74 feet, which handily beats the stock vehicle's 141.66 feet braking distance. Virginia Tech's vehicle impressed throughout the process, consistently setting the standard as it underwent many of the same technical and safety challenges conducted on many of GM's production vehicles—a performance that set them apart from the pack and ultimately led to them becoming the winners of the inaugural EcoCAR Challenge.

Lynn’s connection to General Motors isn’t ending with the competition though. Instead, he and a several other team members are taking their talents to Michigan this summer, where they will become some of General Motor's newest employees. More specifically, Lynn will be working in the company’s Energy Center, where he says he will likely be focusing on improving fuel economy and electric consumption—both of which connect to his graduate thesis project, which focuses on predicting electric range in vehicles.

Other Virginia Tech students will work with Bosch, and Lynn says that several undergrads from the team have secured summer internships with General Electric.

As Lynn prepares to start the next chapter in his journey, he offered some words of wisdom to other young people who might be interested in joining the next generation of auto engineers: “Try and learn as much as you can about automobiles. The amount of technology in cars today is unbelievable, and it takes a lot to get cars like these up and running. Start early and learn as much as you can.” As for the EcoCAR Competition, Lynn says that the experience is one that students should get involved in. “We spend a lot of time working with industry leading technology that’s otherwise not available to college students.”

The Department of Energy is proud to team up with industry leaders like GM to bring innovators like Lynn to the forefront of the clean energy jobs movement.

For more information about the EcoCAR Challenge finalists, visit the EcoCAR Challenge website.

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