Detroit rally launches UW-Madison vehicle team endowment

Oct. 30, 2009

by Sandra Knisely

Hauling five vehicles and eight people more than 400 miles is no simple feat, but when it comes to all things automotive, University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty and students will do whatever it takes.

A group of engineering students from the UW-Madison vehicle teams, led by mechanical engineering faculty associate Glenn Bower, headed to Detroit on Oct. 24 for the first-ever Motor City Badgers' Road Trip Rally. The event aimed to inspire both the students visiting Detroit and the automotive industry members who met with the engineering talent of the future.

The Detroit chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association organized and hosted the event and launched a three-year $10 million endowment campaign. The endowment will take UW-Madison vehicle teams to the next level and ensure UW-Madison remains a source of innovative, well-trained engineers to the automotive industry for generations to come.

The vehicle teams have a strong record of success. Most recently, the two snowmobile teams, one a zero-emissions sled and the other an internal-combustion sled, won their respective categories in the 2009 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge. In 2007, the Formula SAE team claimed the world championship. Coupled with the Baja SAE team and the Hybrid Vehicle team, which is currently participating in the GM- and U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored EcoCAR competition, UW-Madison has been victorious at 16 different international automotive competitions since 1998.

These accomplishments translate into benefits on the east side of Lake Michigan, as hundreds of former vehicle team participants go on to work for the automotive industry — which is exactly the point, says Bower. Under Bower's mentorship during the past 15 years, the teams have produced more than 1,500 graduates with real world, hands-on experience in innovative vehicle design and development.

"We are trying to supply the industry with engineers who have a good background working with auto projects," Bower said in a recent issue of the UW-Madison alumni publication On Wisconsin. "We can supply the companies with plug-and-play engineers; they don't have to train them for two years. These engineers have the skills ahead of time that allow them to become productive very quickly."

The mutual relationship between UW-Madison and Southeastern Michigan is why the Motor City Badgers decided to host the Road Trip Rally, says chapter president Mark Polster, a sustainability, environment and safety engineer at Ford.

"The Road Trip Rally raised awareness of the vehicle programs in the Motor City among alumni, original equipment manufactures, suppliers, aftermarket providers and racing companies, and in turn promoted the automotive industry and Southeastern Michigan on the UW-Madison campus," Polster says.

The event offered attendees the chance to test drive the UW-Madison Baja vehicle, Formula hybrid car, electric snowmobile and electric test car around dozens of cones arranged in the Ford plant parking lot. After the Ride 'n' Drive, a group of almost 70 toured the Roush Automotive Collection in Livonia, Mich., and students and alumni enjoyed viewing the extensive collection of classic cars, sports cars and racing vehicles, including the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup-winning stock car driven by Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth.

Several speakers addressed the crowd, including mechanical engineering student and Formula team member Gianluca Mantovano, who talked about the importance of his experiences with the vehicle teams.

"The vehicle teams' record and facilities actually helped me decide to attend UW-Madison. Right away my freshman year I joined the Formula team, which has fueled my fire in terms of continuing my automotive education," he says. "I wouldn't be where I am today without these teams."

For more information about the UW-Madison vehicle teams and how to get involved with the endowment, visit http://vehicles.wisc.edu.