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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — University of Tennessee engineering students go into the FutureCar Challenge this week with a head start on the competition — the most combinations of power sources to push the vehicle down the highway.

Dr. Jeff Hodgson, the team’s faculty adviser, said the modified Dodge Intrepid can run off batteries, a small natural gas-powered engine, both at the same time, or the gas engine can be used just to charge the batteries.

The combinations add up to a “dual hybrid” vehicle, the only one of its type in the week-long competition beginning Wednesday in Auburn Hills, Mich. Thirteen universities are entered.

“We doing something never before attempted in the FutureCar competition by entering a dual hybrid electric vehicle,” said Hodgson, UT-Knoxville professor of mechanical engineering. “It is a lofty goal, but we have reliable team members, initiative and a competitive desire to not only make this proposal work, but to win the competition.”

Hodgson said all the combinations could reduce emissions and double fuel economy — pushing it to the equivalent of 80 miles per gallon of gasoline — without hurting performance.

Innovation has paid off in the past for UT teams. In 10 alternative fuel competitions over the last 10 years, UT has won three and finished among the top four nine times.

“Considering this is the first year we’ve been in this competition and the complexity and magnitude of the task the students have undertaken, it is an accomplishment just to have a vehicle in the contest,” Hodgson said.

“I think it is remarkable the students have come as far as they have come with such an ambitious project.”

The FutureCar Challenge is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Council for Automotive Research, which is a joint research group Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.

The contest will judge fuel efficiency, handling, acceleration, emissions, design and other vehicle features. Winners will be named June 10 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.

Contact: Dr. Jeff Hodgson (423-974-5294)

Jack Groh, FutureCar Public Information (401-732-1551)