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Center for Automotive Research celebrates 25 years: Then, now and beyond, 1991-2016

"I started at CAR as a high schooler," says Polina Brodsky, doctoral student in The Ohio State University's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. "And I decided to come to Ohio State because I liked CAR so much."

That story and many hundreds like it illustrate the vision of the Center for Automotive Research, “CAR” as it’s known. Led by Professor Giorgio Rizzoni for the past 17 years, CAR is devoted to preparing the next generation of automotive industry leaders, while collaborating with companies and government on advanced mobility research.

From its origin as a concept in the minds of leaders at Honda, Transportation Research Center, the State of Ohio and The Ohio State University, the center has evolved since 1991 to become an internationally-recognized research hub in sustainable and safe mobility. CAR was founded when leaders from these institutions established the Transportation Research Endowment Program, which called for a dedicated Center for Automotive Research at Ohio State.Research at CAR in the 1990s.

“There was a dream,” says Scott Whitlock, former senior vice president of Honda of America Manufacturing and a key player in establishing CAR. “The dream was that The Ohio State University would become a world-wide leader in transportation research and in the creation of engineers and leaders in the automotive industry.”

And CAR has enabled that dream to become reality.

The past 25 years have seen industry collaboration grow from a handful of original equipment manufacturers and suppliers to a long list of companies and government agencies that take advantage of the center’s expertise and neutrality. The most dramatic growth has been seen since 1999, when the center increased its annual operating budget tenfold to $10 million and has become the largest university-based interdisciplinary automotive research center in the United States. Long-standing partner Ford Motor Company has contributed. In 2013 CAR led negotiations that resulted in Ohio State being included in the Ford Alliance program, which at the time included only four other universities in North America. Further growth has also been driven by newer collaborators, such as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which has successfully conducted multi-year projects with the center and recruited many alumni.

CAR industry collaborations include testing and engineering services.CAR prides itself on responding to industry needs and government environmental regulations. Over the years CAR has led three industry research consortia, incubated three spin-offs, developed a wide-ranging testing and engineering services and partnered on hundreds of research projects with industry. Distance education, aimed at working engineers, has been offered since the mid-1990s, having served General Motors Technical Education Program for over 20 years. The center has also been awarded nine prestigious, multi-year government-funded research programs. CAR has expanded its collaboration internationally, too, where it works with a number of companies and institutes of higher education—from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands to Korea, China, Brazil and beyond.

Still, its students are the main product, and the thousands who have passed through its doors are no secret to industry partners. Collaborators clamor to recruit the highly-trained students.

"Our partnership with CAR has changed and evolved over the years," says Rick Schostek, executive vice president of Honda North America. "One thing that's been constant is our focus on the students."

Hands-on work—in the lab and in the garage—is the hallmark of the unique educational experience CAR delivers to students. Faculty hold laboratory classes at the center, just steps away from the 24/7 garage home of the university’s six motorsports teams, open to any student at Ohio State.

Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3. Credit Venturi 2016 Shivraj Gohil / Spacesuit MediaOne of those teams, the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 recently shattered its own record to become the world’s fastest electric vehicle at 341 miles per hour, merely a milestone on the way to the targeted 400mph. Ohio State’s definending national champion EcoCAR 3 team—re-engineering a Chevrolet Camaro—is also at CAR, as is the award-winning Buckeye Current electric motorcycle. Formula Buckeyes SAE, an open-wheeled racer, the off-road Ohio State Baja SAE and the university’s Women in Engineering-sponsored Supermileage SAE teams round out the fleet. It’s working on these student-designed and -built vehicles that students like Brodsky voluntarily spend upwards of 40 hours per week, in addition to classes and other extracurriculars.

“Buckeye Current and the Center for Automotive Research have given me the unique opportunity of working with industry in my undergraduate career to give insight into the automotive field,” says Brodsky. “The hands-on engineering experience, connections to industry and leadership opportunities I have received at CAR have given me a platform to propel my future endeavors as I pursue a career in the automotive industry.”

Now innovating at companies near and far, many previous CAR students echo stories just like hers. From original equipment manufacturers to suppliers, and from software companies to start-ups, alumni of the motorsports and CAR research programs are thriving in their careers.

“CAR is the experience that ties it all together,” says Gary Parker, director of Powertrain Systems at Cummins Inc. and an alumnus of CAR and motorsports programs. “It is where students, industry, engineering principles and the latest technologies converge to produce the next generation of products.”

CAR's 930 Kinnear Road headquarters today.“The environment that has been created at CAR during its first 25 years fosters creativity and innovation, provides opportunities to enrich the education of students outside of the traditional boundaries of a university and provides fertile ground for industry and government partnership that are continuing to shape the future of the mobility industry,” says CAR Director Giorgio Rizzoni. “Together with our partners, undergraduate and graduate students at CAR are reinventing the automobile and creating a vision for the future of mobility.”

So how will CAR drive mobility innovation over the next 25 years?

“Everything we do here is aimed at the car of the future,” says David B. Williams, dean of the College of Engineering. “The center has played a major role in helping the Columbus community win the U.S. Department of Transportation Smart City award, which is focused on smart transportation—not just in Columbus, but as an example to the rest of the country.” With a solid history of leading automotive research, the center plans to take on its next challenge: leveraging its expertise to move the city forward in the Smart City endeavor.

All this while continuing its tradition of collaborating with industry, government and academia, and producing high-caliber students from its headquarters at 930 Kinnear Road, on the West Campus of The Ohio State University.

"I am very impressed with what the Center for Automotive Research team is doing," says automotive industry luminary and AutoHarvest Chairman David Cole. It is "a great model for others in academia."

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By Holly Henley, Center for Automotive Research Communications