Exposition: Under the hood: La Salle’s Eco Car


Last January 7, 2014, the DLSU Eco Car team unveiled their latest car, the gasoline powered Delta, alongside last year’s car, the solar-electric powered Archer. It was the culmination of a year of hard work for the DLSU Eco Car Team, an org devoted to making energy-efficient cars.

So how are the cars made, what are the costs, and what are they used for? Read on as we take a look at La Salle’s very own Eco Car team and their prized vehicles.


From conception to unveiling

The building of a car begins with planning out the project and deciding what car they want to make. Once they have a plan laid out, they present it to the dean and to their different advisers, who give them further input.

Different teams are set up for various aspects of the project, namely the structure head, steering, transmission, engine, and the different electrical components of the car. Then the designing of the car takes place, starting with the optimization of technical aspects such as the aerodynamics, the engine proficiencies, and the rigidity of the structure, to name a few.

They fabricate the needed parts themselves, have it ordered from abroad, or have it made or purchased in machine shops around the country. The different parts of the car are built separately, though the teams coordinate throughout the process to make sure the parts fit each other.

Once the parts are done, they are integrated with each other to see if they run together. Team manager Rafael Mina notes that though sometimes the parts may work individually, during integration they may not work as well, which is why back-up plans are necessary.

Things can get difficult when parts aren’t available, as the team is relegated to waiting. Labor issues also arise since different team members often have different schedules, so meeting up can be difficult. The team’s work can carry on into the late hours, sometimes making them stay overnight. “Engineers are more productive at night,” shares Morris Papio, another team manager. “Some people actually live here (in the office),” Mina jokes.

After integration, they start planning the launch to officially present their work to the DLSU community and the media.

Testing of the car is done both before and after the launch. “The testing part is actually the most important because that’s when you know if the parts work together and the performance of the car,” Mina adds.

On average, it takes eight months to make a car, five to six of which are spent on fabrication, and the rest on testing. They spend about P400,000 to P500,000 per car because of the high costs of the carbon fiber material and of research and development. In addition, they can’t always buy stock parts, and the use of customized parts costs more. It took close to a million pesos to create the Delta and Archer models, and the project is funded mostly by the University, but some parts are also provided by the team’s other sponsors.

As much as possible, they try to build two cars in a year. If this goal isn’t achieved, then they can shift their focus to improving a previous car.


The Shell Eco-marathon

“It’s not really a race for the fastest vehicle, but rather the vehicle that consumes the least amount of fuel in the specified time and distance,” says Mina in explaining the Shell Eco-marathon. “Even if the car is efficient, but if it’s not as fast, then it won’t be qualified for the official time.”

With competitions in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, the Shell Eco-marathon takes place annually with the goal of promoting sustainable mobility and fuel efficiency among engineering students.

There are two main categories: Prototype and Urban. According to Mina, the Prototype class cars are usually the small, three-wheeled, futuristic-looking cars. The Urban class cars on the other hand resemble real cars. The two categories are divided into the different types of energy sources, ranging from conventional fuels like petrol and diesel, to alternative fuels like solar, electricity, and hydrogen.

The DLSU Eco Car team first joined the Shell Eco-marathon back in 2011. The following year, they placed 7th and 8th in the electric and gasoline categories, respectively. Last year, the competition was set to be held in Malaysia but was cancelled a week prior to the actual marathon due to the 2013 Southeast Asian haze. It was also supposed to be the team’s first foray in the Urban class category, so they were devastated having their work lead up to almost nothing.

Not that the cars have no use after the race. They sometimes bring their cars to other schools to promote green technology.


The team behind the car

The 46 man team is split into three sub teams, specifically the mechanical, electrical, and management branches. Management is in charge of publicity, marketing, and other administrative concerns. The mechanical branch deals with the body, support, and designs of the vehicle. The electrical branch handles the headlights, taillights, and basically anything with electricity, as the name would imply. However, members can help out in the other sub teams if they wish to do so.

You don’t have to be from the College of Engineering to be part of the team. “We opened our doors this year to all DLSU students. So if you are not an engineer major, you can join the management to help out,” says Papio. There are currently eight non-engineers on the team.

“As long as you are committed, you can also join the mechanical and electric, but you must have a background in it.” Papio cites the short time frame in producing the car as making it difficult to learn from scratch.

But Mina notes that, “Towards the end, it boils down to commitment. You can be really good, but you don’t commit; practically you’re like a ghost here.”

With regards to rewards, Mina cites the lessons he’s learned on the team which he sees as more practical than the lessons of the classroom. He sees it as a preparation for future work and he is proud to represent DLSU and his country.

John Sarao

By John Sarao

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