Sweet Briar Marketing, Engineering Students Get Into Car Business

| March 7, 2011

Sweet Briar College made front-page news last week thanks to a collaboration with Edison2, maker of the $5 million prize-winning Very Light Car.

Edison2 founder Oliver Kuttner and his team of engineers and racing professionals are developing the next version of the fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly Very Light Car, which won the Progressive Automotive X Prize last September, for a commercial market. Two teams of Sweet Briar students are working with the company on separate projects.

Hilary Bowie, Samantha Rose, Carly McHale and Laura Mooza are students in the senior seminar for entrepreneurship taught by business department chair Tom Scott. They are putting together a plan to identify and capture the niche market Edison2 believes the car will appeal to. On Thursday, March 3 the car was on campus where their classmates — potential buyers a few years from now when the VLC is in production, Rose pointed out — could see it, ask questions and fill out surveys as part of the business students’ primary marketing research.

Meanwhile, Bethany Brinkman’s engineering students are designing the interior of the car for their senior capstone project. Edison2 asked for designs to accommodate four adults total or two adults and four children in the back, with the aim of appealing to families. It’s a complex problem for a vehicle built to maximize aerodynamics and minimize weight. The designs must account for structural integrity, safety and passenger comfort without sacrificing fuel efficiency. The seat configuration and dimensions, the brackets that attach and adjust the seats, and material selection are all design aspects.

Using office chairs fit inside a chassis borrowed from Edison2 for the project, the students mocked up some of their designs on Thursday so passersby could try them out. While the frame is slightly smaller than the next generation VLC is slated to be, it was a tight fit. Senior engineering major Katelyn James said looks can be deceiving, though.

“You know when you remodel your bathroom and take everything out? You think, ‘God, this is tiny.’ But when you put everything back in, it fits,” James said.

In February the class presented several preliminary layouts to Edison2 engineers, who chose two designs to develop further. The students will construct full-scale prototypes to present to the company by the end of the semester.

The design team also has been asked to evaluate two modifications to the VLC, one that would reinforce the frame and another to maximize backseat leg room and floor-level storage.

The Sweet Briar teams are working independently, but there is coordination between the two. The marketing students are seeking feedback on the engineers’ proposed designs through their primary research. In addition to the in-person surveys conducted Thursday, the students are also collecting data though tools such as YouTube, focus groups and off-campus interviews with potential buyers.

Check out the local news coverage:
Sweet Briar students work with X Prize winners
Edison2 Very Light Car Visits Sweet Briar’s Campus

Category: Engineering Science, Uncategorized