Society of Automotive Engineers set to debut cars at auto show

It was a sunny September day as students from the McGill Society of Automotive Engineers team brought their racing vehicles to OAP. These students represented four of McGill’s design teams that produced four types of vehicles: the electric snowmobile, the performance racing vehicle, the hybrid car, and the Baja All-Terrain Vehicle. One of these Students, Will Kerley, a U3 mechanical engineering student on the racing design team recalled a girl gasping in surprise.

“McGill builds cars. What?”

Although many students are unfamiliar with these teams, McGill’s SAE teams have performed exceptionally in SAE contests across the globe. Each team, representing various top engineering universities, are student-run groups that design innovative prototype vehicles, such as those that race down speedways at up to 100 kilometres an hour, or endure long distances on a limited fuel supply.

The McGill SAE teams, which consist of over 60 students, began their most recent triumph this weekend when all four teams were invited to present their vehicles at the Montreal International Auto Show taking place from January 15 to January 24 at Palais des Congrès. McGill’s teams have seen an upward swing over the past five years as they continue to improve in competitions. The hybrid racing team earned first place in 2007 and 2008, while the electric snowmobile team transformed an existing gas-powered snowmobile into an electric-powered snowmobile that has been used at skiing championships at Whistler and in France, and will be presented at this winter’s Olympics.

Kerley and Adam Laidlaw, a U2 mechanical engineering student who participated in the hybrid design team, have spent most of their McGill careers participating on SAE teams and have enjoyed the society’s continuous progress. Both teams have triumphed. manufacturing and designing their vehicles.

“It’s the best thing I’m doing here at McGill. I’d be really put off if it was all just about class,” said Laidlaw.

Both Kerley and Laidlaw cited the exercise of hands-on skills rarely practiced before entering the workforce as one of the most important things that they have learned on the SAE teams. They have also had opportunities to work with a wide variety of engineers and meet experts in the auto industry to design vehicles that race across the world.

Teams must design vehicles, raise funds, construct their vehicles, and finally test them. The vehicles alone cost over $20,000 and although McGill provides significant funding, students must show ingenuity and locate Montreal companies to sponsor their project. They then must learn how to operate complicated equipment, design parts for their vehicles, and use computer software to analyze the vehicle’s performance.

“It’s really nice to see new people coming in and the cars coming together,” said Kerley.

Throughout the design process, teams must test their vehicle’s performance and fix any problems they find. One major disadvantage McGill faces, however, is the Montreal winter. Since the city’s snow often lasts until April, the design teams only have a limited amount of time to drive their vehicle and test it on the road each Spring. This is especially difficult for the McGill Baja team, which must endure very strenuous conditions such as climbing boulders and dealing with five foot drops.

Kerley and Laidlaw explained that each team faces unique challenges, however. The McGill racing team, which got first place in fuel economy and fourteenth place overall out of over 120 schools Formula SAE East competition in Detroit last year, faced dealing with a broken shaft during the race. Last year, the hybrid car’s engine overheated, causing the exhaust pipe to melt and drain the battery completely. However, the car lurched on and managed to complete the 22 km race and earn fourth place.

All teams are well underway in designing this year’s vehicles. The performance racing team is using last year’s design and modifying it, hoping to improve its performance by changing the suspension and engine.

The hybrid team, working on last year’s model as well, hopes to retake first place at the New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire this May. The Baja team is also far along in their design, having completed their fame.

Kerley is confident that McGill’s teams, with their great track record, will do better in future years.

“People will come to fear [us] and I feel that day will come,” he said.

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