GT Off-road

2017 ~ Present | GM, CAT, John Deere, Chevron, Briggs & Stratton, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Textron, Schlumburger


To design, build, defend, and race a high-performance off-road vehicle in the annual SAE BAJA competition.

Issues Involved or Addressed

Management and completion of a complex vehicle in a cost-constrained, resource-constrained, schedule-driven, innovation-rich, multi-disciplinary environment. The vehicle must conform to the rules of the SAE BAJA competition. Multiple sub-teams are required, addressing issues in suspension design, chassis design, engine management, powertrain, data acquisition, ergonomics, sensor integration, composites, etc. The vehicle has conflicting constraints and objectives including light weight, robustness, stability, sophistication, simplicity, reliability, and high performance, while also being as safe as possible.

Example R&D projects of immediate interest include (others may be added at any time):

1) Design and development of an adaptive, electromechanical continuously-variable-transmission (CVT). Classical CVTs use weights and springs to achieve variable transmission ratios. Competitive advantage may be gained by eliminating these fixed designs with an electronically controllable adaptive CVT.

2) Topological optimization of structural and suspension components. Classical component designs typically assume monolithic structures of relatively simple structural elements. Leading-edge manufacturing methods enable components of much lower weight but equal performance; these components commonly have an organic or trellised appearance. Components such as the suspension uprights, the engine cradle, and other components may benefit from application of the topological optimization that yields these organic designs.

3) Advanced sensing and communication systems. Development of complex vehicles requires tight integration between predictive analysis and field validation. Multiple parameters need to be acquired, including vehicle speed, fuel consumption, suspension position, loads, etc. This data needs to be captured in real time and either stored on board or transmitted to an off-board data collection and visualization system. Opportunities exist for the design and implementation of all aspects of this system, including novel sensing applications that would be used during development.

4) Development of low-cost body work and composites. Composites, while offering superior strength relative to weight and almost unconstrained geometry, require extensive manpower and other resources for fabrication. Body panels, an integral part of the vehicle skin need to be readily removable/installable, or may even be structural (e.g., stressed-skin composites). Design and manufacturing techniques need to be developed to minimize the manpower cost of manufacturing and mounting these components.

5) Engine development. While the BAJA rules prevent modifications to the engine and its intake or exhaust, the proper design of the vehicle’s powertrain and transmission requires a detailed map of the engine’s performance. Further, fuel consumption is a critical factor in the competition’s Endurance event, yet this is not known to the team. There is a need to map the engine performance relative to throttle position, including fuel consumption. And, if this could be implemented through a system installed on the vehicle during test and development, it would provide valuable information for vehicle optimization (see #3).

6) Development of light-weight brake systems. Braking systems are a critical component of any vehicle. Custom-designed calipers, rotors, and mounting systems provide an opportunity for weight savings on the vehicle. A BAJA vehicle is quite complex, with numerous components and systems. Opportunities abound for projects in design, development, test, and validation on almost any aspect of the current, future, and past vehicles.

Methods and Technologies

  • Optimal design
  • Composites
  • Aerodynamics
  • Internal Combustion Engines
  • Data Acquisition
  • Vehicle Dynamics
  • Electronics
  • Rapid Prototyping
  • Project Management

Academic Majors of Interest

  • All Disciplines
  • Business Administration, Management
  • Computer Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Industrial Design
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Materials Science and Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering

Preferred Interests and Preparation

ME – Background/interest in suspension, drivetrain, and chassis design. Familiarity with finite element analysis techniques preferred but not required. Interest in mechanical design, composites, electronics, controls, ergonomics, advanced manufacturing, data acquisition, etc.

CmpE, CS, EE– Background/interest in embedded systems, web design, sensor design, data acquisition, and interpretation.

ISyE – Background interest in process design, management, and optimization. ID – Background/Interest in vehicle design, ergonomics, and aesthetics.

Business/MGMT – Background/interest in marketing, public relations, purchasing, accounting and finance.

All Majors - Vehicle design, CAD, advanced machining techniques, adative manufacturing, powertrain analysis, engine dynamometer, sensor calibration, vehicle testing, FEA and CAM software, project management, suspension and chassis design, carbon fiber layups, networking and sponsorship, shop management, vehicle and race simulation, testing procedures, engine tuning, driving practice, performance testing, and competition preparation.

Meeting Schedule & Location



Meeting Location: 

AP 1253

Meeting Day: 


Team Advisors

Dr. Kenneth A. Cunefare (ME)


GM, CAT, John Deere, Chevron, Briggs & Stratton, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Textron, Schlumburger

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