College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Clemson students unveil 600-horsepower hybrid race car prototype


Engineering students develop car that envisions a clean, fuel-efficient future

Deep Orange 9 is a 600-horsepower rallycross cars build by Clemson students at CU-ICAR.
Deep Orange 9 is a 600-horsepower rallycross cars build by Clemson students at CU-ICAR.

CLEMSON, South Carolina — Students at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) unveiled their newest Deep Orange concept vehicle, sponsored by Honda R&D Americas Inc. (HRA). After two years, the 19-student team unveiled the high-performance, fuel-efficient motorsports prototype at the ALL-IN Auto Rally Ride & Drive event at Clemson University Saturday, Oct. 6.

Engineered, built and tested by Clemson automotive engineering students, Deep Orange 9 is a next-generation rallycross race car that disrupts market perceptions of energy-efficient vehicles by showing they can meet extreme performance demands in a safe, clean way. The vehicle combines high-performance, ultra-tough racing features with a clean, fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain, advanced technical innovations, a lightweight/high-strength steel structure and highly dynamic handling and acceleration. The concept is a response to rising fuel-efficiency standards and millennials’ interest in vehicles that are safe, clean and exciting to drive.

[vid origin=”youtube” vid_id=”nvo_uUY1nGM” size=”medium” align=”left”]

HRA challenged the students to create a motorsports concept built for rallycross, a global sport that involves sprint-style racing with large jumps, aggressive jockeying, and drifting on a closed-loop track of dirt, asphalt and mud. Though they begin as production cars, rallycross vehicles are modified to become some of the most versatile racers around. Most feature internal combustion engines to meet the power and agility needs of the sport. As a hybrid vehicle, Deep Orange 9 envisions a clean, fuel-efficient car of the future that doesn’t compromise on performance.

“Deep Orange 9 was a platform for Clemson’s students to develop a concept vehicle that fuses Honda’s challenges to create a carbon-sustainable society while providing customers joy and freedom of mobility,” said Duane Detwiler, director of HRA’s Strategic Research Operations (SRO) division. “We also believe these students can make significant contributions as future HRA associates in helping Honda realize its long-term vision for mobility.”

As part of the graduate automotive engineering program at CU-ICAR, select students receive the unique opportunity to create and build a concept vehicle sponsored by industry. The project showcases advanced technologies and provides students an opportunity to work directly with automotive industry partners. This innovative, project-based learning program produces highly capable automotive engineers by immersing them in the world of vehicle manufacturers and suppliers.

An automotive engineering student uses a grinder on a part for Deep Orange 9.
An automotive engineering student uses a grinder on a part for Deep Orange 9.
“Our program requires students to make highly technical decisions quickly while also keeping the top-level project goals such as safety, performance, customer usability and compressed deadlines in mind,” said Robert Prucka, Kulwicki Endowed Professor in Motor Sports Engineering at CU-ICAR, who led the project. “Designing, building and testing a fully functional vehicle of this level gives our students the perspective, skills and hands-on experience that allows them to seamlessly transition into the workforce.”

The extreme engineering behind motorsports is often a test bed that pushes the boundaries of consumer vehicle technology. Rallycross vehicles require extreme power and agility on a variety of road surfaces, needing explosive acceleration, higher top speeds and more responsive handling and braking than their production-line counterparts. Such conditions require even more attention to driver safety, which makes rallycross the perfect medium to explore the next generation of consumer vehicles.

“Cars are increasingly complicated systems, and industry today needs associates who understand the different ways these systems come together to make a unique, competitive product,” said Chris Paredis, BMW Endowed Chair in Automotive Systems Integration and Deep Orange director. “Deep Orange is a way to teach systems integration to students in a low-risk environment that allows students to innovate, fail fast and get up to speed quickly in ways that prepare them for success in industry.”

Students get hands-on experience in the Deep Orange program, preparing them for jobs in the industry.
Students get hands-on experience in the Deep Orange program, preparing them for jobs in the industry.

Deep Orange 9 was also supported by Aisin Group and JTEKT Corporation as Leadership Sponsors, BFGoodrich as Track Sponsor and Red Bull and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) as Marketing Sponsors. Deep Orange 9 also partnered for unique concussion research in collaboration with the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System Sports Medicine Institute, DriveSafety Inc. and EyeTracking Inc.

The Deep Orange 9 vehicle was engineered around four primary goals: Improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, match current rallycross race performance, and minimize total vehicle operating costs. This is how students achieved those goals:

  • Hybrid drivetrain: The primary concern for most racing teams is performance and speed, not fuel economy. Students engineered an ultra-efficient hybrid drivetrain that improved fuel economy by 30 percent while still meeting power output and performance requirements for existing rallycross cars. The hybrid powertrain works seamlessly with the driver through a student-developed integrated control system.
  • Race-ready acceleration: The combined torque from the electric drivetrain and internal combustion engine helped achieve 0-60 mph in two seconds, making it competitive with existing rallycross cars.
  • Regenerative braking:The use of regenerative braking both improves fuel economy and allows the hybrid powertrain to be operated in charge-sustaining mode, preventing the need for plugging in and recharging the vehicle batteries between races. This allows the vehicle to perform and operate with minimal maintenance throughout a race weekend.
  • Reduce emissions: High performance doesn’t have to mean dirty. Using advanced simulations, students designed an integrated engine and after-treatment system that reduces hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions while also meeting the demands of an intense racing environment.
  • Four-wheel steering: In traditional rallycross, sharp turns are made by locking the rear tires to cause a skid, which represents lost speed and decreased handling during a race. Students designed an electronic four-wheel steering system that allows for faster cornering and higher maneuverability by avoiding the need to lock the rear tires. In the case of Deep Orange 9, this feature also improves fuel economy by capturing lost energy through the wheels.
  • Semi-active suspension: As a mixed-surface race, rallycross forces engineers to make a compromise between performing well on pavement versus dirt and gravel. For Deep Orange 9, students designed a semi-active suspension system that adapts on the fly to changing surfaces, eliminating the need for a compromise.
  • High-strength steel structure: Rallycross involves lots of jumps and aggressive jockeying that you wouldn’t see in a consumer-driving environment. Students were challenged to design a novel packaging system to accommodate the mid-engine through-the-road hybrid powertrain layout and ultra-long travel suspension within the strict safety guidelines required for racing. The result was a heavily optimized, high-strength steel structure that works efficiently with the heavily modified stock chassis.
  • Virtual reality ride-along experience: Rallycross fans are digital natives who expect not only to watch the race, but be a part of it. By incorporating a virtual reality ride-along experience, attendees can take the digital front seat on the track and cheer on their favorite racer wherever they are.

Hands-on learning is critical to the success of CU-ICAR graduates, and Deep Orange 9 has a special future as a “living laboratory” and systems integration education tool for future Clemson Automotive Engineering cohorts. Students will continue to refine and improve the vehicle as part of their rigorous curriculum, including work on control systems, powertrain, vehicle dynamics and suspension.

Sponsors’ comments

“The Aisin Group is proud to be a continuing partner with the Clemson Deep Orange project. Working together on the Deep Orange 6, 7 and now 9 projects, we have been able to see how these vehicles have evolved as the students continue to push their boundaries, creating more complex vehicles,” said Tom Miller, general manager Regulation and Research of Aisin Technical Center of America. “Aisin provided components and know-how but the students worked incredibly hard to adapt these technologies to their vehicle needs. It was an impressive project for us to see how they created this hybrid rallycross vehicle to meet the potential future needs of an ever changing racing and regulatory environment. It has also given Aisin a great opportunity to evaluate these engineering students abilities, and hire them permanently after graduation.”

“The rallycross vehicle these students designed is built for racing. But it’s also sustainable and exciting,” said Ken Payne, motorsports technical director for Michelin North America. “We’re hoping the students who worked on this project will take that message with them as they begin their automotive engineering careers.”

JTEKT North America has been a sponsor of the Deep Orange program since 2015 with engineering support dating back even further. We saw early on that by utilizing the exciting platform of motorsports to develop engineering capabilities, the program was helping to cultivate the next generation of forward-thinking product engineers,” said Gary Sullivan, General Manager, JTEKT Automotive North America. “This year, along with continued engineering expertise, JTEKT provided the hub and torque control units from our South Carolina facilities in Richland and Piedmont, respectively, as well as steering systems shipped from our Vonore, Tennessee, facility. With innovation being a top priority for JTEKT, it’s exciting to see the direction the students took to adapt these components for their vision of Deep Orange 9 and then take those skills to the next phase of their engineering careers.”

“Many leading automakers’ vehicles and systems are becoming increasingly electrified; so, too, are their performance vehicles and racing efforts. Racing is part of our electric and autonomous future – it’s centered on solving problems and demonstrating technology on the world stage and we need to keep racing and performance at the forefront,” said John Waraniak, vice president of vehicle technology for the Specialty Equipment Market Association. “Innovation is the engine of growth and talent is the number one driver. Deep Orange 9 is centered on the ability to solve complex engineering problems and the demonstration of technical capability from the track to the street. Transformative programs like Deep Orange 9 show that there is more than one kind of cool in automotive 4.0 and help ensure the future of motorsports remains relevant and sustainable through contemporary values, safety performance and advanced vehicle technologies.”

Deep Orange
Deep Orange is a flagship program of Clemson’s two-year master’s program in automotive engineering. The program provides students with experience in market analysis, target customer profiles, vehicle design, prototyping, and manufacturing while balancing costs and design targets in an aggressive timeline. The innovative vehicle prototype program encourages students to push the boundaries of conventional design and engineering.

Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research
The Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) is a 250-acre advanced-technology research campus where university, industry and government organizations collaborate. CU-ICAR offers master’s and Ph.D. programs in automotive engineering and is conducting leading-edge applied research in critical areas, such as advanced product-development strategies, sustainable mobility, intelligent manufacturing systems and advanced materials. CU-ICAR has industrial-scale laboratories and testing equipment in world-class facilities available for commercial use.

Honda R&D Americas Inc. (HRA)
HRA was founded in California in 1975 and is responsible for creating advanced products and technologies that provide new value to Honda and Acura customers. HRA has the capability of “complete product creation” — which involves developing all-new products, starting from market and technology research and design styling through engineering design, prototype fabrication and testing, local parts procurement, and support for mass production preparation. With major facilities in California, Ohio, and North Carolina, HRA is engaged in the development and testing of Honda and Acura automobiles, Honda power sports and power equipment products, and is also taking a leading role in the advancement of leading-edge safety, driver assistive, and environmental technologies.

Want to Discuss?

Get in touch and we will connect you with the author or another expert.

Or email us at

    This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.