'It’s very impressive': Local high school students put hand-built electric cars to the test

No driver's license was needed for a group of high-schoolers driving their own electric vehicles through the University of Waterloo campus on Saturday.

Nine high schools, including five from Waterloo region, participated in the ninth annual Waterloo Electric Vehicle Challenge.

The local schools competing were:

  • Laurel Heights Secondary School (Waterloo)
  • Bluevale Collegiate Institute (Waterloo)
  • Eastwood Collegiate Institute (Kitchener)
  • Preston High School (Cambridge)
  • St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School (Cambridge)

The event challenged each team to design and build a battery powered car capable of driving the farthest distance without running out of power.

“It's very impressive for a group of students at a high school level to understand the intricacies of powertrains and vehicle electrical systems and steering systems, suspension. There’s a lot of knowledge there,” Sedra Student Design Centre director Peter Teertstra told CTV News.

The event made its return to the University of Waterloo after taking a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. Each team’s vehicle was judged based on a long-distance drive with a 12-volt battery, and another with the use of a 24-volt battery.

Students began working on their vehicles last fall, assembling the chassis, installing the electrical hardware, and fastening the seats.

“There’s no textbook, you get right into the experience,” said a student from Waterloo’s Bluevale Collegiate Institute. “You’re on an engineering team. It really prepares you, gives you the hard and soft skills to be able to do this in the future, throughout university, and be able to do it for a company eventually.”

Ross McKenzie, the managing director of the Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research, believes the event offers students a great opportunity to gain hands-on knowledge of working on electric motors rather than gas-powered engines. McKenzie views that as particularly important as battery powered vehicles reshape the automotive industry.

“There’s definitely a direct connection with the transition we’re seeing in the automotive sector and the work that these high school students are doing,” McKenzie said. “It’s the way of the future. Everything is going electric.”

The day ended in a clean sweep for Waterloo's Bluevalle Collegiate Institute, which took home first place in both the 12-volt and 24-volt categories.