Engineers shouldn’t be expected to be proficient at marketing, nor should marketers be assigned the task of building prototype automobiles.

With a backdrop of previous prototypes, Rob Prucka, associate professor, and interns Ben Halsted and Alyssa Canning discuss their project.

With a backdrop of previous prototypes, Rob Prucka, associate professor, and interns Ben Halsted and Alyssa Canning discuss their project.
Image Credit: Clemson University

That’s why students in Clemson University’s automotive engineering master’s and marketing undergraduate programs are collaborating on a year-long project that will produce a cutting-edge motorsports car that includes a design component aimed at driving younger fans to an up and coming extreme sport.

The rallycross motorsports vehicle, being designed and built at Clemson’s Department of Automotive Engineering on the CU-ICAR campus in Greenville, is the theme of the ninth generation Deep Orange project, the backbone of the university’s graduate automotive engineering program.

“Rallycross is an exciting form of racing that involves modified, high-horsepower cars that compete in sprint races on dirt and paved tracks, many with uneven surfaces,” said Rob Prucka, associate professor of automotive engineering. “What our marketing students are charged with is adding a design element to the vehicle that will help draw younger fans to rallycross racing.”

College of Business associate professor Jennifer Siemens’ consumer behavior marketing class is researching and generating ideas to address their end of the prototype car’s design. Their market research has indicated millennials don’t simply want to watch a race, they wanted to be part of it.

Students presented a variety of marketing ideas to incorporate in the vehicle, including paint that changes color when the vehicle accelerates, or employing a technology that counts down the distance between the vehicle and its next obstacle on the race course.

“There were a number of creative ideas presented to draw young fans to the sport, but the one that got traction is putting the fan behind the wheel of the car using virtual reality technology,” Siemens said. “Basically, a camera inside the car will give fans the driver’s view through use of cardboard Google viewers that are connected to the viewer’s smartphone. It will provide a virtual reality racing experience, whether they’re in the stands, or in their living room.”

Interns Ben Halsted and Alyssa Canning work on the virtual reality component of the next prototype vehicle.

Interns Ben Halsted and Alyssa Canning work on the virtual reality component of the next prototype vehicle.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Prucka, the Kulwicki Endowed Professor in Motorsports, is charged with overseeing the concept vehicle’s design and construction, which he said should be ready to drive by May of 2018. Deep Orange 9’s engine, chassis and suspension will incorporate high tech components, similar to the program’s previous generations of cars.

“In designing and building these vehicles, we act similar to a start-up small car company and take on the culture of the sponsors we’re working with on the project,” Prucka said. “When you’re building a product around a customer needs, it’s a no-brainer to have marketing students working alongside our engineers.”

Siemens, Prucka and Mary Anne Raymond secured funding for the marketing end of the project through the Robert H. Brooks Sports Science Institute. Included are summer internships for two marketing students to conduct research on their role in the car’s design.

Marketing majors Ben Halsted and Alyssa Canning are working this summer at CU-ICAR, which is home to the nation’s only graduate department of automotive engineering.

“We’re still in the analysis stage and looking for the best ways to educate younger fans about rallycross racing. We’re examining different ways that might help draw interest. The research will determine how the virtual reality will be used,” Halsted said. “One tactic we might use when gathering data is to have a pre-recorded rally car race that can be viewed from the driver’s seat. Or, we might incorporate virtual reality in another way by showing team members working on the vehicle.”

Siemens, who won the business school’s interdisciplinary teaching/service award from Dean Bobby McCormick for her work on this project, said the collaboration with automotive engineering is a great learning experience for students on both ends of the project.

“This is a tremendous experiential opportunity for students with distinctly different skill sets to work as a team. That’s how it works in the business world and why we’re excited about what the next year of learning will bring for these students.”

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