GREENVILLE, South Carolina — Bridging the gap between today’s gas-fueled cars and powerful, hybrid vehicles of the future is a major challenge in the automotive industry. At Clemson University, however, an automotive engineering student program aims to do just that.

For the Deep Orange 9 program at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), students are building a first-ever, high-performance, ultra-tough motorsports vehicle with a clean, fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain, advanced technical features and highly dynamic handling and acceleration. The concept is in response to rising fuel-efficiency standards and millennials’ interest in vehicles that are both safe and clean.

Automotive engineering students work on the Deep Orange 9 rallycross vehicle.

Automotive engineering students work on the Deep Orange 9 rallycross vehicle.
Image Credit: CU-ICAR

Honda R&D Americas is the primary sponsor of Deep Orange 9, 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 will also integrate unique concussion research in collaboration with the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System (SRHS) Sports Medicine Institute, DriveSafety Inc. and EyeTracking Inc.

“Honda R&D Americas is excited to support the next generation of engineering talent through CU-ICAR’s one-of-a-kind student program,” David Thompson, chief engineer at Honda R&D Americas, said. “We look forward to seeing how the dreams and innovations of these Deep Orange 9 students can reshape motorsport vehicles, ensure customer safety, improve our environment and increase joy for future generations.”

Deep Orange 9 is designing for global rallycross, a fast-growing 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 typically 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 will disrupt current perceptions of energy-efficient vehicles by showing they can meet extreme performance demands in a safe, economical way.

“The extreme engineering behind motorsports has often been used as a test bed that pushes the boundaries of consumer vehicle technology,” said Robert Prucka, Kulwicki Endowed Professor in Motor Sports Engineering at CU-ICAR, who leads the program. “Deep Orange 9 students are tasked not only with developing an innovative vehicle with the power and handling requirements of an emerging motorsport, but with finding new ways to improve driver safety, fuel efficiency and vehicle emissions in these highly dynamic driving situations.”

Rallycross vehicles require extreme power and agility on a variety of road surfaces and need 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.

Deep Orange 9 will also present new ways to market vehicles to motorsports fans. Their project will benefit from an adjacent marketing collaboration sponsored by the Robert H. Brooks Sports Science Institute at Clemson. Undergraduate students studying consumer behavior, sports marketing and marketing strategy will leverage consumer research to determine, segment and target customers for Deep Orange 9. Using these customer profiles and a deep dive into the original equipment manufacturer sponsor brand, students will design marketing strategies to position Deep Orange 9 for market success.

Deep Orange is a two-year program for master's students at CU-ICAR.

Deep Orange is a two-year program for master’s students at CU-ICAR.
Image Credit: CU-ICAR

Deep Orange is an innovative, project-based learning program that produces highly capable automotive engineers by immersing them in the world of vehicle manufacturers and suppliers. Over two years, the program provides students with experience in financial and market analysis, vehicle design, development, prototyping and production planning. While developing and manufacturing the prototype, students gain comprehensive technical knowledge as well as valuable “soft skills” that often are overlooked in traditional engineering programs.

“After supporting both Deep Orange 6 and 7, we are excited to partner again with CU-ICAR and Deep Orange team. Working directly with the students and watching their progress as they develop the Deep Orange vehicles has been very rewarding,” said Tom Miller, general manager Regulation and Research of Aisin Technical Center of America. “Every Deep Orange project has been challenging, and assisting the students as they work through their design, development and manufacturing issues has helped to challenge ourselves as we mentor their progress. Each Deep Orange vehicle pushes the boundaries of engineering development and Aisin looks forward to helping the Deep Orange 9 team as they tackle their new engineering challenges.”

“Innovation is a top priority for JTEKT and this project is an excellent opportunity to involve the engineers of tomorrow in some of today’s key industry challenges,” said Lance Ferguson, director, Innovation and Capability Development at JTEKT North America Corporation. “We are proud to continue our partnership with Clemson and look forward to seeing their fresh and innovative ideas.”

“BFGoodrich Tires has a long history of using racing as a test bed for developing high-performance consumer tires. Global Rally Cross presents an extraordinary challenge by combining pavement and off-road racing into a single event,” said Ken Payne, motorsports technical director for Michelin North America. “The Deep Orange 9 project seeks to boost classic racing vehicle performance, safety and improved efficiency, which require the optimization and testing of all vehicle design aspects. With the added focus on efficiency, this project becomes relevant for development of tires and vehicle components for consumers in today’s market and beyond. BF Goodrich is thrilled to partner with CU-ICAR and Deep Orange to leverage motorsports as the ultimate science lab.

“Many leading automakers’ production cars are becoming increasingly electrified; so will their motorsports vehicles and racing efforts. The race for the future of next-generation race cars and high-performance systems are critical to vehicle electrification and our autonomous future,” said John Waraniak, vice president of vehicle technology for the Specialty Equipment Market Association. “Deep Orange 9 is centered on the ability to solve problems and the demonstration of technical capability from the track to the street. Innovative programs like Deep Orange 9 help ensure that all racing does not become vintage racing and the future of motorsports remains relevant through modern 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.

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, North Carolina and Florida, 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.

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