CLEMSON, South Carolina — In 2020, young car buyers of Generation Z will be shopping for vehicles that make their entrepreneurial, mobile lifestyles easier. They’ll want something like the uBox, an urban utility, activity concept vehicle unveiled Tuesday at the Society for Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit.

uBox is the sixth concept car in the Deep Orange series, a collaboration between graduate automotive engineering students at Clemson University, transportation design students at ArtCenter College of Design and auto industry partners.

Clemson’s Deep Orange graduate students spend two years immersed in experiential learning at CU-ICAR, the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research. The program challenges students to apply what they learn from faculty and industry experts into new designs, vehicle innovations and new engineering processes. The goal is to train future engineers to be innovators capable of designing vehicles that balance environmental consciousness, social adaptability and economic feasibility.

“Deep Orange gives students hands-on experience with the entire vehicle development process, from identifying the market opportunity through the vehicle build,” said Johnell Brooks, an associate professor in Clemson’s graduate engineering program. “It’s like automotive boot camp for the real world.”

The uBox, or Deep Orange 6, was a collaboration with Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, which asked the students to produce a vehicle that would appeal to young, urban buyers.

DO6 7 passengers“It has been widely reported that Gen Z is less interested in vehicle ownership,” said Jeff Makarewicz, senior vice president of Vehicle, Quality, & Safety Engineering at Toyota Motor North America. “As such, the future of the automotive industry is about to be redefined. Therefore, who better to help define the needs and interests of this generation than the generation itself. Through Deep Orange 6 we wanted the students — all Gen Z — to study and identify the needs of their generation and create a utility vehicle that supports their lifestyles. We expected to challenge the students to go beyond what they’ve learned in the classroom and work across multiple disciplines to investigate, design, develop and build a vehicle targeting their generation.

“This has been a valuable experience for us as well. Seeing how the next generation of engineers thinks, works and integrates technology has been a great takeaway,” Makarewicz said.

Collaboration and cooperation are key to the success of Deep Orange vehicles, said Stewart Reed, chair of transportation design at ArtCenter.

“These students will likely work together as professionals in the field after graduation,” Reed said. “We like to say that complex automotive development is a team sport. Being able to bring engineering into the design student experience is very important.”

What Gen Z wants

After in-depth market research, 18 CU-ICAR graduate automotive engineering students and two ArtCenter graduate transportation systems and design students worked together to create the uBox with a distinctive look, but with conveniences for urban living for the active entrepreneur.

The unique selling points and technical innovations of the uBox include:

  • A bold, youthful and distinctive exterior design that aligns with generation Z’s personality trait to stand out, embodying a muscular stance that looks like it’s sprung forward in motion, even when standing still.
  • A multipurpose vehicle with a versatile interior that can be rearranged for various activities, from working or operating a business, to hauling bulky cargo. A low floor allows for reconfigurable, removable seats on sliding tracks that can be nested.DO6 13 cargo
  • Items such as vents, dashboard display bezels and door trim that can be personalized and made with 3-D printing technology, and an online community for owners where they can share design ideas.
  • A compact, dual-purpose, all-electric powertrain providing a fun driving experience and emission-free stationary energy to power consumer electronics, power tools or other devices through various 110-volt sockets located throughout the interior and exterior.
  • The use of high-strength composites to integrate the non-structural dashboard with the structural vehicle body that reduces weight, minimizes part count and simplifies assembly.
  • A lightweight, simplified, roof rail construction using high-strength, curved, composite pultrusions that can be mass manufactured at low cost.

DO6 10 laptopMark Benton, Clemson’s student team leader, wanted a hands-on graduate engineering experience after receiving an industrial design degree from Auburn University. He got that and much more while leading the Deep Orange team.

“I think part of the growing and learning process is being able to compromise between the different teams,” Benton said. Being part of a multidisciplinary team taught Benton and the other students how to integrate different personalities, interests and engineering goals.

“Toyota was fantastic, from the local dealership to meetings with vice presidents all the way up, every single person treated us like professional colleagues,” Benton said. “They asked tough questions, they were respectful and they were very generous with their time. Allowing us to put their brand on the product has meant the world to me and our team.”

Toyota also played a major role in the educational process.DO6 4 plugged in

“The collaboration with Toyota was open and extremely fruitful” said Paul Venhovens, endowed chair for automotive systems integration at CU-ICAR. “The Toyota management team asked all the right questions at the right time. They constantly challenged the students with justifying their design and engineering decisions based on the Toyota brand essence, real-world customers and what the students believed the future would embrace. This experience can simply not be gained from a text book.”

“Watching the hard work and the late hours pay off for these young engineers has been rewarding, as has watching them develop unique design and manufacturing processes such as the roof rail extrusion,” said Craig Payne, Toyota executive program manager.

The uBox vehicle will be on display in the Toyota Atrium Exhibit area of Cobo Center from Tuesday through Thursday.