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O.T. Swanson Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory

Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory

Students Drive Ion Redesign

Rensselaer seniors taking a capstone course in the O.T. Swanson Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory (MDL) are lending their engineering expertise — along with their firsthand knowledge of the “Generation Y” consumer — to help design a customized version of the Saturn Ion Quad Coupe.

Last semester, 17 seniors from mechanical, electrical, industrial, and materials engineering were enlisted by the car’s manufacturer, General Motors (GM), to identify automotive features that would appeal to the coveted Generation Y crowd, an emerging market force of 60 million individuals currently between the ages of 5 and 20 years old. While the Ion already attracts a healthy percentage of young buyers, GM is looking to attract more.

After a project orientation session at the GM Vehicle Engineering Center in Warren, Mich., last September, the team conducted market research to understand their target buyers and developed a broad array of possible feature concepts. The student group then presented their recommendations to a group of GM executives in December. Some of the team’s recommendations included interior “theater lighting,” a driver-friendly diagnostic computer, removable speakers, and a host of styling changes that the students recommended to help make the Saturn Ion even more appealing. This semester, the group will complete the project by adapting their feature package into an existing Saturn Ion vehicle provided by GM to demonstrate an integrated system concept solution. The team’s final version will be reviewed by GM in April.

“This project has exposed students to the many real-world opportunities and issues associated with the automotive industry,” says Mark Steiner ’78, director of the MDL.

Photo by Paul Castle

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Rensselaer Magazine: Summer 2004
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