Skip to main content
Northwestern University

TA-DA - Undergraduates Design Expandable Electric Car

You have probably heard of electric cars, but what about an expandable electric car?

Four Northwestern students -- Sally Park, Eric Willms, Elizabeth McTighe, and Matt O’Hagan -- designed just that: a car named TA-DA that expands in length with an interior that reconfigures into a personal workspace, entertainment room, or sleeping compartment.

Park, Willms, McTighe, and O’Hagan designed TA-DA as part of a larger international design team for the P.A.C.E. competition. P.A.C.E. stands for Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education. It is a two-year design competition organized by various corporate sponsors, including General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, and Siemens. The student teams were challenged to develop a sustainable design which could be mass-producible within five years.

The global team that Park, Willms, McTighe, and O’Hagan joined included students from five universities around the world. For their part, the Northwestern students focused on a system to expand the rear frame of the car and lock the expansion section in place whether fully retracted or fully expanded.

Their team was honored with four prizes at the P.A.C.E. annual forum, including the RSMS Overall Award (which is the event’s highest honor) as well as first place awards in Industrial Design,  Product Engineering, and Manufacturing. In fact, the judges announced that their team earned the highest engineering score ever achieved by a P.A.C.E. team. The team's faculty advisor was Stacy Benjamin, the co-director of the Segal Design Certificate program.

Participating in a global team gave these Northwestern students the chance to learn from their peers at other institutions. Eric Willms, a fourth year pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering alongside the Segal Design Certificate, said that opportunity was his favorite part of the experience.

“My favorite part of the project was working with the international team, and collaborating so closely with Hongik University in Seoul, Korea,” said Willms. “We still talk to our teammates frequently and hope to work with them again in the future.”

Sally Park, who graduated from Northwestern last year with a BS from the Manufacturing and Design Engineering (MaDE) program offered by the Segal Design Institute, agreed.

“The competition allowed me to collaborate with students globally and this helped me improve my communication skills and presentation skills,” said Park. This year, Park is pursuing an MS in Engineering Design Innovation through the Segal Design Institute.

The team even traveled to Seoul as part of the P.A.C.E. competition and met some of their teammates. Elizabeth McTighe, who is majoring in the MaDE program, found the cross-cultural exchange to highly valuable to the design process.

“Having the opportunity to travel to Korea and meet in person while working on the project, I saw new technologies such as car rental apps and parking structures that our teammates integrated into the design,” said McTighe. "I understood better the cultural differences that enabled our teammates to envision uses for our car that, on our own, we never would have considered. For example, the use of the car as a cafe space.”

Back to top