Record-breaking electric race cars

Academic race car manufacturer designs record-breaking electric race cars from scratch in just a few months.

While Formula 1® races attract large crowds and huge worldwide television audiences, Formula Student is a less well known category. Founded by the Society of Automotive Engineers in 1981, Formula Student is the world’s largest competition for engineers. More than 600 university teams from around the world compete in 18 races with cars they have designed and built from scratch. Unlike popular car races, the winner is not necessarily the car and driver coming in first after a set number of laps. In addition to dynamic contests including an acceleration race and skid pad cornering as well as an autocross qualifying race and finally a 22-kilometer endurance race, the engineers have to present their car and its develop-ment process in static events.

We find it particularly helpful to be able to verify our designs at all stages along the development process using Siemens’ Simcenter portfolio.
Leiv Andresen, CEO, AMZ

A jury of celebrities from the economy, the auto¬motive industry and professional racing judges the design, the underlying business plan and the financial planning including manufacturing. Founded in 2006 by students of ETH Zurich Technical University, the Academic Motorsports Club Zurich (AMZ) was the first Swiss team in Formula Student and takes part in competitions all over Europe every year. From 2013 to 2016, the team won eight out of 16 competitions and in June 2016, their race car called “grimsel” set a world record, accelerating from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in 1.513 seconds. By comparison, the fastest accelerating production car takes 2.2 seconds.

High fluctuation as an engineering challenge

The club offers students the opportunity to put their acquired theoretical knowledge into practice with highly complex engineering in an open, companionable environment. During this process they gather experience in the fields of leader­ship, innovation and quality management, cost analysis, project and product documentation and risk control. They design hundreds of parts for each of the cars. “This even includes the tires and the electric motors themselves,” says Leiv Andresen, CEO of AMZ. “Off-the-shelf motors are always a compromise, made to cater to various requirements. We design our motors to optimally fit the specific needs of our car. This also allows us to reach maximum power density: each one of our four motors delivers more than 50 horse­power while weighing just under three kilograms.”


While partners manufacture most of the parts, the AMZ team produces central components such as the carbon composite monocoque chassis in two locations provided by the ETH Zurich Institute of Virtual Manufacturing. There, they also assemble the race cars, which are then tested on various Swiss air fields.


The AMZ team consists of 35 active members designing the race car for the upcoming Formula Student season. These students from the Swiss universities ETH Zurich and UAS Lucerne came together in September with the aim of publicly presenting the ready-to-race car by the end of May and of course winning four competitions in July and August. Although veterans from previous teams assist them by providing knowledge and experience, tackling a task as complex as designing an entire car with an all-new team in this short period poses a unique engineering challenge.

Seamless integration

For design and verification work as well as technical documentation, AMZ members have for many years been using various software products from product lifecycle management (PLM) specialist Siemens PLM Software.


“NX is the most central tool for our design work,” says Andresen. “We benefit from the deep integration of all Siemens PLM software solutions with NX. We can start Simcenter 3D software within the NX environment. As we do not need to get acquainted with different user interfaces, this saves a lot of time and error.”


As the lightweight, high-powered cars are constantly challenging the frontiers of physics, design verification at all stages of the vehicles’ development is vitally important. “We find it particularly helpful to be able to verify our designs at all stages along the development process using Siemens’ Simcenter 3D software,” Andresen elaborates.


“We utilize the Simcenter 3D Motion software for multi-body simulation and perform structural analysis with NX Nastran as well as flow simulations using STAR-CCM+ software.” This software is used to optimize the aerodynamics package of the car. STAR-CCM+ has the capability to simulate flows, and also allows users to export pressure distributions. The results of the simulations are re-imported to NX, provid­ing all those involved in this engineering effort with up-to-date information about the structural loading of the components, which in turn is used to optimize geometries.

Business challenges

  • Design electric race cars from scratch in very short time
  • Rapidly changing teams of students
  • Reduce weight of the cars to a minimum
  • Provide documentation for part production by external partners

Keys to success

  • Create a digital twin of the entire race car
  • Use NX software for all design work
  • Optimize designs using Simcenter portfolio for finite element structural analysis, multibody and flow simulation


  • Designed brand-new race car within eight months
  • Won eight of 16 competitions from 2013 to 2016
  • Achieved world record with 30 percent better acceleration than best production car


Picture credits: Stephanie Bergan



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