Nov 28 - Dec 4, 20

International automotive competitions are held to recognise the scientific feats and human artisanship of the contestants. Participation in such events is itself an accolade for and strong motivation to the participating engineers and that push them further towards skill and capacity developments. For people still in their academic pursuits, this proves a lifetime achievement besides elevating the stature of a country they belong in the international community.

It is in fact a breeze for many who have lost hopes of engineering sector's turnaround to know that Pakistani engineers-to-be are burning the midnight oil to rekindle the hope.

The high-spirited studying engineers of a country's well-reputed engineering university NED are all set to present their car design at the Formula SAE Australia (SAE-A) competition kick starting from 15th December, 2011.

NED University Of Engineering & Technology, Karachi will be the only university representing Pakistan in the international mega event of its kind and its car number 18 will be in direct competition to other contenders of well-heeled institutes from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, India, Malaysia, and Germany.

There is no restriction on the numbers of participants from a single country in the Formula SAE as more than one universities from Japan, Australia, etc. will be demonstrating their works during a three-day competition. NED has got the honour to get its model registered in the competition.

Society of automotive engineers Australia (SAE-A), a non-profit organization, is working to introduce automotive-related technologies to governments, industry, and the stakeholders and linked with reputable foreign automobile organizations and associations.

Formula SAE is an annual occasion that promotes students to come up with innovative design of formula style cars. The jury cheers the winners for making distinctions in manufacturing, engineering, quality, fuel efficiency, etc. Weight, speed, and cost are also primary criteria for winning the competition.

The NED team is hopeful of clinching the recognition abroad. "I am hopeful that our car would break 60-km distance within 3.5 seconds," says Babar Mughal, the team leader, in a hurry to depart for Islamabad to lay hand on the racing car in final stage of making at Nascom's plant.

Why Nascom? A question prompted a pause. "Basically, we need a well-equipped plant to give a life to our brain child," he vouchsafes while talking over phone with Page. "NED provides us with all the prerequisites to complete our thesis work. Car making needs a full-fledged workshop."

The team comprising of 15 members in different years of studies prepared the complete blueprint of the car. "From zero up to final levels, everything was defined by us," avers Mughal, a student in final year.

Universities in developed countries offering automobile courses normally have established in-house auto workshops saddled with modern technologies, giving their students hands-on environment to fabricate engineering designs from scratch.

Let alone required facilities, even funds needed for research and development are not sufficient in higher learning institutes. The design under review that took seven months to be ready for a drive, is a costly feat for students and management supporting them.

"Most of the funds were generated from outside the university," comments Abdul Majeed Sheikh. Director Directorate of Industrial Liaison, NED, says the university has poured in some money in the project that "we believe has guts to make out well in the contest."

"Even if we can't, reaching there and registration with the contest will at least encourage our followers to come forward in a show that has been conspicuous with Pakistan's absence for years," asserts Mughal.

Mr. Sheikh, who is also a member of SAE and therefore seems a prime force in pushing students up, says funds are the issue. The models usually brought forward in such competitions by other nations are elegant in look and engineering masterpieces markedly different from run of the mill products. Obviously, such pieces merit resources, he says. A finished car will cost in millions. "Unfortunately, we lack technologies and money."

His illustrations can make anyone realize how difficult most of the times it is for a promising project to come out of the papers in the higher learning seats of Pakistan. Bilal Mughal is also mildly complaining against the paucity of funds.

"Students have to run from pillar to post to get funds," he says.

Situation goes often so complex due to monetary constraints that a viable venture could not come to fruition or if otherwise, is unable to come neck and neck with its peers at international platforms.

Students have to raise funds and use relationships and institution management has to awaken the corporate social responsibility of industrial sector for research and development of their own. Government-allocated R&D for public sector universities is insufficient to feed the projects.

NED is a public sector engineering university providing higher education to mainly middle and lower-middle classes. It is not the first time that it is participating in an international event. Fuel-efficient urban concept vehicles fabricated by its students have also been tested in Shell Eco Marathon in 2010 and 2011.

This international competition received entries from world over. The marathon celebrates quirkily fuel-efficient vehicles. Last year winner finished giving an output of 1500 plus km per litre of gasoline. Alternative fuels and renewable energy driven cars are also judged for their millage per kilometre. Unfortunately, Pakistani cars did not grab the on-track titles. Off-track awards are given for obligations to other regulations.

Automobile sector is flourishing in Pakistan and has made inroads to export markets. Localisation needs to be promoted to build the country as an automotive springboard. Engineering institutes should be capitalized on to develop automobile sector and generally engineering sector on par with international standards.