Drivers, gas station owners and political leaders are in a rage over this week's sudden run-up in gasoline prices -- particularly in the Midwest. In some cities, gasoline has jumped to more than two dollars a gallon just as the summer driving season opens and demand for gasoline is at its peak.

Out in the Arizona desert, hundreds of young engineers are attacking the problem of gasoline demand and air quality at the same time. They're all part of the FutureTruck 2000 project -- an ambitious advanced automotive engineering project that's trying to turn the sport utility vehicle of the future into a gas-stingy and greener vehicle.

General Motors Corporation, the U.S. Department of Energy, Yahoo! Inc. and 15 prestigious universities are combining their resources in this long-term fight against rising gasoline prices. After nine months of hard work, these student teams and their vehicles are undergoing testing and evaluation at the GM Desert Proving Ground in Mesa, Arizona. They hope to reinvent the sport utility vehicle -- making it "greener" without sacrificing its ability to carry cargo, tow a trailer or go off-road.

The recent spikes in gasoline prices make it easy to understand the need to reduce fuel consumption. But the FutureTruck project goes further than that. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is also a key goal.

GM supplied each team with a brand new 2000 Chevrolet Suburban and $10,000 in seed money. Each team designed a different hybrid powertrain, combining electric propulsion with another fuel source. Ethanol, gasoline, diesel, biodiesel and hydrogen are among the fuels used. Teams have also incorporated weight reduction, improved powertrain efficiency, better aerodynamics, computer-based energy management and advanced energy storage devices.

But the job is far from finished. After a week of competition in the desert, the teams return home and have one more year to work on their vehicles. In June of 2001, we'll know how well they did and how well we may all do in a few years once these advanced automotive technologies are finally ready for the show room.

General Motors, the U.S. Department of Energy and Yahoo! Inc are the title sponsors of FutureTruck 2000. Other sponsors include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; the National Science Foundation; the Aluminum Association; Automotive Testing Laboratories, Inc.; Delphi Automotive Systems; Natural Resources Canada; the Governors Ethanol Coalition; the Renewable Fuels Association; National Biodiesel Board, and the Newark Electronics. General Motors is supplying vehicles, seed money and prize money to the universities for this first stage of competition. Ford Motor Company will replace General Motors as the automotive sponsor in the second two years of competition while the U.S. Department of Energy provides financial, organizational and technical support.

Competing universities include: Concordia University; Cornell University; George Washington University; Georgia Tech; Michigan Technological University; Ohio State University; Penn State University; Texas Tech University; University of California, Davis; University of Idaho; University of Maryland; University of Tennessee; University of Wisconsin-Madison; Virginia Tech; and West Virginia University.

In order to make this technology accessible to the largest possible audience, portions of the FutureTruck 2000 competition will be broadcast live via the World Wide Web. On June 12, students will do a daylong series of live presentations on their individual engineering strategies. And on June 15, the FutureTruck awards ceremony will be broadcast live on the web. More information is available at www.futuretruck.org.