Walter E. Lay Automotive Engineering Laboratory

Welcome to the Auto Lab ! The lab is named for former faculty member, and automotive pioneer, Walter E. Lay.

The Auto Lab has existed as a facility on the University of Michigan North Campus since 1957. Today, it is home to a broad range of automotive research including: controls, combustion, thermodynamics and fuels for internal combustion engines. The Auto Lab is also home to research facilities on batteries for automotive applications, and vehicle autonomy.

Old picture of scientist

Automotive engineering has always played a central role in the research and teaching activities of the
Department of Mechanical Engineering. The University’s proximity to the heart of the nation’s auto industry
in Detroit has made Automotive Engineering a natural focus for the Department.

Old picture of dynamometer

A tireless researcher, Walter E. Lay (center, right) stands at the dynamometer controls during an analysis
of the performance of automotive mufflers (ca. 1930).

Facilities grew from a wooden shed attached to the engineering laboratory in the early 1900s, to the
spacious, modern automotive lab constructed on North Campus in 1956. Research interests have
included most areas of automotive engineering, from early studies on streamlining and engine heat
balance in the twenties and thirties to pivotal investigations on fuel efficiency and emissions in the

Old Michigan test car

Mounted on a Chevrolet chassis, the “Blue Bird” served as one of the university’s first test vehicles. Its
exotic design helped to determine air resistance to motion in land vehicles, and to explore the effect of
changes in vehicle shape. In the days before strain gauges, Lay suspended the shell of the “Blue Bird” on
an assembly of scales to measure wind resistance while driving.