(TNS) — Yes, the car's trunk is way too small.

This was one of the takeaways from an unusual meeting last week between the chief engineer of the Chevrolet Camaro and the students of the EcoCar 3 team at Ohio State University.

The engineer, Al Oppenheiser, was part of a delegation from General Motors that came to campus because Ohio State won the first leg of the intercollegiate contest last year. EcoCar 3 is in the second year of a three-year production cycle in the competition that has students developing ways to make existing vehicles run more efficiently. There are challenges at the end of each year.

"It's great seeing where they are right now," said Oppenheiser as he looked at the team's Camaro, which was up on a lift with no tires.

The team, which has 30 to 40 members, was up against a two-week deadline for having the car driveable.

"I'm feeling a little nervous about it, but we're going to get it done," said M.J. Yatsko, 23, the team leader and a second-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. "We always get it done."

The team has converted the car from a standard gasoline engine to a plug-in hybrid. To do this, students have put a battery pack in the area that would be the trunk and had to contend with the fact that a Camaro's trunk is barely large enough for a golf bag.

Oppenheiser said he heard the same thing from engineers on his team when designing the vehicle, who wanted to make the trunk larger.

The students are "going to learn is what we learned, which is that you have to have priorities," he said.

In this case, the size of the trunk was determined by the placement of the driver's seat and the fact that the Camaro is a "two-plus-two" sports car, with standard front seats and small back seats. A larger trunk would have meant sacrificing the look or feel of some other part of the vehicle.

Oppenheiser spent a few hours with the students. Before he left, they asked him and his colleagues to sign the car. The signatures are on some of the plastic parts underneath the hood.

Mostly unspoken was that many of the students will one day work in the auto industry and that the EcoCar project has become a recruiting tool for automakers. GM is one of the program's lead sponsors along with the U.S. Department of Energy.

For a job-seeker, "just saying they're on the EcoCar 3 team is instant credibility," said Jim Kalahar, GM's Camaro program manager, who also made the trip.

Students played it cool, despite the presence of someone who is well-known in automotive engineering circles.

"I just like calling (Oppenheiser) Al, because it's like we're on a first-name basis," joked Dennis Kibalama, 25, a graduate student from Uganda.

Jesse Toprak, an auto analyst and CEO of CarHub, an auto research website, said Oppenheiser "is not a household name, but he's a big name."

And, for Oppenheiser to show up to spend an afternoon with college students is like "you're in a movie program and (Martin) Scorcese shows up," Toprak said.

The year-two portion of the national EcoCar competition begins May 16 in Yuma, Arizona.

©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.