The Chevrolet Camaro gulps down gas. Can a bunch of students turn this iconic sports car into a model of fuel efficiency?

That's the task students at 16 colleges across North America will face as they prepare for the start of a four-year competition run by the Department of Energy that challenges them to reduce the environmental impact of a car by reducing its fuel consumption and emissions.

In previous competitions, one of which is still wrapping up, the teams have competed with ordinary sedans like the Chevy Malibu. But the Camaro, which nets about 17 miles per gallon and 28 on the highway in its tock model, may be a far tougher challenge.

Officials announced the start of the EcoCar3 competition Thursday in Washington, D.C. They are still deciding exactly which model of the sports car will be used in the competition, but engineering students must figure out a way to turn it into a hybrid-electric car that cuts down on gas without hurting the performance that customers expect.

Such engineering challenges can help shape the next generation of automotive engineers. James Kolhoff, a global chief engineer and program manager at General Motors, said the company had gained significant talent and intellectual property as a result of its collaborations on previous EcoCar competitions. Now, GM is "also eager to see how the students will redesign and add more efficiency to an iconic muscle car like the Chevrolet Camaro," Kolhoff said.

Fifteen universities are wrapping up the three-year EcoCar2 competition with a final evaluation scheduled for June 1 to 12, in Milford, Michigan.

Universities scheduled to compete in the next competition, which will reach completion in 2018, are: Arizona State, Cal State, Colorado State, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Georgia Tech, McMaster University (Ontario), Mississippi State, Ohio State, Penn State, Alabama, Tennessee, Washington, Waterloo (Ontario), Virginia Tech, Wayne State and West Virginia.

Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.