Prom hasn’t even arrived yet, but it’s already been a totally awesome year for West Philly High. Popular Mechanics recently awarded the school its Next Generation Breakthrough Award. Yet another coup for the inner city high school’s after-school hybrid car club.
So what did they do to win the prize? A better question might be, what didn’t they do. In June the team entered two cars in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize which, aside from awarding $10 million to the winners, requires entrants to create an affordable, alternative-energy car that gets 100 miles per gallon and can be mass-produced. Entrants are also required to submit a business plan detailing where and how the car will be made and marketed. The contest attracted 111 entrants including such luminaries as Tesla, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell. Both cars, a Factory Five GTM biodiesel hybrid kit car and a converted Ford Focus gasoline plug-in hybrid, made it to the semifinals.
“We were going up against teams that had dozens of engineers, and we had 15 students, a couple of teachers and a dream,” says adviser Simon Hauger, a teacher in the school’s Academy of Automotive and Mechanical Engineering. “One of the marvelous things about teenagers is they’re not daunted by that.”
After its impressive X Prize performance, West Philly won the Green Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, N.Y., last April, when its GTM achieved the equivalent of 160 mpg over 100 miles. The students so impressed Edison2 founder and Automotive X Prize champion Oliver Kuttner that he asked them to build an electric version of his Very Light Car (VLC). The team hopes to operate a nonprofit after-school project that employs students to make and sell the EVLC kit car.