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West Philadelphia high school dares to build a 100 m.p.g. car

Students from West Philadelphia make a viable 'X PRIZE' run against auto companies from around the globe. The potential prize: $7.5 million for the school and a 100 m.p.g. car for the world.

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West Philadelphia High School team members peer into the power plant compartment of the Ford Focus they modified. They are the only school group among more than 100 original teams.

Tim Shaffer/Reuters

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Can a team of high school students beat out dozens of adult competitors and win $7.5 million by building the "Model T" of the 21st century?

They're working on it.

A group of about 15 students from West Philadelphia High School is in the running for the 2010 Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE, a competition to build street-ready vehicles that can average 100 miles per gallon or more.

The West Philly Hybrid X team, a largely after-school project, has two cars among the 22 teams and 27 cars still in the competition. A "knockout" round in mid-June will further narrow the field. The winner will be determined in finals held at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, July 19-30.

West Philly is the only high school team in the competition, which has been taking places in stages for more than a year. Originally, 111 teams with 136 vehicles entered. Other survivors range from small start-up companies to Tata Motors, the giant automaker in India.

What West Philly has accomplished is really "an amazing story," says Eric Cahill, senior director of the Automotive X Prize, a project of the X PRIZE Foundation that has held similar competitions to build private spacecraft and decode the human genome.

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