The auto X PRIZE competition is "extremely rigorous," Mr. Cahill says. "There's no child's play here. These aren't concept cars. These are expected to be production-capable vehicles.
"This isn't a college championship. This is really the pros. You've got to show us your stuff or you will be eliminated."
In 1998 West Philly math and science teacher Simon Hauger started an after-school program for students in the automotive program, which includes about 150 of the 900 students at the school. Previous West Philly teams have built or modified a number of vehicles, entering them into national competition such as the alternative vehicle Tour del Sol.
The Automotive X PRIZE presents a new challenge: How to build a safe, reliable car that will get at least 100 m.p.g. on gasoline or its equivalent using other fuels, such as electricity or biodiesel.
In early testing both West Philly cars appear to have achieved the goal.
Vehicles in the Mainstream Class must have four wheels and carry four passengers for at least 200 miles between refuelings. The winner will receive $5 million. For this competition, the West Philly team has adapted a Ford Focus by taking out the gasoline engine and replacing it with an electric motor using lithium-ion batteries. That's supplemented by a two-cylinder Harley-Davidson motorcycle engine.
The Alternative class requires at least two wheels and a minimum range of 100 miles. For this competition, West Philly bought a build-it-yourself racing-car kit meant to be powered by a Porsche or Corvette engine. Instead, they dropped in an electric motor running on lithium-ion batteries and a Volkswagen engine powered by biodiesel.