Left page: A size comparison of a typical car engine (left) with the Harley-Davidson 1340cc V-Twin engine (right). This page, clockwise from top right: Students at work; the EVX Team’s work space; EVX Team member and teacher Jerry DiLossi with a student; Simon Hauger, teacher and director of the West Philly EVX Team; and EVX Team coordinator Ron Preiss with a team member.
CUT TO WEST PHILADELPHIA, across the river from Philly proper and once a solid working-class town. The row houses lining the streets there now have the stone-broke look of every Rust Belt burg that’s gone bust. Zoom in on the plain block building, a former fleet garage, at Locust and South Hanson streets. This is the West Philadelphia High School Academy of Automotive and Mechanical Engineering, called Auto for short. According to local lore, Auto used to be a dumping ground for kids who couldn’t cut it -- those with disciplinary problems, in the lingo of education -- at West Philadelphia High School, Auto’s parent, just around the block.
Times have changed -- in part, because back in 1998, Hauger and a bunch of kids took a go-kart, yanked the gas engine, rigged it to run on electric power, and schlepped it over to a citywide science fair, where they competed against 600 contestants and astounded themselves by taking second place. And so began Auto’s Electric Vehicle (EV) team saga. They entered a Jeep Wrangler one year, a Saturn SL2 another, and a Slovakian kit car yet another, all reengineered as high-mileage electric or mixed-fuel hybrids.
Along the way, the team found a quest more compelling than science fairs: the prestigious Tour de Sol. Think of it as Earth Day on wheels. Several dozen universities, innovative car–company start-ups, and high schools raced their electric, solar, biodiesel, or hybrid cars through the Northeast United States in those five-day road rallies. Festivals in towns along the way showcased the latest concept cars from Ford, GM, Honda, and Toyota. The Auto EV Team’s third time out, in 2002, it won the grand prize, and it then went on to repeat that feat in ’05 and ’06, the Tour de Sol’s last year. Suddenly, Auto had it: class, éclat, pride.
It was in 2006 that, thanks to the EV Team’s role in the Tour de Sol, Hauger got an e-mail asking for his input on a rough draft of the X Prize Foundation’s plans for one of its upcoming projects, the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize. “I knew immediately we had to participate,” Hauger says.