As 2010 comes to an end, we take a look back at the remarkable journey the West Philly Hybrid X Team made in the Automotive X PRIZE. Through the leadership of Simon Hauger, the intense involvement of the staff of the Auto Academy, the technical expertise of our Drexel students and the amazing support of our friends, family and supporters, we had a year we’ll never forget. We hope you’ll share in our recollections and join us as we plunge into our 2011 adventures.
On Thursday September 16, 2010, I accompanied 4 members of the West Philly Hybrid X Team to the White House. We were in town from the Awards Ceremony of the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE at the same time President Barack Obama was announcing the creation of a new initiative to increase resources for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. His initiative is called Change the Equation.Check out the video about our visit.
On September 15, members of the West Philly Hybrid X Team traveled to Washington, DC for a series of Progressive Automotive X PRIZE events, including the Awards Ceremony for the winners. The first event was held at McKinley Technical High School where team members Brandon Ford and Azeem Hill presented a PowerPoint about the Team's work.X PRIZE produced a great video about our trip.
For more about Azeem and Brandon's presentation, here's the text of their presentation.
This is the underdog story of the West Philly hybrid X Team. Or the EVX Team. The high school team has managed to beat out top colleges like MIT and multi-million dollar car companies in vehicle design competitions over the last decade. But there is a whole lot more to this team than our cars. The story of the EVX Team is probably one of the least conventional renditions of the American dream to date.
Our government is leaning toward green technology and clean energy. Energy reform has definitely been pushed to the forefront by activists and by crises like the one we are witnessing in the Gulf of Mexico. Climate change has become a key issue around the world.
Urban youth in Philly face a lot more problems than climate change. Our school system is outdated and unrealistic with reforms and testing that doesn’t work.
The team was started 13 years ago to engage students around math and science in a new ways. Since we are in an automotive school already, building a car was a good fit. We challenged ourselves to create fuel efficient clean cars that would prove how awesome Philly students from public schools are. No one knew what we were really getting ourselves into at the time.
The first thing we did was build an electric go cart that won the science fair. We won the science fair again a year later with our Hybrid Jeep. We started to dream harder and in 2002 we built an all electric Saturn that won the Tour De Sol, a national competition for fuel efficient vehicles. That was the first time we beat MIT. Our team got a lot of publicity and respect for winning, but that wasn’t enough for us so we did something crazy.
We built the K1-Attack Hybrid - the world’s first hybrid super car and it was built by high school students. The car got 60 mpg and we won the Tour De Sol in 2005 and 2006. We were breaking the stereotype for the technical aptitude of West Philly High students. We proved to the world that we were edgy and we not only think outside of the box. We live there.
Meanwhile something amazing was happening. Dr. Peter H. Diamandis founded the X Prize foundation whose mission is to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. The X PRIZE announced to the world a $10 million dollar competition for cars that can get over 100 MPGe and be safe, fun, affordable, and most importantly marketable. 111 teams entered the $10 million competition.
Multi-million dollar car companies built cars like these for the X-Prize. There were cars from Japan, India, Australia. Our team and our school were on a world stage.
Popular Mechanics magazine did an assessment on all of the teams in 2009. They compared the cars and the business plans of all of the teams and ranked our team in the top 10 most likely to win. Even though we didn’t win our plan is still sound. Here’s why.
Our mainstream car is the EVX Focus plug-in Hybrid. It will get over 130 MPGe in the city and over 80 on the highway using gas and electricity. We decided to use a Ford Focus because of the safety features and because it is made in America.
Our team members wanted to build a bigger, badder and cleaner super car that the current generation of EVX Team members can have ownership of. The EVX GT can get over 100 MPGe in the city and over 70 MPGe on the highway.
From the original 111 teams in the Automotive X PRIZE, 22 including West Philly, made it through the April Shakedown to the Knockout Stage. Unfortunately, we did not make it through Knockouts. Only 12 Teams moved on to the Finals. At the end of the Finals, only 7 vehicles remained with only one team in the Mainstream Division.
Many people cried over the disappointment, but we then started to ask ourselves...."What's next?"
Luckily we happen to have the tools to keep the West Philly Hybrid X Team going thanks to the X PRIZE. Over the summer students worked on improving the fuel efficiency of our cars. Students even created a school ideology model that correlates with the team’s principles. We are still working on making our plans come true.
Our business plan can still create jobs for displaced and jobless people who worked in the American auto industry before it collapsed. It will also create internships for high school students. We want to create a school to industry pipeline. But it starts with our target markets.
The Focus is a car for city families. We know in city driving the car get will get over 100 MPGe and in combined driving cycles will get over 80 MPGe. The GT is going to be sold to the more affluent urban driver who is into driving fly cars. Both of the cars will be manufactured at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in an environmentally friendly facility.
As you all may have noticed the EVX Team is not the average after school program. There is a constant flow of information and creativity between the youth of the team and the adults. Because the kids on the team have great ideas, and the adults are great instructors and support us when we try to make our ideas a reality we have accomplished amazing things.
Students on our team spend their free time building cars because we really want to learn and create. West Philly Hybrid X team members take speech lessons, go through workshops, do research, and some of us are very active in the politics of education. We come from all different backgrounds and interests and that’s what makes us special!
Our team has won many competitions on a small budget but the X PRIZE was more serious and challenging than anything we had done before. Our team members participate in our fundraising and we realize that people have to invest in our team because of what we mean for the future of education, green jobs and the future of the American auto industry.
Even though we did not win the X Prize we want to put the power of Philly youth into overdrive. We want the Philly Navy Yard to serve as the home of our green manufacturing facility and a school. The school will be a place where students will learn how to run a green business in one room and actually see one in the next.
Our school will be an economic, environmental, and educational superpower in Philly. This will truly be a school/business of the future, and an institutional role model for America. For the world.
This has definitely been a long journey for our team. Hopefully our story will empower you students to implement your innovative ideas and create real world solutions that show youth power. Thank you for having us.
The West Philly Hybrid X Team spent the day at Philadelphia’s Labor Day Parade. It was an absolutely perfect day. Sunny skies, no humidity, lots of people and both the cars looked and ran great.
On the last day of summer vacation, teachers and students made it to the Auto Academy to get the cars ready for the parade. Cars were buffed, windshields shined and we pulled onto Hanson Street when we realized we’d forgotten to add fuel to our electric hybrids. We have great range on both cars but just in case… We filled up the GT got with 100% PA bio-diesel and headed out smelling like French fries. Drove to the gas station on Gray Ferry Avenuem filled up the Focus and made it to the parade by 8:30 AM.
We were hosted by Electricians Union, IBEW Local 98. They got the morning off to an excellent start with coffee, donuts and Philadelphia soft pretzels. Our day got even brighter when we saw the EVX Team logo on the sleeve of every IBEW tee-shirt. SWEET!
Around the corner from our staging area, thousands of workers assembled with their unions. I saw my old friends from AFSCME D. C. 33. The Teachers Union invited us to march with them next year. The Teamsters and the big rigs led off the parade. As always, the parade was a colorful, upbeat happening.
The parade ended at Penns Landing, a great Philly public space on the banks of the Delaware River. We parked the cars next to the Moonbounce and set up our table and computers under the big tent. We ate, drank, gave out postcards and magnets and asked folks to go to our website and vote for us in the GE Ecomagination Challenge.
Tomorrow, vacation is over. Kids have to hit the books. We’ve got to get more votes for the Ecomagination Challenge. And, we’ve got to get ready for a trip to Washington, DC. We’ve been invited to the X PRIZE awards ceremony on September 16. It was good to get a little mileage on the cars before we head on down I-95. Happy Labor Day!
On August 3, the X PRIZE posted a blog at the request of Aptera regarding the MPGe this California based team had obtained. Apparently there was a dispute about whether they had obtained 164.3 MPGe or 178.2 MPGE. The discrepancy had to do with communications between the Aptera charger and the battery pack. The blog sounded astoundingly similar to an experience we had.
The West Philly Hybrid X Team is in the shop 4 days a week. One group of students is working on designing an ideal school while the other group is working to improve the fuel efficiency of our competition vehicles. Without the rigid school year schedule we’re able to go on field trips, too. The school group visited two different schools and visited two green roofs.
The fuel efficiency group went to Temple University to see an Audi a group of engineering students converted to an electric hydrogen fuel cell hybrid. It was fascinating. The Temple folks had the biggest electric motor we’d ever seen and one of the mechanical engineering students built the battery management system wire by wire, cell by cell. It was impressive.
One thing that wasn’t impressive was the absence of one of our team members, Brandon Ford. Our summer program ended at 1 PM, but we didn’t have to be at Temple until 2:30. We all agreed to meet back at the shop at 2 PM. Brandon didn’t show up. Ms. R. demanded an explanation. We thought all our fans would like to read it.
My excuse for not going to Temple is that I was locked out of my house at first. That took me a while to get back in to the house. Then I began my journey to walk to school for the trip, but I was held up and this is how it all began.
First, I came to the corner and there was some guy selling drugs. He tried to sell me some stuff, but I said no and he got mad. So, I had to beat him up.
After that I came across a baby that had no one to care for it. I called child services and waited with the baby. They came and picked up the baby. I continued on my way to school for the trip.
Next, I tripped and fell, busted my lip and knee. It hurt a lot, but I didn’t cry.
I walked down the block and came across a platinum ring that was the shiniest ring I ever saw. I looked in shock and awe when suddenly; a black bird swooped down and took my diamond. I threw a rock at the bird. Then the bird dropped the ring in a manhole. I said just forget it, and continued on my way to school.
I walked up the block a little; these people from church tried to sell me some things such as books for Jesus and followed me for 3 blocks until I saw my old girlfriend. She then hollered at the church people and they ran in fear of her godly wrath and they left.
After that, she chased me for five minutes until I ran into an alleyway and got away. She said she was going to catch me on the rebound, and I screamed, “Whatever!”
After I ran away from my ex, these dudes wanted to jump me. “Man, back up suckers,” I said. All they did was laugh when I tripped yet again and railed on me.
So now I’m limping my way to school, but I wasn’t moving faster than the little engine that couldn’t.
All of a sudden, the cops pulled me over, and I was in police custody. But I knew I had to make it to the school, so I picked the lock with a fingernail file and stayed on track to school.
Now I’m really close to school but then this fool name Bushwick said I owed him some money. “I don’t have a job,” I said. “I don’t care, I want some of your money.”
“Fool please, calm down.” Just like before, I got capped. He took my money, and I started crawling to school for the trip to Temple. I also had to fend off four stray cats.
Now I’m around the corner from the school and I’m almost there. These little kids stop and just beat my legs. I crawled around the block and looked over the corner, and I realized that they were gone. These are the reasons why I did not make it to the Temple trip.
I was born a Phillies fan in 1952. I lived through the heartbreaking pennant race of 1964, but I knew we could wait until next year. Sixteen years later, in 1980, the Phillies finally won the World Series. It was their first World Series victory in the 97 years since the team’s founding. Folks in Chicago have been waiting for 102 next years for the Cubs to win the Series.
The Michigan International Speedway is filled with all good things this week. Good cars. Good technicians. Good people doing really amazing things in the Progressive Automotive X Prize. There are a whole bunch of good folks here at the Speedway chasing dreams and chasing $10 million in prize money.
In the fall of 2007, the West Philly Hybrid X Team started talking about the Automotive X Prize. We were going to build a car that gets 100 miles per gallon. “It’s not rocket science,” Simon assured us time and again. We all say it now. So what a shock we got this week when U. S. Congressman Chaka Fattah called to tell us that Dr. Robert Braun, NASA’s Chief Technologist is coming to meet the team and take a look at our technology. Anita was the one who pointed out the irony, “All this time saying it’s not rocket science and now a rocket scientist is coming to see us.” Go figure.
What's more amazing is that our Chief Research Engineer Keith Sevcik's life desire is to be a rocket scientist.
But this isn't the only funny thing that’s happened lately. Maybe it’s because we’re now approaching 3 years, or maybe it’s because the automotive world isn’t as big as we thought, or maybe it’s just a series of coincidences, but there are some funny things happening.
Back at the start of our X Prize meetings, students broke into groups. Some formed a PR Team, while others worked to launch a website. Another group investigated available vehicles and their weight.
When we were looking at cars that we might want to use to convert to a hybrid, one that was very attractive was the European Ford Fiesta. We followed the web to see if it was coming to the US. In April 2008, the New York Times carried a long article about James Farley, Ford’s new marketing guru who wanted to bring new products to market. I thought this was so exciting I carried the article in my briefcase for months. Then, I wrote to him on behalf of the team. We asked for support of our efforts and we asked to speak to one of his staff about how Ford intended to market its new vehicles.
We finally found out. Not from Mr. Farley, but from Philadelphia friends who are part of the Ford Fiesta Movement, a marketing effort to showcase Ford’s new small car across the country. 20 people – all extremely active on social media – were selected to drive the Fiesta and present the car and their respective communities to the public. In Philadelphia my friends Kendra Gaeta and Laris Kreslins were chosen. They were Team Philly in the Fiesta Movement. Just how unlikely is that?
They drove their Ford Fiesta all over Philadelphia and hosted a bunch of events to highlight the work of non-profit organizations including the Mighty Writers, the West Philly Tool Library, Mill Creek Farm and PAWS. For the last event, Team Philly invited the EVX Team and a bunch of other folks to the Riverview movie theater to see a great documentary about Philadelphia photographer Zoe Strauss and to see Iron Man 2. The West Philly Hybrid X Team was their partner for this very cool event, which meant I got to say a few words about our 100 MPGe Ford Focus and our terrific team members. As partners, the Fiesta Movement will make a contribution to the EVX Team. So, 2 ½ years later we learned about Ford’s marketing plans and got some unexpected financial support. What do you call that?
One more thing. Elon Musk has a cameo in Iron Man 2. Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla Motors, the electric car company that had been one of our chief competitors in the X Prize until a few months ago. There were over 600 Hollywood movies made last year. Only one had an electric car maker. That’s the one we got invited to see. Go figure.
What do you figure’s next?
We did it. It’s ridiculous, but we did it. It had to be done. We had to complete both cars and drive each of them 100 miles by March 30, or we would be eliminated from the X PRIZE. We also had to submit our third technical report, photos and video.
On April 2, we learned that our technical report was accepted and that we now move on to the Shakedown Stage of the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE. That means we’re on our way to the Michigan International Speedway on April 24 for a week of on-track technical and safety testing.
Getting to Michigan has been completely and totally ridiculous. It’s so ridiculous I don’t know where to start, but I guess the beginning of the year is as good as any. To start off the New Year, we switched the batteries in our cars. I don’t mean we took out a car battery from Sears and put in one from Pep Boys. I mean we replaced our we-love-this-lithium-iron-phosphate-battery-pack with a pack that has an entirely different chemistry from an entirely different manufacturer. This also meant we needed new battery boxes.
This too, was ridiculous. We had to replace the perfectly lovely milk crates we’d been using as battery boxes with aluminum boxes fabricated by the manufacturer. (BTW, between the milk crates and the new boxes, we built about 4 different iterations of battery boxes, although we always seemed to revert to the milk crates.) Then we had to take the boxes out to have brackets welded to them. Then we drove the boxes back to the International Battery in Allentown. We did all this running around so we would have our batteries and battery management system installed in the cars by March 1 so we would have plenty of time to complete all our technical testing. That was delusional.
You know what else was ridiculous? The weather. Philadelphia had 78.7 inches of snow this winter. We had more snow than Boston, Chicago and Anchorage. Every time we needed to be in school working on the cars, school was closed. Some snow days were really bad. On some of those days Simon, who is the most ridiculous of all, drove through the city, picked up kids and went to school. There were also the two ridiculous snow days when we waited – at home – for the storm that never came. We lost so much time from school that the Philadelphia School District cancelled the first two days of spring break. Are you kidding me? That’s what the kids were saying. The teachers were grumbling. Simon committed to a family vacation for the entirety of spring break or face divorce. I declared that I didn’t give a damn what Arlene Ackerman said, I was taking my spring break. I must now publically apologize to Dr. Ackerman and thank her for giving us the extra time to finish the cars.
School was supposed to be over for all of us on Friday March 26. Our cars would be built, we’d have already driven them and Simon would write the technical report on the weekend. We’d get our report in way before the deadline. What an insane notion. On Tuesday, our batteries were still in Allentown.
The batteries and a large flock of engineers installed the batteries and the battery management on Wednesday. That gave us a beautiful warm day to drive the cars on Thursday. We got the Focus to the lot first. It drove like a charm. Then the GT arrived and it looked great. It drove great – for about a lap. Then it started making horrific noises. We tried to diagnose the problem at the lot. We had come without a proper set of tools, so we used a lug wrench, a fence post and rebar as a hammer. They really didn’t work all that well, so we hauled the car back to school where we found that we had, apparently, ruined our fancy-ass Audi transmission.
After 2 ½ years of work, the idea of transmission problems knocking us out of the X PRIZE was staring us in the face. What an ignoble way to exit. Fortunately, we found another transmission in Texas and had it shipped overnight. It arrived on Saturday morning March 27, a day school would have been shut up tighter than a drum had it not been for the weather in February. We split our team of students and teachers with a small group of us going to the lot with the Focus to continue counting laps and recording video and the rest installing the new transmission in the GT. I even got to drive the Focus.
The new transmission was installed, the GT went on the lift and was started. NO! The same noise. The crew disassembled the transmission and put it together again. On this assembly, which was not by the book, Justin Clarke dropped a piece of equipment on the housing, denting it. Now we’re not sure if this bizarre accident was the reason, but the transmission stopped making the horror movie noises. We got it to the lot and spun off our laps.
This will be the last fact I relate about our adventure. It was about 30 degrees colder on Saturday than Thursday, and because we were so short of time, we compiled our laps on the GT without the body in place, which meant we did not have lights. Drivers, in long underwear, hats, hoodies and gloves rotated through driving assignments until we ran out of daylight. We got the final 35 miles on Sunday. We are even happier to report that Simon made it to his spring vacation and remains happily married.
We hope you will continue to follow our great and ridiculous adventure.