Lisa Jackson could only grin in amazement as she climbed into the driver's seat of the best little car that West Philly — and maybe just about anybody, anywhere — has ever made.
She was at the West Philadelphia High School Academy for Automotive and Mechanical Engineering, and the red sports car, the Hybrid K-1 Attack, has been proven to get 60 miles per gallon on biodiesel and has get-up that will make you go-go.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new administrator, formerly head of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, was in town earlier today and made it a point to come to the school to congratulate the members of its Hybrid X team.
As if winning the eco-car competition, the Tour de Sol, not just once, not just twice, but THREE times wasn't enough, the team of about a dozen high-schoolers is now at work on a new car for a new competition.
Even considering they're competing against automakers and other innovative groups, they've been rated among the top ten teams to win the international Progressive Automotive X Prize — which just happens to come with a $10 million purse. And why not? Their previous car beat MIT; it beat Detroit. And more.
The new baby, made from a white Ford Focus, will get 100 mpg on biobutanol and an electric charge.
"Ideas like these will determine our country's future," Jackson told the students and an assortment of dignitaries, from Chaka Fattah to Lisa Nutter. Noting that the nation's auto industry was "in a little trouble right now," Jackson told the students, "you are the key to the ideas that will bring them into the future."
She said they were clearly "ahead of the curve. You know first-hand that we don't have to choose between a healthy green environment and a healthy green economy."
Part of the deal in developing new cars at West Philly is coming up with a business plan to match. The students have been working on a plan to build 10,000 of the new cars and sell them for less than $25,000 each.
"I'm so excited we finally have a visionary like her," Simon Hauger, director of the team, said of Jackson. "As the green economy emerges, my hope and my prayer is that folks like her make sure there's a place for my students."
Jackson already is. She said she hoped the students would would consider a careers at the EPA's National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich., where clean automotive technology research is going on. "I challenge you to stay engaged," Jackson said. "I'm looking forward to seeing where you're going to take us."
Several of the students took the podium to explain more about their amazing cars:
"The students dreamed big," said Eric Yates, a senior.
"Sophomore Azeem Hill noted how their new-generation vehicle, in addition to its 100 mpg, will emit only 200 grams of carbon per miles and go from zero to 60 in under 12 seconds.
"I know we have what it takes to win," said Jacques Wells, a junior. When the students first began using biodiesel and plug-in technology, few knew where they even were. But the students proved it could work.
Now, the West Philly Hybrid X Team is "ensuring a bright green future" for the city, said Anita Davidson, a senior.
"Just" high-schoolers? They were poised, articulate and knowledgeable.
Later, after Jackson stepped from the car, she shook her head and grinned some more. "These kids," she said, "know what they're totally about."
(You can follow the students' progress at www.evxteam.org)