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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Kids E-car

Air Date: Week of December 19, 1997

There's nothing like real world experience to enhance classroom learning, especially when it comes to job training. In South Florida, one group of students has spent the last year converting a gas powered Ford car into one propelled by electricity. When the automobile was ready for its first test-drive, reporter Alexis Muellner was there, and caught up with the crew as it prepared for a big national competition.

Transcript

CURWOOD: There's nothing like real world experience to enhance classroom learning, especially when it comes to job training. In South Florida, one group of students has spent the last year converting a gas-powered Ford into one propelled by electricity. When the car was finally ready for its first test drive, Alexis Muellner was there and caught up with the crew as it prepared for a big national competition.

MAN: On your mark. Get set. Go!

(Electric whirring)

MUELLNER: It's third period in a rear parking lot at Miramar High School, 10 miles west of Fort Lauderdale.

(People cheering the racers on)

MAN 1: That's the same one I hit.

MAN 2: I know, it's the same one you hit every time.

MAN 1: That's what everybody did.

MUELLNER: A metallic purple sedan quietly kicks up gravel on a course made of orange traffic cones. Instructor Lowell Simmons and students in his Advanced Automotive class crowd around a stopwatch.

(More electric whirring)

MAN 1: Keep going! Faster!

MAN 2: Twenty-two, 22.6 but he had it going.

MAN 3: Open it up...

MUELLNER: It's a special morning for these high school seniors. After months of work, they've converted a flood-ruined Ford Probe into an electric car. Soon they'll take the car to a big national competition. Today they're having time trials. Whichever student drives the course the quickest gets to race in the competition.

(More electrical whirring)

MAN 1: Go, go!

MAN 2: All right!

MUELLNER: As the car passes, it makes a curious whine. Twelfth-grader
Paul Cook explains.

COOK: It's the potentiometer, that's essentially, in a regular car, what the gas pedal would be, okay? And what it is, is it's not quite letting all the power go. So it gives a little bit of a whirring noise.

MUELLNER: The class is part of a new school-to-work program at Miramar. The high school got the electric car project because for health reasons, one of its automotive instructors couldn't work around gas fumes any more.

MAN 1: You missed it, you hit a cone but you had a 20.2.

RACER: Ooooooh!

MAN 1: Five-second penalty.

MUELLNER: Converting the car meant learning about fuel cell technology, aerodynamics and systems design. As well as hands-on auto maintenance and wiring.

SIMMONS: Now they know how to use vertical mills and lathes and different things like that to make things and turn it into a project, and they have something to work for.

MUELLNER: Instructor Lowell Simmons said students had to work long hours after school, and over the summer, often crafting their own parts.

SIMMONS: People from all walks of life would touch this car. And, you know, some have different strengths in different areas and others in other different areas. It's just a medium that we've used to teach students something and, you know, they seem to be learning from it quite a bit.

MUELLNER: It's paid off for the students, Lowell Simmons says. They're already getting calls from local companies attracted by their willingness to work. Student Abdul Rozaknuhu.

ROZAKNUHU: We have, you know, a lot of people, you know, getting involved with it. And then, you know, we're going to perfect the technology and maybe one day, you know, we're going to have a lot of electric cars nowadays.

MUELLNER: Abdul Rozaknuhu is more optimistic than many in the auto industry. Efforts to get the electric vehicles on the road have moved slowly in the face of what automakers say is consumer apathy. That indifference is hard to see on the face of these kids, who not only understand electric vehicle technology, but they're likely to be its first consumers. Miramar high school seniors Danny Denaro and Robert Barton.

DENARO: When I took it around the track, it's quicker than most cars.

BARTON: Yeah, the handling is sweet. (Laughs)

MUELLNER: In the spring, students will continue to fine-tune the car. At the same time, they hope to add a second electric car to their racing team. For Living on Earth, I'm Alexis Muellner in Miramar, Florida.

(People laughing)

MAN 1: Nineteen-forty-point-five. Fastest one.

MAN 2: I want to ride that!

 

 

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