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?