College Kids Build Cars of the Future

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Let's face it, cars are rolling ecological nightmares. They burn fossil fuels like nobody's business, they churn out hazardous emissions... hey, here's an idea: Why don't we give some engineering students a new car and a bunch of money, tell 'em to do whatever it takes to lower its gas mileage, and see what crazy stuff they come up with? That's the basic idea behind the FutureCar Challenge, a year-long government- and industry-sponsored event that comes to a head today in Washington, D.C.

The FutureCar Challenge is cosponsored by the Department of Energy and the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), which is basically a think tank for blue-sky research run by Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. Thirteen colleges and universities have entered a team. Each team was given a shiny new midsize sedan, $10,000 to play with, and a set of goals: They were told to reengineer their cars so that they would meet California LEV (low-emission vehicle) standards, accelerate from 0 to 60 in 16 seconds or less, have four suitcases' worth of luggage space and -- this one's the kicker -- get 80 miles to the gallon. MORE >>