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Nittany Lion tests the future of electric vehicles

Look Ma! No engine!
"Look, Ma! No engine!" On a recent visit to Penn State's MorningStar Solar Home, the Nittany Lion discovered firstpaw the advantages afforded by an electric power train. With no engine up front, the Tesla Model S "hood" covers a luggage space large enough for a lion! Photo Credit: Bill Zimmerman
April 12, 2013

Electric vehicles are no longer science fiction. They have arrived, and Penn State is charged up about them. Penn State students already participate in the EcoCar2 Challenge, a multi-collegiate competition sponsored by General Motors (GM) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and they are always on the look out for new technologies. When some of the members spotted a new Tesla Model S electric vehicle on campus recently, they approached the owner, Penn State alumnus Elliott Weinstein, and he graciously loaned his vehicle to the Sustainability Institute for a few days of testing. The Tesla is not a typical electric vehicle. It’s a high-performance sports car that can go from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds.

Besides being the proud owner of one of the first Tesla S vehicles in Pennsylvania, Weinstein is a Penn State alumnus with both B.S. and M.S. degrees from the Smeal College of Business. He is a donor to Penn State's Sustainability Institute and the Board Chair for PSU Hillel. Weinstein met the students at the Sustainability Institute’s MorningStar Solar Home to give them a chance to put get up close and personal with the Tesla.

Zach Holden, freshman engineering student and EcoCar 2 team member, was excited when Weinstein offered him the chance to drive, "He turned to me to ask if I wanted to drive, but I thought he was kidding. Accelerating from stop felt like taking off in a jet!"

Chris Golecki, co-team leader for Penn State EcoCAR 2 summed up the experience, "Tesla has changed the electric car game. Not only is it exotic, but it's innovative, too. That's something Penn State engineers are striving to be as well."

Weinstein gave the Nittany Lion mascot a ride in the electric vehicle. The Lion mascot is widely known for his energy and endurance, two traits not usually associated with electric cars. But battery technology may be catching up with the lion. The Model S is reported to have the greatest range of any the electric car on the market today (160-300 miles depending on battery pack). The Lion was so impressed with the test drive that, when asked to comment on the future of electric vehicles, he was completely speechless! However, he made it clear that he was ready to get behind the wheel of Penn State's own car of the future.

Public interest in electric vehicles is increasing as the technology matures and people realize the cost of operating an electric car is about 75 cents a gallon (gasoline equivalent). The University will be showcasing advanced technology vehicles at the 21st Century Automotive Challenge event on Saturday, May 18, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is open to the public and will be held at the Sustainability Experience Center on the Penn State campus. Attendees will also be able to visit the MorningStar solar home and see a variety of renewable energy systems used to charge vehicles. Mark your calendars for this special opportunity to see the very latest advances in alternative transportation.

Last year General Motors (GM) donated a Chevy Volt electric vehicle to the University in support of ongoing transportation research. GM also sponsors the Penn State students who participate on the Advanced Vehicle EcoCar 2 team, and it provides stock vehicles for the students to modify for the EcoCar2 Challenge, which is organized by Argonne National Laboratory. Last year the Penn State team won six awards at the national competition held in Los Angeles. They were one of 15 university teams competing to see who can design and build the most fuel-efficient and emissions-free vehicle while retaining performance and consumer appeal.

Both the EcoCar 2 team and Weinstein plan on being part of the 21st Century Automotive Challenge in May, and the public will have a chance to see their vehicles along with the University’s Chevy Volt and many other advanced technology vehicles. Penn State’s Sustainability Institute and The Larson Transportation Institute are bringing students together with the automotive industry to provide experience and inspiration. The Challenge for the Penn State EcoCar2 team will be to move this technology into the mainstream so all Americans can experience the excitement of sustainable vehicles.

For more information about sustainability at Penn State, visit, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

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