Penn’s Electric Racecar Revs Up Philly Auto Show

Electric cars may be the future of driving, but first, the vehicles need to spark excitement among the general public. That’s why Penn students have been working hard for the past two years to build one of the world’s first electric racecars.

Electric cars may be the future of driving, but first, the vehicles need to spark excitement among the general public. That’s why Penn students have been working hard for the past two years to build one of the world’s first electric racecars.

“Our goal is to revolutionize electric vehicles,” says Tommy Sutton, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics in the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) and a member of Penn Electric Racing. “We want to show the public that these cars, in addition to being highly efficient, can also be extremely high-performing.”

Recently, the student-run organization dedicated to creating clean-energy vehicles completed “REVO,” a gas-free car capable of accelerating from zero to 60 miles per hour in slightly more than three seconds. The car is on display at the Philadelphia Auto Show, where Penn Electric Racing—already sponsored by Toyota and Tesla, among others—hopes to attract additional support and excite the show’s thousands of attendees about electric vehicles.

Originally founded as Penn Solar Racing in 1989, Penn Electric Racing has, for the past 26 years, been designing, building, and marketing clean energy cars. The organization brings together students from SEAS, the Wharton School, and the College of Arts & Sciences to collaborate and gain hands-on experience rarely found in the classroom.

When Sutton joined in the fall of 2013, the team of eight was drafting plans for REVO, with the goal of entering the car in the Formula SAE Electric, an intercollegiate racing competition held in Lincoln, Neb. REVO made the competition’s stiff first cut, but was among the majority of vehicles that, ultimately, did not pass the electrical inspections required to race in June of 2014.

“Because electric racing is relatively new, everything was highly scrutinized at the competition for safety,” says Sutton. “Even though we didn’t end up competing, we received a lot of great mechanical and electrical feedback from the competition.” The group used that feedback to make repairs and improvements to the car this past fall. By December, REVO was ready to join student-built cars from Villanova and Temple University at the Auto Show’s educational booth.

“This is a great opportunity for us to teach people about what we’re doing,” says Sutton.

Over the past two years, Penn Electric Racing has more than tripled its membership, with 30 students currently volunteering their time to help build electric vehicles. REV1, the 2015 model, is well underway, and the team is already setting its sights on the third annual Formula SAE Electric.

“Building a car in a single academic year requires a lot from each team member,” says Sutton. “Almost every day, each of us is committing hours of free time to this project. It’s a defining college experience.”

  • Text by Madeleine Stone
  • Video by Chip Murphy and Rebecca Elias Abboud