CHICAGO — Standing in front of their hand-built electric race car at the Chicago Auto Show, a group of local college engineering students thinks the world's renowned car makers should take notice.
"If they're not paying attention, they should be," said Charles Currier, an Illinois Institute of Technology senior and driver of the school's all-electric race car, which is on display at the annual auto trade show at McCormick Place.
Roughly 8 feet in length and weighing in at 604 pounds, the car is largely powered by a sophisticated hub-mounted in-wheel motors and side-mounted battery packs typically found in radio-controlled helicopters.
But don't call it wimpy.
The race car reaches 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, with 1,000 pound-feet of torque providing pin-you-to-the-seat power on takeoff. For perspective, that amount of torque more than doubles that of a 2014 Corvette.
With a top speed of 70 mph, the car's engineering has earned IIT's Motorsports Team high marks at the 2012 Formula Hybrid race, an annual college competition that takes place at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway where students' custom-built cars are judged on qualities like acceleration, handling and length of battery life.
The school's motorsports team is comprised of roughly 50 IIT students — mostly electrical and mechanical engineering students — who work from a small garage at the South Side campus.
"It's just enough space to get this done," Currier said.
At the Auto Show, Currier and his teammates are quick to point out that the all-electric car they have on display at McCormick Place (back row, near the Subaru exhibit) is a stripped-down version of their 2011 hybrid model, which ran on a mix of gas and electricity.
Already, the team is devising plans to build a considerably lighter car and hopes to shave off a few ticks from its 0-60 mph time when they compete at the 2014 Formula Hybrid race.
Even if their bid falls short, the students said they're getting head starts on their careers — it's not uncommon for corporate recruiters to show up at the race.
But all of that seems secondary to the task at hand.
"Winning it all next year," Currier said.
The Chicago Auto Show runs through Feb. 17. Tickets and schedule information are available at the event's official website.