Some Baltimore-area students are learning that an automobile is more than just something to ride around in.
They are participating in Chrysler Corp.'s "Build Your Dream Vehicle" contest, a seven-region event in which teams of high school students develop, design and market a concept car.
Six of the eight teams in the finals from the Baltimore-Washington region are from three Baltimore County schools. Three of the teams are from Eastern Technical High in Essex, two are from Loch Raven High, while one hails from Perry Hall High.
Although the contest is designed to test the imagination as well as engineering and business skills, the students say they are learning lessons applicable outside the classroom -- and, they hope, beyond graduation -- even if designing cars isn't their ultimate career choice.
"I got to bring my interests into the project by designing the electrical circuits. It didn't make me want to design cars, but I know I can apply this to some field," said Kerry Kimes, 17, a member of Perry Hall's Team Aquarius.
But gaining practical experience is only part of the contest's overall lesson for the students, most of whom aren't old enough to drive. It also aims to show students the value of teamwork, division of labor, cooperation and communication.
"What I've learned could be applied to any field I want to go into. But we learned a lot about group dynamics and how to work through things where people don't see eye to eye; it drew on everyone's strength," said Jessica Strott, 17, Kimes' teammate.
The designs include a bit of everything.
Eastern Tech's Team Python created a two-seat convertible ideal for a younger market, or, as several team members said, for "middle-aged men trying to recapture their youth."
Team Retro, also from Eastern Tech, developed an electric "combination sports car/sport utility vehicle" for families.
Team Aquarius made a five-seat minivan driven by self-powered flywheels that are monitored by computer.
This is the third year for the contest, which lasts five to six months before a winner is declared. This year, Chrysler received 150 entries from the seven areas where it is held, said Chrysler spokeswoman Diane Jackson.
Chrysler sends notifications in September and provides handbooks for teachers and students. Once notified, the students' creativity is cut loose. Teams can be of any size, though the finalists range from five to seven members, and are judged on five criteria: marketing plan, financial statement, environmental and safety features, a three-dimensional drawing of the model, and a team-process flow chart.
Students also are required to conduct a market survey to determine how well their product is likely to sell. A preliminary judging is held by the end of January, in which judges drawn from all aspects of production and retail at Chrysler deem who gets to go to the finals.
Most teams said they made extensive use of computers for the project. That included consulting the Internet for design ideas and parts prices, as well as using software to create drawings and presentation graphics.
Design ideas were taken from magazines and consultation with professional engineers. The students also turned to their imaginations, and they talked to dealers for retail ideas and federal officials to ensure product safety and environmental standards.
"It's not as easy as we thought, but it gives us a chance to see what kind of skills we have," said Mike Mantegna, 15, of Team Python.
Teachers liked the program, too. "It touches on a lot of aspects and ties them together in a nice, neat little package," said Eastern Technical's Douglas Nelson.
On Tuesday at the Smithsonian Institution, a three-judge panel from Chrysler will choose which school wins the $3,000 first prize.
Pub Date: 3/19/97