There is one sure way to inspire engineering students -- let them hear about the future of cars. Some of the top car makers working on tomorrow's technology brought their latest work to show off to Stanford University students, such as the Honda FCX Clarity, a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.
"These components have been made so small. For example, the size of a desktop computer, provides 100 kilowatts of output, so this shows the advances that the hydrogen fuel cell has taken," says Honda fuel cell marketing manager Steve Ellis.
Carmakers say they are putting the advanced vehicles in the hands of real consumers to get feedback. It's also helping to make consumers aware that hybrids are not the only alternate fuel vehicles.
"We're starting to really see a payoff. The electric vehicle is around the corner and certainly plug-in hybrids have a lot of enthusiasm for those in the future," says director of Stanford's Climate and Energy Project professor Sally Benson.
A panel of automakers and academic researchers say what appears to be evolving is a choice for consumers, including electric bicycles, such as a $4,000 model from Sausalito's Pi Mobility.
"This kind of competition has not been known since the 1910's when steamers, ranking cycle, electric disk -- when there was everything on the market -- and gasoline won because it was the easiest one to produce and above all it was the most compact fuel," says Precourt Energy Efficiency Center professor Lee Schipper.
Experts say government policy is also playing a big role, encouraging innovation to meet goals of reducing carbon emissions.
The greatest hope is that these future design cars will be an inspiration to the engineering students at Stanford and that they will truly lead us to the future.