The Race to Build a Super Efficient Eco-Friendly Car

Published Dec-12-11

Big money open innovation contest for fuel and energy efficient vehicles to lessen both our reliance on oil and the effects of climate change.

X PRIZE Foundation, United States

The Story:

The Race to Build a Super Efficient Eco-Friendly Car There’s nothing quite like the lure of fame and fortune to galvanise thinking and when you throw a tough challenge into the mix as well you have a heady and intoxicating combination, as the X PRIZE Foundation knows only too well.

Auto Adventure

The goal of its $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE was to foster and inspire the creation of highly efficient vehicles that could break our addiction to oil and lessen the effects of climate change by achieving 100 miles to the gallon or the energy equivalent.

The competition also wanted to demonstrate to the public that it is possible to have a beautiful, safe, affordable and fast, energy efficient car.

There were two vehicle classes – Mainstream and Alternative. The Mainstream class offered a $5 million top prize and the Alternative class had two prizes of $2.5 million, one for side by side seating and the other for a tandem seating arrangement.

Mainstream class vehicles were required to have four wheels, a minimum range of 200 miles and be able to seat at least four passengers. Alternative class entries had more design freedom as the requirements were reduced so that there was no minimum number of wheels, the minimum range was 100 miles and the vehicles had to seat at least two passengers.

Vehicles in both classes also had to have features that are expected in modern cars such as an enclosed cabin, windshield, rear and side-view mirrors and seat belts.

Competition Stages

The multi-stage open innovation contest started in 2008 with 111 teams and 136 vehicles. But by the following year those numbers had gone down to 43 teams with 53 vehicles between them.

There were nearly 30 months of competition events that included ‘shakedown’ stages, a ‘knockout’ stage where vehicles had to pass safety performance tests and meet acceptable emissions levels, and a series of demanding on-track testing events. Eventually three vehicles emerged as winners:

$5 Million Mainstream Class Winner:

Edison2 “Very Light Car #98” (Charlottesville, VA)
Economy: 102.5 MPGe
Fuel: E85 ethanol

$2.5 Million Alternative Side-by-Side Class Winner:

Li-ion Motors Corp “Wave II” (Mooresville, NC)
Economy: 187 MPGe
Fuel: Battery Electric

$2.5 Million Alternative Tandem Class Winner:

X-Tracer Team Switzerland “E-Tracer #79” (Winterthur, Switzerland)
Economy: 205.3 MPGe
Fuel: Battery Electric

Beginning of the Journey

Though prize money is now banked and trophies are proudly displayed on shelves it’s not the end of the road for the winning teams. The next steps involve leveraging their newly-found status and the connections they made during the competition to get their designs to the consumer market.

Regardless of who actually won the challenge its benefits and effects will be felt for many years to come, according to Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation.

“Gas mileage ranks as one of our top concerns when purchasing a new vehicle and I believe strongly that the innovations showcased throughout the life of this competition will continue to impact and improve our car buying options for the future.”

These cars could change the world. Oliver Kuttner who headed up the winning Edison2 team obtained several patents during the competition’s development process and is convinced that he can take 400 pounds of weight off the average car. His ‘Very Light Car’ weighed in at just 840 pounds. He believes that if enough people with financial resources believe in what he is doing, car manufacture will change forever.

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