Cars Getting 100 mpg: Auto X-Prize Awards $10M Purse for Vehicle Innovation Tomorrow

On Thursday, September 16th you can attend or watch the webcast of the Automotive X-Prize awards ceremony in Washington, DC. The X-Prize Foundation will distribute up to $10 million to winning teams for their innovative, fuel-sipping vehicles that achieved 100 miles-per-gallon, or its energy equivalent.

Cutting oil consumption is the name of the game. For gasoline vehicles, the efficiency requirement is 100 MPG; vehicles powered by other sources, like electricity from the grid, have to be able to run 100 miles on the energy equivalent of 1 gallon of gasoline, or 100 miles per gallon-equivalent (MPGe). All vehicles must also meet basic requirements for viability in the U.S. car market by submitting business plans and passing tests for manufacturability, speed, range, handling and braking.

After all the design, track and lab tests only 7 teams are left with a chance to step onto the winners podium.  Over 100 teams originally registered for the contest but only 43 made it through the initial design and business viability screening. The final 7 teams completed on-track testing and entered a final lab dynamometer testing phase to validate vehicle performance with methods used with commercially available vehicles and determine the winners for the Mainstream class (4-seater, 4 wheel, ≥200 mile range), Alternative Tandem class (tandem 2-seater, ≥100 mile range), and Alternative Side-by-Side calls (side-by-side 2-seater, ≥100 mile range).

Who will win? In the Mainstream class, Edison 2 out of Charlottesville, VA is likely to take home $5 million since they are the only team to complete the final track stage before lab validation. As the name describes, Edison 2’s Very Light Car is a super light-weight platform built with carbon fiber in an extremely aerodynamic shape. The vehicle’s low load allows it to be powered by a tiny 250cc internal combustion engine running on ethanol (E85). Their innovative design includes an interesting safety component in which the ultra-light wheels stick out from the car body and can absorb energy in the event of a crash to help protect the driver and passengers.

The Alternative Tandem class is also down to one team: Team X-Tracer from Switzerland. Their all-electric vehicles look like large, fully-enclosed motorcycles with support wheels that drop down as the vehicle slows down (i.e. you don’t need to stick your legs out). Running on electricity, these vehicles have no problem hitting the 100 MPGe target; in fact, they get 190 MPGe.

In the Alternative Side-by-Side class five contestants remain. All the vehicles are aerodynamic, light-bodied battery electric cars. We’ll know tomorrow who gets $2.5 million.

The X-Prize purse ultimately goes to only a few teams but the number of innovative, fuel-saving designs showcased in the competition is much larger. Technologies demonstrated and evaluated could find their way into commercial vehicles in the near future. The entrepreneurs that competed over the last year show us that ingenuity is plentiful. We should continue to tap American inventiveness to wean us off increasingly scarce and polluting oil.