Teams of car designers and engineers of the nine ultra-fuel-efficient vehicles remaining in contention for the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize Challenge are now at the final stage of testing in
their quest to receive a share of the $10 million which is to be split among the winners of three classes of vehicles.
The X Prize was first conceived in 1996 by one man, Dr. Peter Diamandis, to
bring about breakthrough technology and innovation through competition. He modeled it after the Ortieg Prize, won by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 for
being the first to complete a New York-to-Paris transatlantic flight. Perhaps you recall the first X Prize. Named the Ansari X Prize for sponsors Amir and Anousheh Ansari, it was presented in 2004 to the team who developed SpaceShipOne,
the first private spacecraft to carry three people into a 100-kilometer-high orbit twice within two weeks.
The great success of the initial X Prize challenge inspired Dr. Diamantis and the X Prize Foundation trustees to create contests for disciplines
beyond space aeronautics. Now X Prize challenges have been issued in the areas of life sciences; space exploration; education and global development;
and energy and environment. The current automotive X Prize was created in response to findings from a 2006 survey that revealed that, on average, the
American public believed it would be decades before a 100-mpg car would be available to buy, even though 46 percent believed having this level of fuel
efficiency was "extremely important" for the United States. When asked to name two benefits to a 100-mpg car, a majority of respondents (69 percent)
believed the greatest benefit would be to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, followed by reducing driving costs (39 percent), reducing air
pollution (27 percent), and combating global warming (24 percent).
Progressive Insurance, the title sponsor for the $10 million Automotive X Prize Challenge, and the Foundation set the criteria for the award to be
a mainstream or alternative vehicle that demonstrates the energy efficiency equivalent at least 100 mpg in "real world driving" and is "safe,
affordable, and desirable" to offer to consumers, with Consumers' Union overseeing the evaluations. Consumers' Union – publisher of Consumer Reports
magazine – has been the impartial overseer of judging for this X Prize Challenge. Interestingly, the CU and the X Prize partners are establishing a new
metric, the MPGe, or miles-per-gallon-equivalent, to enable consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons of energy efficiency ratings between
gasoline combustion, hybrid, and electric powered vehicles.
To win the X Prize, vehicles must complete all on-track tests, pass all FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) requirements, and complete
validation testing on the chassis dynamometer. After these criteria are satisfied – which is the validation testing now underway this month – and if
the ratings points awarded are equal between any vehicles, it is the fastest clock times achieved in July at the Michigan International Speedway (MIS)
that determines the winner.
The X Prize money will be split three ways: $5 million to the winning mainstream vehicle team and $2.5 million each to the winning alternative
side-by-side and alternative tandem vehicle teams. Mainstream vehicles have 4 wheels and a 200-mile minimum range, and alternative vehicles have a
minimum of 2 wheels and a 100-mile minimum range.
Following the performance trials at the MIS in July, one category – alternative side by side vehicles – has five teams still in contention for
$2.5 million (including the green Wave II entered by Li-ion Motors of
Mooresville, North Carolina pictured above). Only one team remains for each of the other two categories. The Lynchburg, Virginia-based Edison2 team has
two mainstream category vehicles (called Very Light Cars) eligible for final validation testing for $5 million in prize money, and the X-Tracer Team Switzerland has two of its tandem alternative vehicles, E-Tracers (one
being the yellow vehicle pictured above), eligible for final testing for $2.5 million.
September will hold a lot in store for these contestants and for conservation-minded citizens, as that is when the winners of this X Prize will be
announced and the checks presented. Check back here next month for details on the winning vehicles and their design innovations. Also, you can register and vote for your favorite X Prize vehicles – every day if you like – before
August 16th for a chance to win a $3,000 Fan Favorite Sweepstakes prize offered by the sponsors.