Teams Race to Build Super-Fuel-Efficient Car

By dancurranjr On April 9th, 2009

xprizeA field of 111 teams — ranging India’s Tata Motors Ltd., Silicon Valley startup Tesla Motors Inc. and a team backed by musician Neil Young — will compete for a $10 million prize to build a practical vehicle capable of getting the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon of gas, the contest’s backers said Monday.

The Progressive Automotive X-Prize contest, with its underlying premise that the legacy auto industry needs a shot of innovation to escape its current woes, coincides with the wrenching restructuring of Detroit’s big automakers and heated debates about energy policy in Washington.
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Most of the entrants are relatively small, startup car makers, such as Aptera Motors, a California company trying to drum up interest in a three-wheeled electric vehicle. Tesla Motors, which is already selling a $100,000 electric roadster, plans to enter its second car, the Model S sedan. Tata has proposed entering a hybrid and an electric version of its Nano minicar. Of the 136 vehicles entered, 91 are electric vehicles, the foundation said.

Among the more unusual entries is the LINCVOLT, a 1959 Lincoln convertible outfitted with a hybrid-electric drivetrain and promoted by Mr. Young, who’s featured the car in some of his recent videos and plans a movie on the project.

The prize winners will be decided after a multistep process that will culminate with road competitions next year in four U.S. cities, X-Prize Foundation Chairman Peter H. Diamandis said in an interview Monday.

So far none of the big Detroit auto makers has chosen to enter the contest. Mr. Diamandis said that even if big car makers don’t enter, they could benefit from the contest. “They have a beautiful off-balance-sheet R&D program,” he said.

General Motors Corp. spokesman Greg Martin said the auto maker has had discussions with the X-Prize Foundation, but has decided to focus its resources on meeting a 2010 production target for its Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid designed to run 40 miles on electricity alone. “Everything we have is to get that vehicle to market,” Mr. Martin said. “Everything beyond that would be nice to do, not need to do.”

The Progressive Automotive X-Prize is one of a series of high-profile technology challenges backed by the X-Prize Foundation and Mr. Diamandis. The common theme is the use of a multimillion-dollar prize to inspire technological innovation. In 2004, the foundation awarded $10 million to a team led by aerospace designer Burt Rutan for building a vehicle that carried three people 100 kilometers above the earth twice within two weeks.

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal

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