Student-Built Hybrid Draws National Attention

By dancurranjr On May 14th, 2009

xprizeEnvironmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson came to West Philadelphia High School’s auto garage today to see first hand the award-winning cars a group of teenage students are producing.

The school’s Electric Vehicle X-Prize teams are building hybrids that can go from zero to sixty in less than 4 seconds and get 100 miles per gallon. They have already beat companies like Toyota and Honda by building the world’s first hybrid supercar.

Now they’re poised to be a top contender for the X Competition next spring which carries a $10 million prize.

“There’s so much to gain for urban youth and people around the world jumping on the green economy,” said sophomore Azeem Hill. “So many people need jobs.”

The EVX team started 11 years ago as an after-school program. The students have a budget of about $200,000. The big question is, how are they beating companies with millions at their disposal?

“It’s the fact that we’re not a big established company and not complicated,” said senior Eric Yates. “But we’re showing the world that if you understand the basics, look what kids in inner city Philadelphia – and youth all over – can do.”

These humble kids say they’re just trying to drive the market forward and open doors for inner city workers. EPA Administrator Jackson had nothing but good things to say.

“The president has said the green economy has to touch everyone,” she said during her visit today. “This is a great example of the administrators, teachers and sponsors knowing what is needed, and putting kids on the right track.”


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

100-MPG Lightening LH4 Hybrid Evokes The Classic ’63 Corvette

By dancurranjr On March 18th, 2009

lightning_hybrids_clamshellThe Progressive Automotive X Prize has drawn a lot of impressive cars, but one of the coolest has to be a carbon fiber-bodied, Corvette-inspired biodiesel hybrid that opens like a clam.

Lightning Hybrids says the LH4 will achieve 100 mpg and do zero to 60 in 5.9 seconds. Power comes from a 90-horsepower diesel engine plucked from a Volkswagen and mated to a 150 horsepower Rexroth hydraulic hybrid system – technology that has so far been limited to delivery trucks. Such systems ditch batteries in favor of hydraulic power, and the company says it offers better fuel economy and energy regeneration than conventional gas-electric systems.

“Nobody in the world is applying this technology to smaller cars like we are,” company CEO Dan Johnson told

It remains to be seen whether the system works in a road car and whether the company can build the LH4 – and a three-wheeled version called, appropriately, the LH3 – in significant numbers. Lightning Hybrids has set an aggressive goal of putting the first cars in driveways by 2010 and hitting an annual production of 3,000 cars a year within four years. That seems optimistic given the state of the economy and the challenges involved in building cars. If startups like Tesla Motors have taught us anything, it’s cars packed with innovative technology tend to come in behind schedule and over budget.

That isn’t keeping Lightning Motors from pressing ahead and unveiling a prototype at the upcoming Denver Auto Show.


“Denver is the ideal place for us to unveil this car considering that it is close by and that our target market is in Colorado for the time being,” said Johnson, whose family-run business is in Loveland, Colo. “We are trying to push the state to embrace this new form of hybrid technology and to get local businesses involved in the project as well.”

Hydraulic hybrids use a diesel engine to drive a hydraulic pump, which charges an accumulator – essentially a high-pressure tank. The accumulator, in turn, drives smaller pump motors that send power to the axle or power the wheels directly. (Check out the video below for more details.) Such systems have been around since the 1980s but limited to delivery trucks – UPS plans to roll out the first of seven sometime this year – because the accumulators are bulky and tough to fit within the confines of a passenger car. Lightning Hybrids isn’t saying how it will address this problem but insists it is “working night and day” on it.

The family behind Lightning Hybrids certainly has the engineering experience to make such an endeavor possible. Johnson has since 1992 worked with SA Robotics, a “concept-to-creation” company that develops remote systems for nuclear power plants. Even before the X-Prize came along, he tells us, he and his brother Sam set out to build a super fuel-efficient car after accepting the challenge from their father, a former General Motors engineer.

The sleek shape of the LH4 was inspired by the 1963 Corvette that Johnson restored in high school and still owns. The LH4 was designed for maximum aerodynamic efficiency and has a drag coefficient of 0.20, making it sleeker than a Toyota Prius. The clamshell design allows for a nearly seamless body to help the car slice the wind cleanly, and liberal use of carbon fiber will keep the car to just 1,750 pounds. That’s the plan, anyway.

Those back windows may mirror the classic look of those on the ’63 Corvette, but hidden cameras and three LCD screens give a better view of what’s behind you. Mounting mirrors on the doors would do more than blemish the car’s lines, it would create efficiency-robbing turbulence.

“The LCD screens are about the size of an iPhone, and they are meant to replace the function of the side view mirrors which have been removed to increase the LH4’s aerodynamics,” he said. “We really wanted the car to look cool so all the seams have been tightened and the lines have been integrated.”

The upcoming Automotive X-Prize challenges engineers, entrepreneurs and anyone else with half an idea to develop a production-ready, mass-market car capable of 100 mpg or better, and Johnson says it is the perfect place to showcase the LH4’s technology. Boosted by the recognition that comes with competing in the event – and the $10 million first-place prize he intends to win – Johnson hopes to expand from 15 employees to 370 as he gears up for production of the two cars, which will sell for $39,000 to $59,000.


Lightning Hybrid Prototype will Debut at Denver Show

By dancurranjr On March 15th, 2009

lightening-hybridU.S. car company Lightning Hybrids has announced it will unveil a prototype hybrid vehicle at the Denver Auto Show in April. The company plans to design and manufacture hybrid vehicles at its Colorado facility.

The four-seat sports sedan will average 100 m.p.g. (2.35 L/100 km) on biodiesel, and will be able to accelerate from zero to 96 km/h in under six seconds. Its unique clamshell door opens upward for improved aerodynamics.

In addition to the innovative hydraulic biodiesel hybrid drivetrain, Lightning Hybrid said that it has other futuristic innovations, such as cameras and screens used in place of rearview external mirrors to reduce drag and increase safety.

The car will also be available in a three-door, four-seat design, while the drivetrain will be available as a retrofit kit, suitable for fleets.

Founded in 2008, the company has designed two 100 m.p.g. biodiesel-hydraulic hybrid cars, which it said it expects to sell for US$39,000 to $59,000. The two cars will compete in the 2010 Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize race, with $10 million in prizes available for teams that win a stage race for clean, production-capable vehicles that exceed the equivalent of 100 m.p.g.

SOURCE: Canadian Driver