After an intense competition to build the car of the future, the Automotive X Prize winners were announced in a hot and packed ceremony in Washington DC today. In the ultra-competitive Alternative Side-by-Side class, the competition came down to two very different teams, but an American upstart pulled off the win.
Li-Ion Motors, staffed by four dedicated, but friendly down-home Southerners from North Carolina have been awarded their share of the prize money for their category. With their space-age, bright-green electric car looking like a giant Easter egg, they walked home with a $2.5 million prize out of the total $10 million prize purse. The team’s Wave II got the equivalent of 187 miles per gallon.
Li-Ion was competing in the end with a large team of comparatively buttoned-down engineering students from Helsinki Polytechnic University, who fielded a comparatively conventional all-electric sports car that looks like it could have been the next sketch for the Nissan Z-car.
In fact, the prize money in all three categories in the competition to build a car that gets 100 mpg went to some of the oddest-looking cars in the field.
The biggest prize of $5 million went to the Edison2 team in the Mainstream category. Edison was the only non-electric, and the only four-seat car that made it to the final stage of the competition. The team, made up of a handful of top race-car designers (mainly from Formula, Indy Car, and ALMS series) and funded by Virginia real estate developer Oliver Kuttner, started out with four cars, two in the Mainstream class, and one in each alternative class. By the end, none were running. But the two Mainstream cars made it far enough to meet the criteria, achieving an efficiency the equivalent of 102.5 mpg on E85 ethanol.
The third prize category, worth another $2.5 million for Alternative vehicles with tandem (fore and aft) seating, was won by Swiss team X-Tracer, which fielded two enclosed motorcycles with retractable “training” wheels that stabilized the vehicle at low speeds. The winning X-Tracer electric vehicle got the equivalent of 205.3 mpg.
Now all 42 teams that competed in on-the-ground competition will move on to try to bring their designs to market. Li-Ion and Edison2 are working on their next generation vehicles. Li-Ion’s will be a sports car called the Inizio, which is a running prototype now. Edison2 is not yet determined. X-Tracer already sells gas powered versions of its motorcycle in Europe and will look to expand sales in the U.S.
While the cars may not look conventional, they do prove it’s possible to make a vehicle that gets the equivalent of 100 mpg. We look forward to seeing whether these companies make it to market with their own designs. And whether upcoming designs from more mainstream automakers, such as the Chevrolet Volt or the Nissan Leaf also make it across the 100 MPGe threshold.