Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Making cars seXy efficient

A car is a car is a car.

Clearly, that statement ain't true.

Sometimes a car is a sportster, and sometimes an SUV. Sometimes a van, sometimes a sedan.

But what counts is under the hood, you might hear.

Even that isn't necessarily a true statement these days.

Sometimes you'll find the power source for a car under the hood, but it might just as easily be in the trunk, or in the case of big battery packs, under the seats.

The world is in the heady process of redefining the family passenger vehicle.

In the liquid fuel category, there are gasoline cars, diesel cars and biodiesel cars, propane and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cars, cars that run on various combinations of gasoline and ethanol, hydrogen cars and so forth.

There's the compressed air car.

There are electric cars, and hybrids. But there are such variations, that you really need to pay attention.

There, for example, are plug-in hybrids, and extended range electrics, both of which have blends of traditional fuel engines and electric car capabilities. Like hybrids, but not like most hybrids.

Each new blend of transportation technologies seems to be getting its own name.

Click on the “efficient transportation” category in the right hand column of this blog for a number of stories on these issues. One is found at

The key to modern vehicle technology, in an age of astronomic liquid fuel prices, is efficiency. And one of the things expected to help move efficiency along is the Automotive X Prize, a $10 million contest to develop the most energy efficient automobile possible—and they need to be fast.

“The technology-neutral competition, a project of the X PRIZE Foundation, is open to teams from around the world that can design and build production-capable, 100 MPGe (miles per gallon energy equivalent) vehicles that people will want to buy and that meet market needs for price, size, capability, safety and performance. Winners of the $10 million prize purse will need to exceed 100 MPG equivalent fuel economy, fall under strict emissions caps and finish in the fastest time,” says the X Prize website,

The latest news on the prize is that there are 94 teams that have signed letters of intent to participate. They come from 14 countries and 24 states. They'll close the entry list sometime in the next few months.

To win the prize, car makers not only have to come up with an efficient car. They have to prove that the thing works. For that, there will be racing, and U.S. cities are now competing for their own piece of the prize—to be the site where the races are held.

“The cross country stage race will begin in New York City in September 2009, and will continue in up to nine other major markets throughout the U.S. Each stage race will feature a driving competition over city, suburban and rural roads between 30 and 200 miles in length. The Progressive Automotive X PRIZE is interested in offering diverse geographic and driving “real world” conditions, including the potential for slick and snowy roads, mountainous conditions and downtown city streets,” the X-folks say.

So far, there's been a lot of interest.

“Cities representing a diverse geographic and demographic mix – such as Albuquerque, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Denver, Indianapolis, New York, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Pasadena, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis – have all expressed interest in the competition,” says X.

With the average American car getting mileage in the 20-30 mile per gallon range, the X Prize pushes the envelope with a minimum requirement that achieves four times that efficiency.

It's gotta help.

© 2008 Jan W. TenBruggencate

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