Thursday, May 13, 2010

Auto X-Prize narrows efficient-car field to two dozen

To see the future of transportation, you'd do well to avoid conventional auto shows and check out the Progressive Insurance Automotive X-Prize competition.

Here, a remarkable universe of energy-efficient passenger cars has been developed by domestic and international teams that range from urban young people and university students to backyard mechanics and high-tech engineers.

(Image: The X-Tracer tandem. Credit: Progressive Automotive X-Prize.)

The draw of the X-Prize is a $10 million award to the team that develops a 100-mile-per-gallon car that goes fast, meets safety standards and has a design people are likely to buy. In the mainstream class, the car needs to have four wheels, seat four people, get the equivalent of 100 miles to the gallon of gasoline, and have a 200-mile range.

We say fuel equivalent because many don't use gasoline. There are cars in the competition running on hydrogen, electric, diesel, ethanol and even one that is partly powered by steam.

Some of the cars look downright spacey, but others look like cars that wouldn't turn your head going down the street. You'd need to look under the hood to find the “Wow!”

Initially, there were three dozen entrants, but after the first of three on-track competitions, two dozen will move on to the second track test, the Knockout Qualifying Stage to be held June 16-30 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich. A report on the initial testing is here.

Some of the cars are built new from the ground up. Others used a mix-and-match approach, taking existing frames and modifying them to achieve the X-Prize goals.

An example of the latter is the West Philly Hybrid X Team (EVX Team), kids from West Philadelphia High School.

Their approach: “The EVX Focus is a parallel plug-in hybrid built on the Ford Focus chassis. This vehicle uses a two-cylinder 80 HP Harley-Davidson engine coupled to a 60 HP Azure Dynamics electric motor driving the front wheels. The electric motor is powered by a 15 kWh Lithium Ion battery pack from International Battery. This vehicle is a four-door sedan that seats five people. The custom designed control system optimizes the efficiency of the vehicle. The EVX Focus is a true flex fuel vehicle, capable of burning both gasoline and biobutanol.”

These kids also have an entry in the alternative car category, which allows two-seaters and fewer than four wheels. That entry is a very sporty (four-wheel) biodiesel-electric hybrid.

In the X-Prize altenative class, there are all kinds of odd-looking and sexy-performing vehicles. A Swiss entry, the electric X-Tracer, has two seats, one behind the other. It runs on two wheels at speed, and drops additional wheels at slow speed for stability.

The cars in your neighborhood garages may not look just like some of these vehicles, but it's likely that in coming years, there will be similarities under the hood.

Here are the designs still in the race.

Mainstream Class Teams:
Mainstream Class vehicles must carry four or more passengers, have four or more wheels, and offer a 200-mile range.

American HyPower, Centennial, Colorado (Gasoline, Hydrogen)
BITW Technologies, Palmyra, Indiana (Biodiesel)*
Cornell 100+ MPG Team, Ithaca, New York (Biodiesel)*
Edison2, Charlottesville, Virginia (E85)
Enginer, Troy, Michigan (Gasoline + Steam)**
Global-E, Mandeville, Louisiana (Gasoline & Electric)**
Illuminati Motor Works, Virden, Illinois (Electric)*
Liberty Motors Group, Botkins, Ohio (Gasoline)
West Philly Hybrid X (EVX), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Gasoline)

Alternative Class Teams:
Alternative Class vehicles must carry two or more passengers and allow for a 100 mile range.

Side-by-Side Seating
amp, Blue Ash, Ohio (Electric)
Aptera Motors, Vista, California (Electric)
Tata Motors Limited, Coventry, United Kingdom (Electric)
Edison2, Charlottesville, Virginia (E85)
OptaMotive, San Jose, California (Electric)
RaceAbout Association, Helsinki, Finland (Electric)
Team EVI, Mooresville, North Carolina (Electric)*
Team EVX, Dallas, Texas (Electric)
West Philly Hybrid X (EVX), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Biodiesel)
Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington (Gasoline)**
ZAP, Santa Rosa, California (Electric)*

Tandem Seating
FVT Racing, Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada (Gasoline)*
Spira, Banglamung, Chonburi, Thailand (Gasoline)
Tango (Commuter Cars), Spokane, Washington (Electric)
X-Tracer Team Switzerland, Uster, Switzerland (Electric)

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

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