Auto X Prize: Ka-ching! $10M for 100 MPG

The New York International Auto Show kicked off this morning and the folks behind the Automotive X Prize got things rolling by announcing that the payout for whomever comes up with the most viable 100+ mpg cars is a cool $10 million. Sponsored by Progressive Casualty Insurance (an omen, perhaps?), the Auto X Prize already has 65 entrants including a number of electric vehicle startups, like Aptera and Tesla, in the race.

MDI

The teams will be competing in two separate categories. The “mainstream class” seeks high-efficiency cars with four wheels, four passengers and all of the conventional automotive amenities. The “alternative class” is billed as “an outlet for innovative ideas” with no limitations on design and functionality beyond the main tenets of 100 mpg and a 200-mile range. That one should see some wild cards.

One of the most buzzed about entrants is the compressed air-powered Air Car, which French automaker Motor Development International unveiled today at the show. MDI’S compressed air car can go 90 mph, seats six and still meets the 100 mpg qualification. And while the multimillion-dollar prize would surely be nice, MDI doesn’t need to worry about funding right now as they just signed a $30 million deal with Indian carmaker Tata to release the air car in 2008.

For many of the smaller groups, however, $10 million would be really significant. Several DIY garage-based teams have entered, as well as some relics from automotive history, including the man who brought the U.S. the Yugo. The long list of car entrepreneurs and ingĂ©nues reaffirms Clean Edge’s recent estimation that startups will be the ones to revolutionize the auto industry, leaving the lumbering automotive establishment in their low CO2 dust.

Even the Senate, the same body of legislators that bitched and moaned at every tenth of mpg added to the national CAFE standard, is getting excited about the Auto X Prize. The Senate passed a resolution praising the X PRIZE Foundation for helping “break the addiction of the United States to oil and stem the effects of climate change.” Our tax dollars at work.

Photo courtesy of Autoblog Green.

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