The winnings for the Automotive X Prize competition inevitably represent a huge boost for DIY garage-based teams hoping to launch a real business. In today’s economy, the $7.5 million awaiting the winner of this year’s competition — to build the best 100 mpg car with a minimum 200 mile range, based on a number of tests and road trials — could provide a nice influx of cash for even the more established entries, India’s Tata Motors and startups like Aptera and Tesla Motors.
Teams can enter cars in two categories — Mainstream (four seats, four wheels and the equivalent of 100 mpg) and Alternative (at least two seats and 100 mpg, fewer than four wheels OK) — and need to qualify in a cross-country race later this year. But with alternative-fuel car startups vying to become serious players in the auto industry, and longtime giants struggling to prove financial viability, another requirement potentially holds more interest: Teams need to have a “viable business plan” to be able to build 10,000 cars, as noted by Consumer Reports, whose engineers will test entries for performance and safety. Of the more than 100 non-confidential entries — six remain anonymous — these 10 should be fun to watch.
Aptera (electric/hybrid electric) is banking on aerodynamics to give it an edge. The company says it’s on track to release its first production vehicle within 12 months, but that model — the 2e — has been designed for a commuter who drives about 40 miles a day (the company says drivers can get more than 100 miles on a single charge).
AMP (electric) is also converting a Saturn. The team has built an electric drivetrain for the GM Saturn Sky roadster, and plans to begin selling plug-in conversions in the middle of this year.
Avion Car Company (fuel type to be determined) has designed a car for low-volume manufacturing using recycled components from scrap yards. It combines standard engines and drive trains with a lightweight and aerodynamic body.
BDCOTSRUS (diesel/electric) plans to use commercially available components to convert a 1995 Saturn with 186,000 miles on it.
Belloso Motor Company (gasoline) will use two engines: a small, fuel-efficient primary “cruiser” engine and a lightweight “accelerator” engine to supply extra power as needed for acceleration, passing and climbing.
Cornell 100+ MPG Team (diesel/electric) represents the next generation of auto engineers. Enough said.
Goodwin Young Linc Volt (biodiesel/gasoline/hydroxy gas), backed by Neil Young, plans to convert a 1959 Lincoln Continental convertible to run on a series hybrid system — making a movie about it along the way.
Tata Motors (electric/gas) has two entries this year, including its Indica Vista Hybrid in the Mainstream class and an electric version of the ultra-low-cost Nano in the Alternative class.
ZAP (electric) plans to compete with a three-wheeled plug-in called the Zap Alias. The team will use lithium-ion batteries, and has set a target price of less than $35,000.