And the Auto X Prize Goes to. . . A Very Light Weight Car


It’s official: the winners of the grueling Auto X Prize — a $10 million competition to build the most fuel efficient, low cost but production-ready cars (no concepts) — have been announced and the three winners include a gas-powered 100 MPG “very light weight car,” and two innovative electric vehicles. The competition winners are indicators of the kind of vehicle innovation that entrepreneurs and engineers can build under the right conditions: lots-o-money and the competitive spirit.

Edison2’s 100 MPG Light Weight Car

The winner of the biggest portion of the award, $5 million out of the $10 million prize, went to Edison2, the only contestant that made it to the mainstream category (a four-seater that can do 0 to 60 in 15 seconds and can get 100 MPG) back in July. Edison2 makes an internal combustion engine vehicle called the “Very Light Car” model, which uses an aluminum frame, weighs 830 pounds, can achieve 102.5 MPG fuel efficiency, can be powered by ethanol and can be built for $20,000.

Edison2 founder and CEO Oliver Kuttner explained in this video that the company started with a Yamaha engine and completely reconfigured it “down to every internal moving part.” The car is light and sturdy enough, he said, that it could be “manufactured and sold to the public, meeting all the laws, at 1,000 pounds.”

The mainstream category originally had more than 80 of the total 136 entries in this year’s competition, and through a series of tests and trials on a speedway in Michigan, mainstream cars had to prove that they could travel 200 miles or more (100 laps around the track) without refueling or recharging, compared to just 100 miles for the “alternative” class. In order to win, a mainstream entry like Edison2′s Very Light Car also has to show it can do 0-60 in 15 seconds, and of course meet the contest’s ultimate target of 100 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).

The company says it has built a car that can meet those requirements by using components that are as much as 90 percent lighter than conventional counterparts. Edison2 has also sought to keep a simple design by avoiding what it calls, “feature creep — the evolution of items such as power seats or door locks from luxury options to standard features” that end up adding weight and demanding more energy for propulsion.

Interestingly, the Edison2 team originally expected to power the Very Light Car with either electric or hybrid drive. But they ended up opting for an internal combustion engine after studying efficiency and finding “that the benefits of regenerating energy in a low-mass vehicle were not worth the cost of added battery and component weight needed for an EV or hybrid.” The company (which hopes to eventually be a provider of vehicle platform technology), emphasizes that this is specifically for the demands of the race track, where the drive cycle would leave little energy for a regenerative braking system to capture.

The Very Light Weight car was a collaboration between race car driving veterans, and, as I learned at the Laguna Seca Raceway earlier this year, testing electric vehicles and motorcycles under extreme conditions and at high speeds will be an important way to help usher in breakthroughs and innovations (see videos of high performance electric cars from WrightSpeed and Kleenspeed here).

The Electric Vehicle Winners

Two developers of electric vehicles also split the other $5 million: Li-Ion Motors Corp, which makes a two-seater, 187 miles per charge, Wave2, and a Swiss team called X-Tracer Team, which developed the 205-mile per charge, E-Tracer 7009 electric motorcycle-style mini-car.

The E-Tracer, made by Peraves, is powered by AC Propulsion’s electric vehicle drive train technology, which was also the heart of the Tesla Roadster, the Mini E and AC Propulsion’s own E-Box. AC Propulsion CEO Tom Gage originally introduced Tesla’s original founder and chief funder.

For more information on green cars check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Car Data As the Next Platform for Innovation

Beyond the Breakthrough: Building A Better Battery Business

Image courtesy of VeryLightWeightCar photostream.

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