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A new generation of ultra-efficient vehicles split $10 million auto X-prize

By Climate Guest Contributor on September 18, 2010 at 6:52 am

"A new generation of ultra-efficient vehicles split $10 million auto X-prize"


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Plus a must-see video of the winner’s acceptance speech

Three design teams from Mooresville, North Carolina, Lynchburg, Virginia and Winterthur, Switzerland have succeeded in building extremely fuel efficient vehicles that are capable of traveling at least 100 miles per gallon of gasoline (or equivalent, MPGe).  The teams survived a series of performance lab and road tests that eliminated 133 other vehicles from the first ever Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize competition.

The goal of the competition, according to the X Prize Foundation, is to leverage the elements of public interest, entrepreneurial spirit and cross-disciplinary innovation to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.  Using a $10 million purse as an incentive certainly helps to stimulate the creative spirit.

Edison2′s Very Light Car took home the $5 million grand prize by winning the mainstream category of the competition for four-wheel, four passenger vehicles with a minimum range of 200 miles.  The Very Light Car achieved 102.5 MPGe, and was the only vehicle in the mainstream class to top the 100 MPGe threshold.  It weighs in at a feathery 830lbs and is powered by a turbocharged 250cc Yamaha motorcycle engine that can run on pure gasoline or E85 ethanol.  Other design highlights include its ultra low body drag coefficient (0.15) and lightweight collapsible front wheel assembly.  The Virginia based design team has patented this innovative technology which can absorb and divert large impact forces away from passengers in the even of an accident.

Here is part of the amazing acceptance speech of Oliver Kuttner  on behalf of Edison2:

Two electric-powered vehicles split the remaining $5 million prize.  The Swiss X-Tracer won the alternative tandem division with a conversion of the eTracer, an enclosed motorcycle that is currently for sale in Europe.  It was able to travel 205 MPGe on a single charge of its 20kwh lithium ion battery pack.  Retractable wheels that look like miniature landing gear deploy automatically to provide additional stability at lower speeds.

Li-on Motors’ Wave II electric roadster won the alternative side-by-side division by traveling 187 miles after a single charge of its lithium-ion battery pack.  The stylish two-seater has made appearances at the New York and Detroit Auto Shows and retails for around $40,000.  The Auto X Prize competition proves that achieving 100 MPGe is quite possible.  The real challenge will be creating a market for these small, futuristic-looking vehicles.  It is doubtful that they will be able to compete with industry giants unless federal fuel efficiency standards are significantly increased –  at least until peak oil  seriously kicks in.

To find out more about the contest and the contestants, check out these links…




Ben Kaldunski is an intern with CAP’s Energy Opportunity team, and a recent grad from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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22 Responses to A new generation of ultra-efficient vehicles split $10 million auto X-prize

  1. fj2 says:


    At about 400 pounds for a hybrid human-electric two-seater the TW4XP contender was probably on the preferred critical path for open-system public human mobility which has been privatized for many years in the form of transportation systems based on cars.

    Optimally it seems that vehicles should be single-person, less than 100 pounds, highly modular, able to connect with others, and capable of being integrated in transit systems.

    Air resistance is the major energy sink where side-by-side seating wastes energy and inline tandem configurations are more efficient, with lower energy density storage requirements, and smaller environmental footprints.

  2. bioblogger says:

    Since ethanol has only 70% of btus of gasoline, I find it surprising that Edison2 chose to run on E85 for this high stakes competition! Maybe we can still get competitive MPG on ethanol because of its higher compression ratio vs. gasoline. We know that ethanol, regardless of feedstock, is a much cleaner fuel that is getting more sustainable every year vs. gasoline (high aromatics) which is getting less sustainable and dirtier to resource (deep ocean drilling and oil spills) & refine (tar sands) every year.

  3. Abe says:

    I think it would be smart of GM or some such company to hold a similar competition, aimed at finding a car that meets safety standards, is comfortable, and can be put into production at an affordable rate (maybe 20k or less), and then the prize would be that the winner would have the car on the market within one year of winning, and a percent of the profits.

    Then we might get somewhere.

  4. Edward says:

    How fast do these cars wear down and how much maintenance do they require? The millage may not be so good once they have aged.

  5. hapa says:

    no pulling power. need a contest for trucks/buses.

  6. fj2 says:

    #5 hapa, “contest for trucks/buses”

    Freight including buses where people are treated as freight is a different problem.

    Systems using lots of connected highly modular single-person vehicles could replace buses and conventional trains.

  7. hapa says:



  8. fj2 says:

    #7 hapa, “could”

    You do not need a 35-ton subway car to move 188 people of which 140 are standing, which is the case in the New York City subway system. Buses work on the same primitive concept.

    Instead of “could”:

    Systems using lots of connected highly modular single-person vehicles provide much better mobility than buses and conventional trains.

  9. hapa says:


    timeframes matter. i’ve had exchanges something like this w/ fans of next-gen nuclear power plants — aka vaporware. we absolutely should explore the long-range possibilities, considering that going carbon zero is now a generational, not multi-generational, goal.

    at the same time, the loads we have to carry and the equipment currently rolling, those both will necessarily shape what we deploy in the next decade. high-efficiency replacement equipment is the bridge tech to new super-clean *systems* AFAICT.

    the fuel efficiency gains from switching a chunk of car trips to high-performance buses, including trolley buses, is gigantic and not very expensive.

  10. The winners speech was definitely inspirational.And the entries show what engineering is all about and its importance to society.

  11. fj2 says:

    #9 Hapa, “the fuel efficiency gains from a chunk of car trips to high-performance buses, including trolley buses, is gigantic and not very expensive.”

    Referencing cars is meaningless. Cars are awful. Bicycles have 1% the environmental footprint of cars. Electric bikes are close to this. Buses do not come even close. The infrastructure, including parking that cars require is just about as bad as cars themselves if not worse. For much larger vehicles the infrastructure is many times worse.

    If large vehicle transit is so great why is it so expensive, needs subsidies, and difficult to build? They have been building New York City’s Second Avenue Subway for 40 years and this cost is something like $2 billion per mile. Large vehicle transit is usually just another destination that people have to get to by other means on schedules at the convenience of the system.

    And, what is the vaporware that you are referring to? Cycling technology has been around for many years. Just because it does not burn oil does not mean it is vaporware.

    Cycling technology is 3 to 4 times more efficient and faster than simple walking which means that someone on a bicycle can cover 9 to 16 times the area of a pedestrian. Add a small amount of electric power and the speed and range is increased dramatically. Recently, the winner, and not an elite athlete, of the Tour de Sol in Albany, NY traveled 100 miles in 3 hours on an Optibike. Normal people on the Shweeb human-powered (only) monorail system sprint at speeds up to 56 mph.

    The world record for an unassisted human-powered bicycle is 81 miles per hour.

    If you look at the X-prize the key factor for greatly improving performance is greatly reducing weight.

    Since there are 430 million cyclists and over 120 million people using electric bicycles in China the key issue to using the tremendous advantages of cycling is designing in the type of practicality, comfort, functionality, speed and range, etc. that people expect in the developed world. This is not designing around vaporware although the oil companies and those industries entrenched in the status quo would have you believe that. This is just the normal industrial product design and development process as detailed in the primer by the same name: Product Design and Development by Karl t. Ulrich and Steven D. Eppinger.

    The second Volkswagen Beetle cost about one-half billion dollars to prototype and another one-half billion dollars to prepare for manufacture. It would probably cost about the same to design a transit system around the advantages of cycling technology that would move millions of people an hour safely (much more safely than cars), at a small fraction of the cost, and a small fraction of the environmental footprint; and, the vehicles would have the considerable convenience and practicality of being distributed and on-demand even more so than cars.

    Think closely about the current situation with transportation systems based on cars and buses and you’ll likely realize that the oil industry has quite nicely privatized human mobility. This is totally wrong.

  12. hapa says:


    apologies, i missed your first comment. thought you were talking about something else, something more expensive and fussy.

    even so, outside a catastrophe, i don’t see pedal-assist vehicles like you’re talking about being widespread in the USA in 2020. or electric scooters. your hard sell sales pitch suggests you have experienced exactly the kind of strong resistance i’m talking about.

  13. James Newberry says:

    How about a Z Prize for the most sustainable/efficient light rail car?

    Then manufacturer a million in the USA and install them here and around the world. The concept of the personal car culture for every adult citizen has helped to drive the economy and environment over a cliff. Soon China will sell several times more cars each year than America. Then there’s India, etc. A globalized car culture is not sustainable (beginning with parking for several billion). They should probably be supplemental to transit, not primary in a heating world.

  14. fj2 says:

    #12 hapa, re: “strong resistance”

    Actually, sales of electric bikes were quite brisk in China some time back and continue to accelerate, also in New York City; and the latest seems to be that a lot of companies are looking at electric bikes for a much broader market if that is what you are referring to.

    I am just an observer.

    Hybrid human-electric vehicles that run on-and-off systems is my pitch . . . , but first things first such as a major public bicycle system in New York City currently under consideration by Bloomberg.

  15. DC says:

    Disapointing that a gas-powered vehicle took the top prize. Until we dispense with the idea of private car-ownership it wont matter how “efficent” they are. Mass transit, relocalization, with personal transport limtied to NEV or bicycles is the only thing that will save us. A billion private cars, electric, “hybrids” or high MPG gas, no matter, will destroy our planet. The answer is less cars, less roads and rebuilt cities, not holding contests to promote the idea that “high-efficeny” gas burners are some sort of solution, they are nothing of the sort. Of course, we simply may lack to the recources to rebuild cities that in many parts of world, were built soley for the gas-burning car.

  16. Gnobuddy says:


    The data in a very interesting book, “The Simple Science of Flight” by Henk Tennekes, shows that railways are not really that fuel efficient. Turns out that per passenger-mile, railways, compact cars, and Jumbo Jets (747′s) are not terribly far apart. This is particularly interesting because the jet is travelling so much faster than the other two. (Of course the bigger distances involved in jet flight mean that the jet has a bigger carbon footprint, but driving the same distance in a compact car wouldn’t be significantly better.)

    fj2 makes the point in post #11 – it’s not that cars are good, it’s that *all* these vehicles are horrible, energy consumption wise. Cars, trucks, buses, trains – all of them are monstrously heavy compared to the weight of passengers they carry, and all of them are energy hogs to a horrifying degree. Evolution has managed to create animals that move themselves with outputs in the 100 watt to 1000 watt range; all the vehicles discussed above use two to three orders of magnitude more power per passenger. The bicycle is the only form of land transport that can carry a human about while using less than 100 W on average.

    Americans will give up their cars with about the same grace with which NRA members would give up their guns, unfortunately. So we’ll continue to drive whatever cars we can afford to the bitter end. First we’ll finish off the last of the petroleum, then the alternative fuels, and by the time we’re done, chances are much of the planetary ecosystem will be toast too. Heck, who are we kidding, it’s toast already – James Lovelock almost certainly has it right. It’s all over bar the shouting.

    I still have trouble grappling with the reality of the catastrophe that is now upon us. I’m not ancient – I’m in my mid forties – and already I have seen so much catastrophic environmental damage on a global scale happen during my lifetime. Even so, it’s hard to accept that the final kiss of death to the majority of life on the planet – and certainly to the majority of humans – is now imminent, and in fact has already started. Just count the thousands of lives already lost to freak weather events around the globe these last four or five years, and look at the millions of flood-displaced Pakistani’s who are now in danger of dying from cholera outbreaks and other fatal diseases, not to mention starvation.


  17. Gnobuddy says:

    @13: James Newberry says: A globalized car culture is not sustainable (beginning with parking for several billion).

    It’s more basic than that – a human population of several billion on this planet is not sustainable, cars or no cars. In fact the insanely large human population is the root cause of every other environmental problem we face. If the earths population were still half a billion, we’d have had to burn coal and petroleum for 2800 years (instead of 200) at the same rate per person before we ended up as deep in doodoo as we now find ourselves. That is long enough that science would likely have had time to discover and arrest the problem before it turned into a catastrophe.

    It’s pretty amazing that a mammal species that only gives birth to one rather fragile young one at a time – and that only once a year at best – has managed to flood the planet with seven and a half billion head in a mere 130,000 years or so.


  18. fj2 says:

    #15 Gnobuddy, Thanks for the reference Henk Tennekes’ “The Simple Science of Flight;” looks like a good book; might just give it a read.

    Do let me know when you find “The Simple Science of Optimism.”

  19. fj2 says:

    #16 Gnobuddy, Just in case you don’t know about David Gordon Wilson’s “Bicycle Science, 3rd edition.”

    I believe he also designed and built record-breaking human-powered flying machines that came after Paul McCready’s Gossamer Condor likely included in the book you mention.

  20. Edward says:

    In my opinion, a good way to reduce car use is to set up car co-ops, which has been done in Germany. Instead of each person owning a car the members use the co-op cars a limited number of times a month. This has also been done on a commercial basis.

  21. fj2 says:

    19 Edward, re: car co-ops

    Yes, Zipcar, Hertz Connect and other transition stuff are options but the more complete solutions seem to be vehicles scaled by human power capabilities; and of course, human intellect and natural capital at the broadest scales.

  22. fj2 says:


    From gizmag: A closer look at Automotive X-Prize winner Edison 2

    Personal note: Freewheeling is way over-rated and unsafe in many areas once you start going about 10 mph.

    How about considering at the same time new types of small environment footprint roads based on guide ways, maybe even rails; and, they can provide simple mechanical collision avoidance; steer, control and even power vehicles.

    And, maybe these new types of roads could be called railroads.