Last night in California a list of 111 teams was announced – one of which may hold the key to motoring’s green future. They are the registered entrants to the Progressive Auto X Prize, a contest that will award prizes totalling $10 million for vehicles that can go 100 miles on the energy equivalent to that in a gallon of fuel.
Notable by their absence were the world’s largest car manufacturers – bar Indian firm Tata – who don’t seem interested in taking part. The list is varied spanning slick Californian start-ups with electric cars, to less-refined backyard efforts still finalising their designs.
See a gallery of some of the vehicles entered into the Auto X Prize
But you can be sure that the auto giants will be closely watching the progress of entrants through the design judging and performance testing phases planned for this year, as well as the race events scheduled to start in 2010. The contest offers a chance for smaller players to shake up an industry long dominated by giant, established firms set in their ways.
“This is a huge opportunity for niche players to make a big difference,” Nick Carpenter, technical director of small UK firm Delta Motorsport, told New Scientist. Delta is finalising the design of a “low, sporty four-seat coupe” that will use a unique, lightweight electric motor developed at Oxford University, and is scheduled to begin track tests at the end of 2009.
“Whether we or any of the other small teams can become the next GM or Ford is another matter,” says Carpenter, “but the contest gives us the chance to bring fresh approaches uncluttered by history.” Some of those new ideas may be snapped up by bigger fish, he adds, but even those that don’t still have a chance to shine and influence the future of mass motoring.
The prize looks set to provide both technological entertainment, and practical advances. The entrants are a varied mix ranging from innovative, to tried-and-tested and even downright wild ideas, but the contest rules ensure that the more serious efforts will produce vehicles that are not far from ready to appear on our roads.
That’s because although it is relatively easy to make a road vehicle travel 100 miles on the equivalent of a gallon of fuel the prize comes with other criteria that provide more of a challenge.
The main $7.5-million purse for designs with four wheels, carrying four people requires they travel 200 miles on one load of their chosen fuel – at the target efficiency – and must accelerate from 0 to 60mph in 12 seconds and reach speeds of 100 miles per hour.
The smaller $2.5-million prize for vehicles of any design carrying two or more people requires they go 100 miles on a top-up and reach at least 80 mph. Both categories restrict carbon emissions and require attainable plans to manufacture 10,000 vehicles a year.
Those down-to-earth restrictions, combined with the aim-high mentality of the entrants seem sure to provide a contest worth watching. Who knows, it may even change road transport the world over. New Scientist