Automotive X Prize Winner: a 'Very Light Car' indeed

The top mainstream-class winner was not an electric car, but an internal combustion-engine-driven one --with an extremely lightweight design.

The Progressive Automotive X Prize Foundation has just awarded $10 million to three teams who successfully completed the rigorous X Prize for a new, super-efficient car.  The criteria for the competition was for teams to create clean, production-capable vehicles that exceed 100 miles per gallon or energy equivalent (MPGe). The competition is meant to encourage the development of "real, production-capable cars that consumers will want to buy, not science projects or concept cars."

Of the the three winning teams, the top "mainstream class" prize went to Edison2 of Lynchburg, Virginia, with its "Very Light Car," aptly named due to its low weight of just 830 pounds. The vehicle, which, surprisingly, runs on a fairly standard internal combustion engine, gets more than 102 miles to the gallon. The vehicle runs on E85 ethanol.

Ironically, while designed by a company with "Edison" in its name, engineers ended up steering away from an electric car concept. The company explains that it achieves efficiency through low weight and low aerodynamic drag.  "Although we anticipated developing a hybrid or electric vehicle, our studies on efficiency led us away from the significant added weight of batteries needed for an electric or hybrid drive to a one-cylinder, 250cc internal combustion engine fueled by E85," according to a statement on the company's Website.

SmartPlanet colleague Deborah Gage provides additional details about the X Prize competition.

The vehicle also attains its lightness by avoiding feature creep, Edison2 says. "The evolution of items such as power seats or door locks from luxury options to standard features – has resulted in heavier vehicles needing more energy for propulsion. The simplicity of design of the Very Light Car means fewer components, less weight, greater efficiency and lower cost."

Oliver Kuttner, founder and chief executive officer for Edison2, said in an interview with NPR that it still will take some time before the car reaches the market while the company continues to evaluate safety features. But it's likely that an company with manufacturing and distribution capabilities will soon pick up his design, he adds. He attributes his design win on the fact that much of his team are in the race car business -- which demands constant innovation to improve performance and efficiency.

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