A little over a year ago 111 teams from 15 countries, with a total of 136 vehicles, entered the Automotive X Prize. Close to two-thirds of the entries were in the mainstream class: 4-wheel, 4-person cars with a range of 200 miles on a single tank or charge.
Entering the 2nd week of the knockout, only three mainstream cars remain: two Edison2 Very Light Cars and the electric Illuminati Seven car. More entries remain in the alternative classes (including our tandem Very Light Car), where entrants need to carry only 2 passengers, go 100 miles, and can have any number of wheels.
What does this mean?
Certainly it means that the X Prize has set the bar appropriately high. Doubling the mileage of existing high-economy cars is a very difficult task; if it were easy it would already have been done.
Second, the fact that only one car reliant on batteries remains in the mainstream class reinforces just how difficult range can be for electric drives. Our analysis of efficiency showed that the energy gained from regenerative braking simply was not worth the cost in added battery weight. One 6 lb gallon of gasoline contains the energy of 500 lbs of batteries; at least 1000 lbs of batteries would be needed if our 750 lb VLC were electric. That is a lot of weight to push around for 200 miles.
Third, it is no coincidence that both Illuminati and Edison2 have build ground-up cars. Achieving breakthrough efficiency by modifying an existing car is not going to happen; rather, it requires a new way of thinking about cars.
Edison2 has done this. We have met the 100 MPGe efficiency mark this week, and have done it by taking a fresh look at what it takes to make a car practical, safe, affordable, and efficient. The VLC is light because every part has been redesigned to be strong and light. It is safe because of design innovations from racing. It is affordable because it is low-mass, simple and uses conventional materials. And it is efficient because it is an unprecedented combination of low weight and superior aerodynamics.
Knockout continues this week with dynamic safety and emissions testing. Then the competition concludes the last 2 weeks of July, where cars need to meet the full requirements, rather than the 2/3 needed at Knockout. Stay tuned.