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Automotive X Prize winner Edison2 forges ahead with new design

Consumer Reports News: July 29, 2011 12:23 PM

It’s been a year since three competitors walked away with the $10 million Automotive X Prize money for demonstrating cars that could go 100 miles on the equivalent of one gallon of gasoline, could be mass produced, and could be sold for a reasonable price.

Since none of the cars are in showrooms yet, we decided to check in on the three winning teams and other notable leaders this summer and see what progress they’ve made toward fulfilling the competition’s goal of building a 100-mpg car that consumers will buy.

We started with the biggest winner, Edison2, which took home $5 million in for winning the mainstream class in the competition.

We called the company’s headquarters in Lynchburg, Va., and spoke with Brad Jaeger, an accomplished racer who serves as one of the company’s test drivers and engineers.

Edison2-Very-Light-Car-VLC-X-Prize-0-60.jpgJaeger says the company still aims to sell its design and license some of its technologies to a mainstream automaker in hopes that will lead to the production of a 100-mpg mainstream car. “We’re not looking to become the next General Motors,” Jaeger said. “[But] all of us here want to see a car like the this in consumers' hands.”

In the meantime, the company’s 15 full-time employees, and many consultants, are working on a new, more practical version of its Very Light Car (not shown). Called Version 4, it takes all the lessons the team learned from X Prize and attempts to incorporate them into a new car. It will have larger doors and a bigger cabin made possible by a different shape, but Version 4 is expected to have the same frontal area as the X Prize model to minimize aerodynamic drag. The weight is likely to go up to about 1,200 pounds, Jaeger explained, making it about 25 percent heavier than the team’s X Prize entry, even after accounting for competition-mandated ballast.

The company has also started two new versions of the VLC 3.0: The first with a larger gasoline engine (from a Smart car), air bags, and air conditioning. The second is being developed with an all-electric drivetrain. Jaeger notes that the team’s lightweight design principles are compounded in an electric car, by allowing the use of smaller, lighter batteries. They aim to have the Smart-powered car and the electric car completed in two months, but don’t have a deadline, or cost target, for the VLC Version 4.

Winning the prize money “really gave us life after the X Prize to keep working on this next-generation car,” says Jaeger.

The win gave them credibility with investors, he says. Now the challenge is to parlay that money and fame into a car consumers can actually buy.

That’s a huge challenge. As commentator Rex Roy wrote on Jalopnik.com recently, a limitation of the $10 million Automotive X Prize competition is that bringing a new production car to market, especially from scratch, is no longer a $10 million proposition; it’s a $1 billion proposition. But as Edison2 exemplifies, the competition certainly inspired innovation.


Eric Evarts

   

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