Automotive X Prize: A tale of two teams--Wikispeed, FourSight

Consumer Reports News: May 07, 2010 02:33 PM

Of the 11 teams that arrived for the second week of the Automotive X Prize shakedown, two faced significant struggles to make it through the technical inspection and progress on to the performance tests. They rallied under tough circumstances, though ultimately both withdrew from the competition.

The 15 Team Wikispeed members who arrived in Michigan at 2 a.m. on Sunday had never met before--an unusual, virtual-team strategy for such a hands-on challenge! The team members have diverse backgrounds, including non-engineers and a local machinist from Michigan.

After failing the first inspection, the car required essentially a whole new interior, new suspension, and new engine mounts, among other things. The team had just 48 hours to rebuild the car.

Wikispeed-being-assembled-blog

At one point, they needed a TIG welder, which they didn’t have on hand. A family member in Ohio borrowed one from a neighbor and drove it to the Michigan track. A hearty thanks and a Wikispeed orange shirt were quickly provided. By the end of the day, the car was rebuilt and ready for re-inspection.

Unfortunately, it still didn’t pass.

The other story involves Team FourSight. One of their two entries is a first-generation Honda Insight converted to a diesel hybrid. The other is a two-seat electric sports car dubbed TwinSight based on a French light-truck frame with a fiberglass Lotus-replica body. Both could have been competitive designs, but neither came together in time for the competition.

FourSight team leader Chris Atkinson, a mechanical engineering professor from West Virginia University, said the team came up a day late and “several dollars short.” A critical shortcoming, they lacked the money to buy an electric motor for their car. (The Insight was supposed to have a battery-electric drivetrain up front and a Smart diesel engine driving the rear wheels.) He drove up to the competition in his wife’s Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which he says other team members had been jealously eyeing to supply a needed electric motor. The FourSight was knocked out of the competition early, when the electric powertrain that had been specified wasn’t available.

FourSight-f-blog

The TwinSight also didn’t come together in time for the competition. Chris Beebe, a mechanic from Wisconsin, who designed and built both cars in his shop there lamented that the team didn’t have the money or dedication to get the cars built, but he expressed interest in completing the cars for other competitions.

Time and money are challenges for most endeavors, as any automaker can attest. These talented teams put in a valiant effort, but came up short in those vital commodities.

Follow our Auto X Prize coverage here in the Cars blog, as well as in our special Auto X Prize section and via Twitter @CRcars.

Eric Evarts

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