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Automotive X Prize: Some teams fail to finish the final race

Consumer Reports News: July 27, 2010 04:25 PM

Two favored, well-known electric car teams--Aptera and ZAP--competing in the Automotive X Prize failed to finish the final race of the competition, dashing their chances of winning the $2.5 million prize for the side-by-side alternative-class cars.

In the final race, contestants had to complete 50 laps of Michigan International Speedway (MIS), for a total of 100 miles. The car that finished fastest without running out of batteries would win.

Of the three classes in the X Prize, only the side-by-side Alternative class has more than one team remaining in the competition, requiring a tie-breaking race to determine the outcome. The teams all had to have cars that returned 100 MPGe, while meeting all the emissions and safety requirements of production vehicles. Mainstream cars also had to be able to travel 200 miles without refueling, while cars in each Alternative class had to have a 100-mile range. The unique race challenge is that the cars had to both excel in efficiency and performance, while maintaining speed between 45 mph and 70 mph around the two-mile oval at MIS.

In a staggered start, RaceAbout, a university team from Helsinki, Finland, set the pace in their beige sports car driven by student engineer Tuomo Kinnunen. They were followed by the green egg-shaped Li-ion Motors Wave; the Aptera and ZAP Alias three-wheelers; and the tiny open TW4XP trike.


Raceabout, Li-ion, and Zap employed a go-for-broke strategy, since the race was not an elimination event, each attempting to hold just under 70 mph, feeling confident after the range event last week. The strategy paid off for RaceAbout and Li-ion, but not for ZAP, whose battery charge ran out 2 miles short of the finish. Aptera suffered an electronic glitch (possibly a result of overcharging from regenerative braking, according to X Prize officials), after about 35 miles. Li-ion and ZAP drafted each other and exchanged leads, before ZAP’s batteries ran dry.

Predictably RaceAbout, which was a lap ahead of the other cars by the second half of the race, took the checkered flag.

But as with most things at Automotive X Prize, that isn’t the end of the story. Penalties are assessed for teams that strayed from the proscribed speeds or used more than 100-MPGe energy equivalent of electricity. To take the latter measurement, the cars must be recharged, which takes hours. So the final results won’t be in until tomorrow.

All five teams, plus two Edison2 cars in the Mainstream class and two X-Tracer enclosed motorcycles, the last contenders in the Alternative Tandem class, will advance to fuel-economy validation next month at Argonne National Laboratory. Once the results are certified, the winner (or winners) will be announced at the White House on September 16th.

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

See our guide to fuel economy for advice on saving gasoline. Learn about future technologies in our guide to alternative fuels.

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