By on July 29, 2010

The idea behind the Automotive X-Prize was to prove that 100 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) is attainable in practical, daily-driver-type cars. And with competition moving into the final stage, 15 cars are still in the running. But how good are those cars actually? With only $10m in prize money, the X-Prize attracted few established OEMs to the competition, and as a result only a single car has made it through to the finals in the Mainstream class. This class was the main focus of the competition, as its requirement that each car “must seat at least four passengers, have four wheels, and have a minimum 200 mile range” meant Mainstream entries could be alternatives to “real cars.” Instead, the competition is being dominated by the “Alternative” class (two passengers, 100 miles range and any amount of wheels), which was included to open the competition smaller teams. And despite the fact that most of the entries had few restrictions on their designs, you might assume that they have performed impressively. The numbers, however, paint a very different picture.

Now, considering that these are mostly one-off prototypes assembled by small teams without the backing of a major OEM, these numbers are quite good. But as proof that electric cars are ready to take over for the internal combustion engine, the X-Prize is coming up short. On the other hand, the whole idea is that the $10m prize can be used to improve the designs based on experience from testing. In other words, we’re glad the X-Prize is happening, and it’s an important step in exploring a new generation of efficient automobiles, but don’t hold your breath for any of these cars to show up at a dealership anytime soon.

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24 Comments on “Automotive X-Prize Proves That 100 MPG Ain’t Easy...”

  • avatar

    Bahh, who needs to accelerate quickly from 40 to 65 mph?


  • avatar

    These prizes are wonderful. In the past there have been prizes, often put up by newspapers, for the first flight across the English Channel, the first solo flight across the English Channel, the first car accross the US, the first solo flight across the Atlantic, the first car to go 100 mph, the fastest human powered sub, a vehicle that can navigate across the desert on its own, etc.

    These prizes bring publicity to what might be possible and bring out engineers, students, and back yard mechanics who can test and compare their ideas. Usually there are a lot of failures before the prize is achieved. Overcoming the failures stretch our thinking.

  • avatar
    Sammy Hagar

    I’ve been following the Tango vehicles for a bit now, namely because they’re built in my hometown (Spokane) and they’ve been around for a bit (I seem to remember a few celebs like Clooney & Begley Jr. buying them back in ’05).

    Anyway, I’m not getting that chart inre 0-60 & 40-65 times. For instance, the Tango is pegged at 6.56 & 6.91…which seems improbable. Is the “0-60” column actually a 0-40 misprint? Or am I having a mid-morning mindfart? Thanks for clarification of any sort!

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      If the absolute top speed is not much greater than 65 mph, it’s quite possible that the time to get from 60 to 65 mph might be comparable to the time to get from zero to 40, in which case the 40 to 65 time would be the same as the zero to 60. If the top speed is less than 65 mph, then the 40 to 65 time would be infinite.

    • 0 avatar
      Sammy Hagar

      Ah, I get where you’re going with that.

      Echoing a few other posts, those times are pretty impressive, even if they are only 2-seaters. Sort of puts the Smart idea to shame…

  • avatar

    Not 100 MPG, but not bad at all for a bunch of rank amateurs:

  • avatar

    Those are some pretty good results apart from on the skidpad. Sure, you’ve got the BEVs that do 0-60 in 15 seconds but there are more sub-9-to-60 cars in there than I’d have thought.

  • avatar

    How do you pull almost 1.2G and yet manage an accident-avoidance speed that low?

    • 0 avatar

      I wondered the same thing. High grip suspension but poor transient response would account for it. I’m guessing snap oversteer.

    • 0 avatar

      There is a difference between dynamic stability and pure cornering ability. Take, for example, sway bars. They do not improve maximum cornering ability one bit. They do, however, keep a car flatter in transitions. When the car rolls less, it is quicker to recover for a turn in the other direction.

    • 0 avatar

      I just wouldn’t have expected numbers that divergent. I can’t imagine what such a vehicle would ride like.

      No wait, I can. I’ve ridden a skateboard down a sidewalk on a hill.

  • avatar

    Yeah, I’ve had my share of chortles ever since a blogger here posted the results of the Aptera vehicle.

    That said, the prize great idea. In a world where truly awful things are occurring in support of our fuel requirements, the solutions are going to have to be found in someone’s garage.

  • avatar

    If only that 200 mpg carburetor hadn’t been suppressed by the big oil companies, none of this would matter…

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    I think it is unlikely that any major OEM avoided the X Prize because of the (relatively) small prize. I don’t think $10 mm matters much to an OEM one way or the other. My bet is that they avoided the X Prize because of the incredible downside of losing… what if an entry from mighty Mercedes lost out to a college science fair project? Major egg on face. And even if a big OEM won, it might be seen as beating up on the little guys….

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. It would be sort of a lose/lose situation. However, I suspect you will find major manufacturers supported many of the teams…especially the college teams.

  • avatar

    I seem to remember the automotive X prize being about reliable fuel economy rather than 0-60 times… Also, wasn’t there a time not too long ago where under 7 seconds was the realm of sports cars, and most regular cars took 10 seconds or more to get to 60? Hard to believe in the era of 6-second family sedans, I know.

    Hey, something’s got to give. Honestly, I think I can accept even a 14 second 0-60 time if I got 100 mpg – especially if it could be done cheaply. That’s actually the kicker, I found out about the Twike (the TW4XP is Twike’s entry above) recently, and it sounds like a pretty good idea, if it was $8,000 for a model that could take me 100 miles. Sadly, it’s more like $25,000.

    Motorcycles are one option, but the safety and exposure to weather are issues. The only one of the above with really impressive times is the X-Tracer, which is more or less a covered motorcycle with an electric motor and self-lowering stability wheels. If only it could be made for a reasonable price…

    • 0 avatar

      Using a Suzuki Sidekick as a daily driver pointed out to me the general irrelevance of 0-60 times. Notwithstanding that I was driving one of the slowest vehicles on the road, I was routinely held up on freeway onramps by people who couldn’t even manage to outrun it. Then they’d “merge” at 45, finally notice they were on a freeway and step on it a little, and leave me hanging out to dry.

      I eventually learned to hang back far enough to get a reasonable run up the ramp so I could merge at freeway speed.

    • 0 avatar

      The horsepower race, which bled into family cars and even economy cars, is a huge reason overall fuel economy hasn’t improved in the last 20 years, despite much more efficient engines. IMHO, it has gotten ridiculous. Look at the specs of the Porsche 944 (150hp, 0-60 8.3 seconds) or half a dozen other sports cars of that era. In comparison the 2006 Honda Civic SI had almost 200hp and ran 0-60 in 6.6 seconds.

  • avatar

    Well, wouldn’t write these off by the numbers. One the most satisfying, most favorite cars I have ever owned was a 1980 Honda Accord. 0-60 times? I don’t know, probably 12 seconds. Cornering maybe .75 g. Top speed- 93 mph. Slowest vehicle I have ever owned. Yet it did okay, monster acceleration and cornering is really far less than 5% of your driving unless you make it a point to do otherwise. What made it nice were all the other things, the integration of the driving experience as a piece of transportation.

    Now that Accord didn’t have the spirit of a sports car though just being small and light (less than 1900 lbs) kept it from feeling like a slug the numbers indicate it was. It exuded a sense of quality, felt nice enough, did what a car is supposed to do very nicely with an impressive minimum of resources for the time.

    Any of these cars manage to pull the same thing off, feel like a finely crafted jewel, while reliably, economically providing the basics of transportation, and you could have a hit on your hands. Don’t know enough to say if any of them come close, but eventually one design will do it.

    As for comparing numbers with conventional cars, hey, one day in the future conventional cars won’t be around or won’t be sensible. These are an attempt to get a jump on making the cars that come after better cars.

  • avatar
    Matthew Sullivan

    Is 100 MPG even a worthy goal?

    50 MPG is attainable with today’s technology in mainstream cars (I was getting that in my Geo Metro 20 years ago). So 100 MPG would only reduce the amount of fuel used by half, when compared to 50 MPG.

    I’m thinking that electric cars are a better way to reduce our dependence on oil.

  • avatar

    It’s a shame all this effort is going into a testasteroni pit. Why did flat screen TV’s take off? Women. Who will buy most of the smaller fuel efficient cars? Women. These “jockstrap cars/bikes” are toys. Norway is planning to build the TH!NK electric car in Elkhart, IN beginning next year. It’s the best looking, most practical EV for the price. Hopefully the US gov will assess ALL gov. fleets and buy EV’s for the short route work. All local delivery postal vehicles should be EV. I actually want a NEV that simply doesn’t look dorky. I remember all the cute kit cars that could be put on a beetle chassis back in the 70’s. So ,come on guys, get some women into the design process and produce something your target population will actually buy. Four seats, good visibility, protection from wind and weather, a secure locking trunk, room for 3 or 4 bags of groceries or golf clubs and pull cart.Goes 35-40 mph for 50 miles on a charge.

  • avatar

    So where is the VW Polo TDI engine mated to a Prius hybrid drive and battery? The Polo TDI gets about 75 mpg all by itself and I’m sure the Prius drive could help it eek out another 25 mpg in a normal sized, normally equipped car – not something from Star Trek.

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