Automotive X-Prize Proves That 100 MPG Ain't Easy

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

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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  • Esldude Esldude on Jul 29, 2010

    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.

    • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Sep 16, 2010

      You kind of describe my first gen CR-V 5 speed manual. Slow on 0-60 but perfectly fine the rest of the time.

  • MattMan MattMan on Jul 30, 2010

    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.

  • Lalameda Lalameda on Jul 30, 2010

    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.

  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Sep 16, 2010

    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.