Monday, August 10, 2009

X-Prize Goal Over 100 MPG

Automakers say they are struggling to get the improved gas mileage the government demands. If this is true, how can there be 90 teams that say their production designs will get over 100 mpg?

Visit any car dealership in 2009 and salesmen brag about how many cars they have that get over 20 mpg. Some models may even get gas mileage in the 30s. Ooh, wow.

My 2002 PT Cruiser gets over 30 mpg and a Ford Escort Sport I had got over 40 mpg over 10 years ago. So, car makers haven't been able to make any improvements and have even gone backwards in the last 7 years?

The big automakers are struggling to grasp the idea of an electric car because the concept is so new. Well, no it isn't. I remember seeing an electric car at a fair in the 1960s called the Mars III. It was about the size of a Corolla with an electric motor under the hood and a bunch of lead batteries in the trunk. Almost 50 years later and there hasn't been very much progress for electric production cars. Was it just technology issues or kickbacks to the automakers from the petroleum industry that hampered the progress?

Some independent companies have come up with production electric cars. However, most of these are really meant for short hops away from the house charging plug, making them not very practical for most of us, especially in Texas. I have a 160 mile round trip just for work each day.

Size is another issue. One way to boost gas mileage or the electric equivalent is to create little cracker boxes like the Smart car. You can almost get two small people in one of these and maybe a couple of bags of groceries.

Hybrids like the Honda InSite and the Toyota Prius have made the most headway. However, the Prius only uses electric when it is in city style driving. That's good from an urban pollution point of view when you have a lot of idling or low speed driving. However, most of my driving is on the highway, so there is very little benefit for commuters like me.

The hybrids and pseudo-hybrids still only get you mileage in the 40s, so there has to be a better solution. The Progressive Automobile X-Prize organizers and participants agree.

While many of the teams competing in the X-Prize have concentrated on dinky vehicles like the Smart car or smaller, others have gone for a futuristic design. The latter are pretty exciting, but what really caught my eye was one participant that uses a full-size 1960s car design.

Enertia Motors' biodiesel electric entry has a 1960s Avanti (see picture above) with a Kabota diesel engine and an electric charging system. The car is classic and big enough for real people. But this is where it gets interesting. Their entry is designed to get 100 miles on a single charge and then go over 100 mpg on biodiesel or diesel you get at the pump. Now you are talking practical green.

All of the entrants have been tasked with achieving over 100 mpg equivalent in whatever power they choose. They also have been told that their design must be able to go into mass production to even compete.

Some other full-size cars include the Avion, the Tesla Roadster, and the Poulsen Hybrid. The X-Prize winner will be announced in 2010, but you can check out these and other innovative 100+ mpg car designs at (Photo by Enertia Motors)

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