The goal of the Progressive Automotive X Prize is to foster the next generation of 100-mpg+ vehicles. Ten million dollars goes to the team that achieves 100 mpg in a race simulating real-world driving conditions. The winning vehicle has to be “production capable,” meaning that it must meet safety requirements and be suitable for production of at least 10,000 units a year.
In yet another sign that the mainstream auto industry is unwilling to think outside the box, not a single major car company is entering the competition. ($10M is chump change to them.) So where are the next creative ideas for tomorrow’s fuel-efficient cars going to come from? Maybe one of these innovators?
Spira Foam Car
Lon Ballard, an American now based in Thailand, has a better idea for auto safety: build lightweight cars out of foam. The Spira uses more than six inches of foam on all sides to provide the equivalent of 1 billion tiny air bags. The first Spira model is a low-cost three-wheeler that gets better than 100 miles to the gallon using a 110cc engine. It’s designed to use interchangeable off-the-shelf motorcycle parts. The car measures 10 feet in length and 5 feet in width—but only weighs 300 pounds. Ballard believes that foam can replace steel cars the same way that foam has replaced leather soles on most shoes and sandals. Think of the Spira as giant “Croc shoes” on wheels. It even floats on water.
Solarcycle, With Solar-Panel Trailer
Larry Wexler, the President, CEO and Marketing Director of Orlando-based XLR8SUN, is the engineering force behind the Solarcycle, which uses “nanostructure, nanosolar, advance power and motor drive technologies.” When driving in full sun, the three-wheeled enclosed Solarcycle uses only the sun for power—that is, after already accelerating to 40 miles per hour. The car gets up to that speed with a 15-horsepower electric motor receiving power from charging up a set of lead acid batteries. According to the company, the Solarcycle has unlimited driving range—but only when towing a 720-watt solar trailer.
The Enertia Car, From the 4th Dimension
Even if North Carolina-based Enertia Motors doesn’t win the Automotive X Prize, they deserve an award for some fantastically hip and tripped-out energy concepts. According to their website, they use “energy from the 4th dimension,” which they also describe as “timeless dignified design.” Meanwhile back on Earth, the Enertia team plans to produce a plug-in diesel hybrid with a biodiesel generator on board to extend its range. The team has experience designing home solar energy systems—with similarly esoteric ideas—that they say can be used to integrate with the Enertia Car. Enertia draws inspiration from Raymond Loewy, an industrial designer from mid-century America. They will use Loewy’s vehicle design—the Avanti Studebaker—as the platform for their X Prize entry.
The ExerTrike Tri-Hybrid, a human-electric reclining tricycle, traveled 1,000 miles from Tennessee—where the ExerTrike company is headquartered—to Texas. It achieved 320 miles to the gallon while traveling between 45 mph and 62 mph. Now ExerTrike is producing the Tri-Hybrid Stealth, a two-seat three-wheeled vehicle that is completely enclosed. The vehicle, which the company calls “a new animal in the hybrid series of vehicles,” will be designed to exceed all the requirements established by the Auto X Prize.
One of only two high school teams in the X Prize competition, the Science Research Club at Fountain Hills High School outside Phoenix—home to the fighting falcons—will spend countless after-school and weekend hours trying to devise a 100-mpg car. The team is led by Dr. Paul McElligot, a teacher and former industry researcher with an interest in alternative energy. Based on a television interview, the team is apparently designing a car with a fiberglass chassis, aluminum roll bars, and a compressed natural gas powertrain. Their current prototype is a racer design made from disused kayaks, but they will next move on to a family sedan.
Georgia-based Gaia Transport Corporation will be entering the MC2, a plug-in hybrid that the company claims will exceed 300 miles per gallon equivalent. The company’s core design principle is something they called “simplicate,” or the opposite of complicate. Perhaps a better term would be “smallicate,” because the three-wheeler is quite small, uses an 11-horsepower engine, and small lightweight components. To maintain a degree of safety, Gaia is utilizing a patent-pending side impact protection system. Seating is tandem-style. According to Gaia’s website, tandem seating is advantageous because (ahem) “it’s more fun to ride with your girlfriend’s legs around you.”
The folks from Kinetic in Oregon are a scrappy bunch, with a no-nonsense do-it-yourself approach. They originally formed a company to create special effects aircraft and cars for movies. Their design for a 100-mpg automobile continues to evolve. At one stage, they were using an early 1980s Toyota Corolla wagon nicknamed “Corrode Warrior” outfitted with an 1100c Kubota engine rated at 32 horsepower. Then, they took the Kubota engine and “dropped it in a Locost book chassis we keep around for just this sort of thing,” according to Jack McCornack, the team leader. Now they are contemplating whether or not they’ll need to add doors and windows in order to get the proper aerodynamic. They’ll continue to innovate, streamline, and jerry-rig until they get it right. You can follow their progress at Mother Earth News, which is sponsoring Kinetic.
These teams restore one’s faith in the spirit of individual creativity, hard work, and determination to reach lofty goals.