7 Far-Out Cars That Push 100mpg

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.

Demonstration of foam car’s capabilities.

Solarcycle, With Solar-Panel Trailer

Solarcycle Solar Car

The Solarcycle goes beyond way beyond 100-mpg. Its makers promise that all its energy could come from the sun.

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 XLR8SUN team takes the Solarcycle on the road.

The Enertia Car, From the 4th Dimension

Enertia Car

Ultra-hip retro Studebaker meets futuristic energy to produce the Enertia Car.

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.

Tri-Hybrid Stealth

Tri-Hybrid Stealth

The Tri-Hybrid Stealth is a two-seat enclosed motorized tricycle.

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.

Falcon Future

Fountain Hills High School Science Research Club

Fountain Hills High School students produce their first prototype using discarded kayaks.

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.

Gaia “Simplicate”

Gaia Plug-in Hybrid Prototype
Gaia Plug-in Hybrid Sketch

Top: Gaia Transport’s proof-of-concept prototype, which serves as a test mule for vehicle development.
Bottom: Design to illustrate “simplicate” concept.

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.”

Kinetic Vehicles

Image 01

Kinetic Vehicles team leader Jack McCornack with Jacky, the company’s secretary, in the “Corrode Warrior.”

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.

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  • Wild Wild West

    Though I believe most of the showcased vehicles are not practical, it is good to know there are a lot of talents out there to push the design envelope.

    I’d like to see how the foam car does in a windy day 🙂

  • sean t

    Has the foam car Spira (or all of the above) gone thru a crash test?

  • Toots McGillicutty

    I think the foam car should be funded by the Nerf company. A free Nerf ball will be given to every consumer. Wooooohooo!

  • ren

    Maybe Twinkies will sponsor the foam car? Yum!

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Just what we need another “Alternative Transportation Freak Show”.
    Fortunately, the Tesla Roadster gets better than 100 effective mpg and is a great vehicle. With time, hopefully, the prices will come down.
    In the mean time, all these freak shows do is convince people that there are no viable alternatives to our current state of oil consumption.

  • Samie

    Luv Larry Wexler’s hair, rags, and stash

    I know now how I’m going to dress for the Halloween Party
    Thx 🙂

    Oh wonder if Larry could recommend some sunglasses?

  • Phoebe Michelle Dorn

    there isnt alternative fuel cars that i like on this page!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i need it for an assignment!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    You start this article by complaining about major car companies not joining the competition:

    “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.)”

    While this statement may have been true a few years ago, now the companies are trying to cut costs in every possible realm so they exist at all in a few months.

  • Old Prius Ower

    How about mainstream family sedans already out in dealerships at a discount that get 100 mpg? Oh, that would be what I already have whenever I forget to stomp the accelerator pedal all the way to the floor.

  • your desiny.

    so basically i dont know y people like GM or some other company is starting to make the tri-hybrid stealth… if people really wanted to save the environment and not be the greedy bastard we all are these days then they would make the car! Like c’mon, it get 320 mpg and is light weight from what i see, it would be a cool car to drive and it would be damn well cheep in gas! But no! People running gas stations like shell or mohawk or even Esso just want you to buy there gas. So theres my argument.

  • bill

    we should make an edible car

  • Ponzi Whacker

    The Enertia Motors association withe Avanti is interesting, especially when one notes this comment from the Avanti wikipedia page: “Michael Eugene Kelly, owner of Avanti Motors Corporation, was arrested by the FBI on Dec 22, 2006 in Florida. Kelly is suspected of running a $400 million Ponzi scheme from 1992–2004 and is in jail without bail facing mail fraud charges.” That seems to imply that the Enertia Motors thing might be a scam as well.

  • JoeAnne

    Yes, ANY car would be cool in highschool, but not in all countries you can drive since you’re 16..so til then guys, rubber bracelets and the club “shades” are the coolest !

  • ROBbee

    Great thinking outside the box Spira, notably on pedestrian and passenger safety. I would much rather get hit by a soft foam mass rather than by a ridge plastic fascia or steel bumper. Pedestrian accidents are a very serious problem throughout the world; tens of thousands are killed and hundreds of thousands are injured every year in this world, not even mentioning messy animal road kills. Squashy foam cars could allow fun bumper car like driving without causing injury or damage to things you might come in contact with.

  • Tommey Reed

    Why not take a car that everyone drives, and convert it to 100mpg. Those cars are nothing more then junk, and they will kill anyone in a car crash!

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  • Nicholas Cafarelli

    Yes. See spira4u video channel on youtube.

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