Thursday, September 16, 2010

Super-light car wins $5m fuel efficiency prize

The makers of a futuristic-looking vehicle that weighs half as much as a Smart Car today won the main prize of a $10m challenge to design a car capable of 100 miles per gallon (mpg).
The contest, the Progressive Insurance Automotive X prize, was meant to spur the development of a new generation of super-efficient cars with mass-market potential. A Toyota Prius hybrid can get to about 51 mpg, but the main prize went to a design that opted for an internal combustion motor, rather than an electric engine.
The Edison2 Very Light Car Number 98, made by a Virginia company, took home $5m for its use of lightweight materials and superior aerodynamics.
The car is powered by a single-cylinder motorcycle engine, which burns a mix of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, mounted at the back of an extremely lightweight frame. The designers, mainly former racing-car drivers, opted for an internal combustion engine rather than an electric car, because batteries add weight.
The Edison2 blog said: "Electric cars have real issues. Batteries are heavy, big and costly ... cars get heavier, performance suffers and costs go up".
The entire car, which some have likened to a helicopter or an egg on wheels, weighs 377kg (830lb). The Smart Car is about 726kg. The four-seater is entered via the window, like a racecar.
It has the basics: a top speed of 100mph, enough acceleration to cope with traffic, a heater and basic air conditioning, great fuel economy and, according to Edison2's owner, a realistic price tag. Oliver Kuttner, a race car driver, said it is made of low-cost and recylcable materials and could potentially go on sale for $20,000.
But Consumer Reports, which rates cars, said the Very Light Car was still very much in the development stage, with work needed on braking and handling.
The other two winners took home $2.5m each for electrive drive vehicles. Team X-Tracer from Switzerland won for a car that got more than 197 mpg — the highest rating in the competition.
The car, which sits low, looks like a motorcyle with a cab on top.
The final winner, made by Li-Ion motors from North Carolina, is a two-seat electric vehicle called the Move2, which gets 187 mpg on a single charge with a maximum range of 200 miles.
Both companies say they are taking orders for their cars. But Felix Wagner, the leader of the X-Tracer team, told the award ceremony they will not suit every pocket book. "We can not mass produce. We are a small company. The real thing is we are here."

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