This morning the winner of the three-year $10 million Automotive X Prize, a contest in designing a vehicle capable of getting 100 miles per gallon, was announced. First prize of $5 million went to the Very Light Car created by the Edison2 team of Lynchburg, Virginia.

Criteria for winning cars also included the viability of commercial production, traveling 200 miles on a single tank or charge, and passing a variety of tests: speed trials, safety tests and measurement of engine power in the a dynamometer chamber at Argonne National Laboratory. On July 27, an efficiency and performance run was made at a two-mile Michigan International Speedway with the vehicles making 50 laps maintaining a speed between 45 and 70 miles per hour in a chicane along the backstretch.

Contest entrants were divided into two classes: gas-powered Mainstream cars, which was for four-seat vehicles, and Alternative fuel vehicles, which had two divisions: two-seats side-by-side and two seats configured in a tandem position, or one in front of the other.

The Winning Car: Edison2’s Very Light Car
Weighing in at 830 pounds, the Edison2 was the only non-electric and the only four-seat car to reach the final stage of the competition.

The car has a wheelbase of 100-inches, a chassis of welded steel tubing, and a body shape that looks something like a propeller-less helicopter flying upside-down and backwards. The single-cylinder motorcycle engine mounted in the rear creates 40 horsepower, burning a 85% ethanol/15% gasoline mix.

The Edison 2 team included top race-car designers with Formula, Indy Car, and ALMS series experience. The fabrictators and mechanics have worked for racing teams from events like the 24 Hours of Daytona and Indianapolis 500. The team was founded and funded by Virginia real estate developer Oliver Kuttner. The team’s cars were driven by Emanuele Pirro, five-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Brad Jaeger, a Vanderbilt University engineering graduate and veteran of the Firestone Indy Lights series.

Edison2 began with four entrants, two in each class, including one in each of the Alternative divisions. Only the Mainstream cars made it far enough in the competition to achieve the equivalent of 102.5 mpg on E85 ethanol. Mechanically identical, the two Mainstream cars performed very differently during trials, which the team attributed to weather conditions and other factors.

Other Competitors
The winning car was chosen from a field that began with 136 cars in 2007. That group was eventually narrowed to 41 then 24 and finally nine before the final three winners were chosen.

In the New York Times, X Prize Foundation chair Peter Diamandis explained it this way: “When we set out to design an X Prize, and were trying to meet that intersection between audacious and achievable, it’s a difficult target to hit. I think we hit it by virtue of the fact that we did have teams able to achieve the objective, but we didn’t have 50 teams able to achieve the objective.”

Additional prizes of $2.5 million each to the Wave II, a battery-electric vehicle from Li-Ion Motors of Mooresville, N.C. and the E-Tracer, a battery-electric, enclosed motorcycle-like vehicle from Peraves of Winterthur, Switzerland.

For an brief comparison of the contest entrants, see this article.

Contest History
The contest was the creation of the X Prize Foundation of Playa Vista, California – the same people who sponsored the $10 million Ansari Space X Prize that led to the creation of SpaceShipOne. Progressive Insurance sponsored the  contest, deducting the prize money from its advertising budget over a number of years.

Sources: Consumer Reports and The New York Times