Automotive X Prize considers ways to include 100-mpg Volt
General Motors and federal regulators have reached a preliminary agreement on a fuel-economy testing method for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car that will assure that Volt earns a mileage rating of at least 100 miles per gallon, according to a story from Bloomberg News. The Volt -- an electric vehicle with a range-extending gas-powered generator on board -– is due to go on sale in November 2010. The government’s certification would make the Volt the first production car to reach the century-mileage mark.
So why isn’t GM competing in the Automotive X Prize?
Officially known as the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, the $10-million shootout is open to teams who can “design, build and bring to market 100 MPGe [miles per gallon equivalent] vehicles that people want to buy, and that meet market needs for price, size, capability, safety and performance,” according the AXP organizers. Well, that’s the Volt in spades, isn’t it?
“I know it was considered very carefully,” said GM spokesman Terry Rhadigan. “Candidly, it was because we’re already locked into a hyper-competitive race with other manufacturers and we wanted to stay focused on that.”
So far, more than 120 teams from around the world have signed up to compete in the AXP –- created by the same Santa Monica-based foundation that organized the Ansari X Prize for private suborbital space flight (won in 2004 by Burt Rutan). Notable competitors include Tata Motors of India and rock legend Neil Young, who is entering a hybrid biodiesel version of a 1960 Lincoln Continental. Qualifying competitors will compete in a series of stages beginning in September 2009, with the final stage occurring in the second quarter of 2010. With the exception of Tata, no other mainstream manufacturer has expressed an interest in competing, to the dismay of AXP organizers.
“We would love to have them compete,” said John Shore, senior director of AXP. “The problem for [automakers] is risk.” The AXP competition will be based on vehicles’ mileage (greater than 100 mpg equivalent), their carbon output (less than 200 grams per mile), and their speed (AXP has even approached the Indianapolis Speedway to host the final staged event).
Virtually all the vehicles entered will be lightweight experimental models optimized for speed and efficiency. The Volt, on the other hand (and a plug-in version of the Toyota Prius too) would be weighed down with airbags, comfy seats, air-conditioning and other amenities.
“GM would be understandably nervous about not winning the competition, about some university team or a couple of guys in a garage winning and then the headlines is, 'Small Town America Topples GM,' ” said Shore.
The situation presents the AXP with a conundrum too, namely that the very kind of vehicle the competition is meant to foster –- real-world, mass-production, affordable and hyper-efficient –- cannot actually win.
To resolve that dilemma, Shore said AXP organizers are “looking for ways to allow GM and other OEMs [automakers] to be in the X Prize that don’t subject them to unfair comparisons.” He expects such a proposal might be floated to the automakers before the end of the year. “Until then,” said Shore, “our message to them is: Just don’t say no.
"We strongly believe you don't have to win the competition to win in the marketplace," Shore said.
-- Dan Neil