100 miles to the gallon? Innovators think they can do it

By: Ryan Famuliner Email
By: Ryan Famuliner Email

If you've bought a new car in the past few years you know that one of the main specs to look at is MPG's.

If you can get a car that gets 30 or even 40 miles per gallon, you're going to save more money in the long run.

But right now there’s a competition, where teams are trying to take that number to a whole new level.

100 miles to the gallon may sound ridiculous to your average driver, but not to the folks running the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize competition.

“Our teams absolutely think that 100 mpg equivalent is possible. All of them think that they're going to be the winner,” said Cristin Lindsay with X Prize Foundation.

The Automotive X Prize offers a $10 million purse to the winning team. They have to create a fuel-efficient car that gets 100 MPGe's; which is determined by an equation that determines how much electric energy equals a gallon of gas. Many of the contestants use different power sources.

Ron Cerven thinks his group's all-electric car has a shot.

“We're pretty much (to the 100 MPGe mark), yea. But the whole thing is we don't know where everybody else is. You might be past that hundred but what if somebody else is at 120?” said Cerven, whose company Evii Innovations is competing for the X Prize.

Marketability is going to be important. When the 51 cars in the contest compete in Michigan in August, the winner will be decided based on economy and performance.

“It's not OK to go 25 miles and hour and get 300 miles. That’s not acceptable if somebody else is doing 60 miles and hour or 70,” Cerven said.

Cerven's company has been selling their electric cars for years. He says the Wave, which is entered in the competition, can go 200 miles on one charge and reach speeds of 80 mph.

“We're changing a lot of people's minds on what they see and believe. A lot of people expect them to be just not much more than a golf cart. We've got heating, air conditioning, power steering, power brakes,” Cerven said

Right now, the Wave has a price tag of about $39,000, but Cerven says the price will come down as the technology advances.

“Just as if the cell phone had been out for 6 months. That $5,000 cell phone is now $100. The same thing's gonna happen with all the components on these cars,” Cerven said.

Many major automakers are introducing a number of concept cars utilizing electric technology.

Those companies see the value of the competition.

“I think it's fantastic to keep that motivation out there for new ideas, new and better ideas. We know with petroleum being a limited resource and everything else that we want and need even more ideas,” said Cristi Landy, product manager for the Chevrolet volt, a partial-electric car that is planned for production in late 2010.

Hybrids won both the car and truck of the year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The excitement around hybrid and electric cars has put a spotlight on the X Prize, which was given booth space on the main floor of the show this year.

While some of the 51 cars in the competition may actually go to market as-is; other teams are just designing engines to be retro-fitted to existing cars.

“I think others will see their technology sold and licensed to the large auto manufacturers… I absolutely think that we're going to see more consumer choices come out of this competition,” Lindsay said.

For teams like Evii Innovations, there is hope that their technology is the best, but also excitement to see what other teams can do.

“It's very possible one of these teams is gonna come up with a brand new technology that nobody has ever seen or heard of before and it’s gonna light the world on fire,” Cerven said.

The X Prize competition was actually announced a few years ago. Originally, a team from Granger was also vying for the $10 million prize.

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