DETROIT — The race for the Automotive X Prize is wide open. With more than 50 teams saying they'll participate, the field showcases a multitude of concepts for engineering a 100-mpg vehicle. Strict requirements for the competition—and lack of funding for some teams—will no doubt weed out many of the entrants. But for every engineer, from Malcolm Bricklin's Visionary Vehicles to a PM-sponsored team from Cornell University, the nascent stages of the AXP provide a larger venue for publicizing alternative and advanced auto technology. A handful of teams attended the auto show here this week to spread the word about their work. —Emily Masamitsu
The X-Prize entry is based on an engine dubbed "the ducted blade rotary" (pictured above at right). A rotating disc in the center of chambered plates displaces air as it rotates, generating pressure to drive the engine. Body design is secondary for the team, which hopes to produce an automobile for approximately $6000.
[link href='http://www.tiltingvehicle.net/' target='_blank' link_updater_label='external']Tilting VehicleAustralia aims to engineer a two-passenger vehicle that reduces drag through a slim, aerodynamic profile. Currently a prototype, the vehicle would maintain stability through an advanced control system that automatically tilts and counter-steers the car as the driver maneuvers. TVA's goal is to sell the vehicle for approximately $10,000.
Like many hybrid enthusiasts, isn't looking to completely revolutionize the auto industry. Instead, the team hopes to use a new battery developed at the University of Michigan to create a plug-in hybrid from a Prius (not that Toyota won't try to have its own by 2010). The team expects the conversion to cost $10,000.
Bricklin's ultimate goal for [link href='http://www.vvcars.com/' target='_blank' link_updater_label='external']Visionary Vehiclesis to build a network of electric-only dealers that can provide support for consumers who are willing to take a chance on the new technology. In the meantime, his company just announced it's teaming with battery maker Electrovaya, whose technology will become the platform for Bricklin's hybrid X Prize entry (pictured above). Visionary Vehicle aims to sell the sedan for $35,000.
Poulsen Hybrid had produced a conversion kit that it hopes consumers will take advantage of today: a plug-in hybrid system designed for traditional vehicles. While the vehicle must rely on it's gas or diesel engine for acceleration, a battery-powered motor attached directly to the wheels can maintain the car's momentum at up to 60 mph. The company's first conversion—a 2003 diesel Jetta—will take place in the next month, at which point testing and mpg data will be gathered. The system will cost consumers approximately $3000.
The is looking into a diverse array of off-the-shelf technologies for powering its battery-operated SUV. A hydraulic braking system, photo voltaic panels, solar thermal collector and a Stirling heat-steam turbine are a few of the methods the team hopes to install. And rather than converting a small, aerodynamic vehicle, team leader Jim Stansbury believes building the system into an SUV will prove the concept is capable of replacing larger gas guzzlers. Building the prototype could run around $150,000.
will base its X Prize entry on a hydrostatic powertrain, similar in concept to those used in heavy construction equipment. Standing out are four wheel-mounted motors designed to act as generators during breaking, thus conserving the system's energy. The designer estimates the car will achieve 130 mph and sell for slightly more than traditional five-passenger sedans.
The slick roadster that hopes to produce for the Auto X Prize race is just one of two concepts the company is working on. The second is an SUV based on the same plug-in hybrid electric drivetrain for the exotic. Like Chevy's E-Flex system, any number of fuels—from hydrogen to diesel—could power the system. The company is working with Beyer Material Science on a lightweight body that would help both vehicles achieve 100 mpg. The SUV would cost consumers approximately $30,000.