It’s good news that the Automotive X-Prize has attracted 30 qualified entrants who will compete to
prove they can design, build and bring to market 100 MPG or equivalent fuel economy vehicles that people want to buy. Industry experts will scrutinize team plans. Those that qualify will race their vehicles in rigorous cross-country stages that combine speed, distance, urban driving and overall performance. The winners will be the vehicles that exceed 100 MPG equivalent, fall under strict emissions caps and finish in the fastest time.
Definitely good news, but there are a couple of qualifications. First, note that safety is not a consideration, or at least not an advertised one. These vehicles are likely to be very light and therefore not very robust. I’m not sure that raising the death toll on the roads is an acceptable price for lower emissions, although Congress seems to think so. Secondly, the requirement that the vehicle be one that “people want to buy” is not particularly useful. Which people? The automotive market is massively segmented. A high-MPG car that appeals only to people who already have Priuses might well sell well enough to be commercially viable, but won’t do much for overall emissions levels. Now a 100-MPG, affordable family-sized SUV that people want to buy, that’s a different story. Sadly, I fear that the proze is more likely to go to someone with a design in the former category than in the latter. I hope I’m wrong.