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X Prize cars back on track

The organizers of a $10 million contest for super-efficient cars are bringing two dozen teams back to a Michigan racetrack this week for the second round of trials. And this time, they're keeping score. You can keep track of the scores yourself during the Knockout round of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize.

This won't be like the typical auto race, where the first one across the finish line is the winner, no matter how much fuel is burned. These cars also have to satisfy standards for fuel efficiency, range, emissions and marketability. The key requirement is that the cars get 100 miles per gallon of gas or its equivalent (MPGe). They can run on gasoline, or biofuel, or all-electric power - and the organizers have set up a formula for calculating how much electricity is equivalent to a gallon of gas. The setup is laid out in the X Prize Foundation's contest guidelines.

Most of the cars that have come to the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., survived the initial Shakedown tests that were conducted at the same track in April and May. Two European teams missed out on the Shakedown because of the air-traffic jam created by the Icelandic ash cloud. Seven other teams couldn't satisfy all the Shakedown requirements last month but were kept in the competition. Those teams were given makeup exams last week, and this week they'll find out if they can move on to the Knockout stage.

The competition is broken up into two classes of vehicles, "mainstream" four-seaters and "alternative" two-seaters, with Progressive's $10 million purse shared equally between those classes. During the Knockout stage's on-track tests, the mainstream X Prize cars will have to prove they can hit 67 MPGe, two-thirds of the ultimate goal. They'll also have to go for 134 miles without refueling - again, two-thirds of the ultimate goal of a 200-mile range. The two-seaters have the same mileage standard to meet, and they'll have to go 67 miles without refueling. Eventually the alternative cars will have to demonstrate a range of, you guessed it, 100 miles.

The first round of on-track tests didn't result in any official rankings of the contestants, but this time around, tallies will be kept for fuel efficiency, speed and the other factors that will be weighed to decide the winner. The X Prize Foundation has created a "Competition Tracker" that will put many of those metrics online as soon as they're available. There's also a leader board and team-by-team breakdowns. This YouTube video previews all the features coming to the Automotive X Prize website.

Who are the favorites?
All of the cars that meet the minimum requirements can go on to the final round of on-track tests, but the scores should reveal which teams are the favorites and which are the dark horses. So who are the favorites? That depends on what your definition of the word "favorite" is.

The ZAP Alias has risen to the top as the most stylish of the X Prize entrants, based on an unscientific online poll being conducted as part of the "Fan Favorite Sweepstakes." This contest is designed to reward the fans rather than the automotive teams: The more often you vote, the greater your chances of winning a drawing that offers $3,000 and an X Prize team jacket as the grand prize. Future stages of the contest will focus on the most innovative, most practical and most desirable cars.

The Alias has the added attraction of being driven by Al Unser Jr., who has two Indy 500 wins under his belt and belongs to a legendary race-driving family. He told The Associated Press that the X Prize could help ultra-efficient cars become mainstream in his generation. "It's not about speed, it's about humanity, and that's why I'm involved," he said.

Another favorite would have to be the Edison2 team, backed by Virginia real-estate developer Oliver Kuttner. All four of Edison2's Very Light Car entrants qualified for the Knockout stage, including two-seat as well as four-seat versions. Last month, just before accepting an "Innovator of the Year" award in Lynchburg, Kuttner said that his team hit the 83 MPGe mark, and that 100 MPGe could be achieved once there rough spots in the car's design were smoothed out.

"It will take some doing," The News & Advance quoted Kuttner as saying. He's thinking about selling some of his property so he can devote more attention to the automotive project.

The West Philly Hybrid X team would have to be among the sentimental favorites as well. About two dozen students from West Philadelphia High School transformed a Ford Focus and a two-seat EVX GT kit car into a pair of hybrid electric vehicles that both made it through the initial Shakedown stage of the competition. Money raised for the project so far: $400,000.

"We're going to produce a car that gets 100 MPG and is safe and affordable on a budget that is ridiculously small compared with any of the car manufacturers," Simon Hauger, the math and science teacher who created the team years ago as an after-school project, told The Christian Science Monitor.

California-based Aptera would have to be counted as a favorite, if only because the company is already showing off cars that are far more efficient than 100 MPG. It's counting on an X Prize win (as well as a federal loan) to boost its fortunes, with production tentatively slated for next year. During the Shakedown trials, however, the Aptera 2e appeared to experience handling problems - and that led some to question how the car would rate in the final standings.

The cars that survive this month's Knockout stage will go on to the on-track finals next month in Michigan, and the top finishers will be subjected to a final round of lab tests in August. We'll know which super-efficient cars have finished in the money in time for the X Prize awards gala in September.

Here's a full rundown of the X Prize field going into the Knockout stage:

Mainstream Class Teams:
Mainstream Class vehicles must carry four or more passengers, have four or more wheels, and offer a 200-mile range.

Passed:
American HyPower, Centennial, Colorado (Gasoline, Hydrogen)
BITW Technologies, Palmyra, Indiana (Biodiesel)
Edison2, Lynchburg, Virginia (E85)
Liberty Motors Group, Botkins, Ohio (Gasoline)
West Philly Hybrid X, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Gasoline)

Given conditional pass in May:
Cornell 100+ MPG Team, Ithaca, N.Y. (Biodiesel). Listed as "eliminated" on X Prize website.
Illuminati Motor Works, Virden, Illinois (Electric)

Given probationary pass in May:
Enginer, Troy, Michigan (Gasoline + Steam)
Global-E, Mandeville, Louisiana (Gasoline & Electric)

Alternative Class Teams:
Alternative Class vehicles must carry two or more passengers and allow for a 100-mile range.

Side-by-side seating:

Passed:
amp, Blue Ash, Ohio (Electric)
Aptera Motors, Vista, California (Electric)
Edison2, Lynchburg, Virginia (E85)
OptaMotive, San Jose, California (Electric)
RaceAbout Association, Helsinki, Finland (Electric)
Tata Motors Limited, Coventry, United Kingdom (Electric)
Team EVX, Dallas, Texas (Electric)
West Philly Hybrid X (EVX), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Biodiesel)
ZAP, Santa Rosa, California (Electric)

Given conditional pass in May:
Li-ion Motors at EV Innovations, Mooresville, North Carolina (Electric)

Given probationary pass in May:
Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington (Gasoline)

Tandem seating:

Passed:
Edison2, Lynchburg, Virginia (E85)
Spira, Banglamung, Chonburi, Thailand (Gasoline)
Tango (Commuter Cars), Spokane, Washington (Electric)
X-Tracer Team Switzerland, Uster, Switzerland (Electric)

Given conditional pass in May:
FVT Racing, Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada (Gasoline)

Shakedown tests in June, due to ash-related travel delays:
K-Way MOTUS, Turin, Italy (Gasoline)
TW4XP, Rosenthal, Germany (Electric)

Check out our slideshow of X Prize competitors from the Shakedown stage of the competition. We'll be passing along updates throughout the course of the Knockdown stage, which is due to run as late as June 30.


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