X prize for autos: The fine print

$10 million plus for 100 miles per gallon? The rules are a little trickier than that. Super cars and super heroes need not apply.

When the X Prize Foundation announced that it was going to give an award to inventors who can get 100 miles a gallon and win a cross-country race, I thought "so what?"

Spacecraft designer Burt Rutan (left) joins Intel CEO Craig Barrett on stage at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. Getty Images

Full-electric cars like the ones coming from Think and Tesla Motors top that, and so do the hydrogen vehicles that DaimlerChrysler says it will release in 2012 to 2105. Plug-in hybrids also get 100 miles per gallon.

You could even load up a Winnebago with a bunch of lithium-ion batteries and go for the victory. (Such a stunt could also mean dying in a fireball after hitting a speed bump wrong in the parking lot of Carrow's. Still, RV drivers would build a monument to you.)

The rules are a little trickier than that, explains John Shore, senior director of the Automotive X Prize. The idea is to give the prize, which will likely be north of $10 million, to a car that the average person could and would want to buy in 2011.

Hydrogen doesn't qualify, he said, because there won't be hydrogen filling stations in 2011 that will let someone drive cross country. The 'bago? No one wants to drive that. The Tesla Roadster, due out later this year, probably also won't qualify because, at $98,000, it's too expensive.

So who will be able to enter? Companies like Phoenix Motorcars, which is making an all-electric SUV. Think, Tesla and Zap can all participate because they all have midprice sedans coming out. Most of these cars in this price range will go less than 200 miles on a charge, so extending the battery life is one of the key technological challenges.

The prize money will also help a small company get attention and move toward commercialization. (Putting a new car on the market, though, will likely cost more.)

The Foundation has given awards in the past for people who have developed space vehicles. The organization has nothing to do with the X Men or other comic book heroes. However, former X Prize winner Burt Rutan bears an uncanny resemblance to angry surperhero Wolverine in this photo.

 

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