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Automotive X Prize winner hits 100 mpg

Edison2's Very Light Car No. 98, along with the runners-up, now can enter the Energy Department's fast-track program for production versions of their energy-efficient cars.

Very Light Car No. 98 by the team Edison2 racing at the Automotive X Prize Finals held at Michigan International Speedway. Edison2

The Automotive X Prize for a consumer-friendly car that could get at least 100 miles per gallon goes to "Very Light Car No. 98," a vehicle made by Edison 2, a team based in Lynchburg, Va.

News of the winner, which was officially announced late this morning in a ceremony held at the Historical Society in Washington D.C. and streamed live online by the X Prize Foundation, was reported early by the Associated Press.

The challenge set for this particular prize from the famed X Prize Foundation was to design and build a car with a fuel economy of 100 MPGe, a new acronym for a vehicle that gets "miles per gallon or energy equivalent." In addition to getting extreme gas mileage, the winning car of the Automotive X Prize also had to pass Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The winner of the mainstream category also had to seat four people.

The winning Very Light Car No. 98 is not an electric car as one might assume, but a very aerodynamic car with a combustion engine that runs on E85, a gasoline-ethanol blend, and has a total efficiency of 102.5 MPGe. Edison2 will receive $5 million in Automotive X Prize money for winning the mainstream category of the competition.

By contrast, the gasoline-powered Toyota Yaris--rated as the most efficient subcompact car on the U.S. Department of Energy's Web site--is rated at 29 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, while the hybrid Toyota Prius is listed at 51 mpg in the city, 48 on the highway.

Automotive X Prize for a consumer-safe car that can get the equivalent of 100 mpg is expected to be announced Thursday morning at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. X Prize Foundation

The Very Light Car No. 98 has a top speed of 100 mph, a range of 600 miles, and weighs 800 pounds, according to its tech specs.

The team, led by Edison 2 founder and CEO Oliver Kuttner, has said on its Web site that going with a more traditional drivetrain, among other things, is a way to keep consumer costs down for their four-seater car, though it would not be opposed to having to produce an electric version.

"Currently, however, electric cars have real issues. Batteries are heavy, big, and costly. With electric drives, cars get heavier, performance suffers, and costs go up," according to the Edison2 blog.

The Edison2 team is not exactly a team of rag-tag students or dabblers, but rather consists of experts already affiliated with the automotive world, including several Le Mans, Daytona, and Sebring winners. The lightweight aerodynamic steel frame was designed by Barnaby Wainfan, a Northrop Grumman aerodynamics fellow, while the head designer for the team was Ron Mathis, a car designer who worked on the R10 for Audi Sport North America. The team also drew on several professional subcontractors for parts.

The Automotive X Prize was actually split into three prizes, with two alternative categories in addition to the mainstream four-seater category won by Edison2. The trophies were designed and produced by the iconic jewelry company Harry Winston.

Team Li-ion, led by Ron Cerven, won $2.5 million for the side-by-side two-seater category for its Wave II built by Li-ion Motors, a company based in North Carolina. The Wave II all-electric car has a lithium ion battery, a 170-mile range, and top speed of 80 mph. The car includes common amenities like air conditioning, power windows, and GPS.

Team X-Tracer from Switzerland won $2.5 million for winning the tandem two-seater (one behind the other) category. The E-Tracer 7002 all-electric cabin motorcycle built by Peraves has a total efficiency of 187.6 MPGe, top speed of 150 mph, a 150 mile-range, and can go 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds.

The awards ceremony included remarks from two politicians who have been very vocal about the U.S. pursuing the development of more fuel efficient vehicles.

"If you want to use four words to describe the domestic agenda, it's science, science, science, science," said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who gave introductory remarks at the awards ceremony.

Pelosi said it will be science and technology breakthroughs that will help the U.S. out of many of its economic and foreign policy issues. Congressman Ed Markey, who also spoke at the ceremony, agreed with the sentiment.

"We have become OPEC's ATM machine and we need a way to get ourselves out of this dilemma that the world has allowed itself to get into. Our dependence on oil distorts our foreign policy. That's why this X Prize is the most important thing happening in our country," said Markey.

The Automotive X Prize, which was sponsored by Progressive Insurance, included 111 teams that each had more than two years to develop their concept into an actual prototype. The cars were then put through testing for safety and efficiency.

The finalists, as well as the winner, will have the opportunity to enter a U.S. Department of Energy program that aims to turn the "production ready" concept vehicles into cars that can actually be produced for consumer release.

Dovetailing with today's ceremony hosted by Progressive Insurance CEO Glenn Renwick, the National Geographic Channel will be airing this evening a documentary special on the winner and leading contenders called "X-Prize Cars: Accelerating the Future." In the meantime, the X Prize Foundation also has a library of videos via YouTube profiling each of the finalists and their cars.

Please check back. We'll have a gallery of the winning car and finalists up later this morning.

Updated at 9:55 a.m. PDT to include ceremony details.

Updated 10:28 a.m. PDT. This story initially gave the incorrect MPGe figure for the winning car. The Very Light Car No. 98 has an efficiency of 102.5 MPGe.