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X Prize For a 100-MPG Car

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the batteries-not-included dept.

The Almighty Buck 741

Heinen writes in about the X Prize Foundation, which spurred innovation by offering US $10 million for the first privately built spacecraft. The Foundation now plans to offer millions for the first practical car that increases mileage five-fold. The specs for the competition are out in draft form amd call for cars in two categories that are capable of 100 MPG in tests to be run in 2009. The categories are: 4-passenger/4-wheel; and 2-passenger/unspecified wheels. The cars must be manufacturable, not "science projects. The prize is expected to top $10 million. The X Prize Foundation says that so far it has received more than 1,000 inquiries from possible competitors.

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Key concepts (4, Insightful)

Chairboy (88841) | more than 7 years ago | (#18582919)

It's possible to make cars that are 'manufacturable' that meet this, the real problem will be making cars that are manufacturable... AND sellable.

Is there a market for super efficient cars that look like tampons with wheels?

Re:Key concepts (5, Funny)

clem (5683) | more than 7 years ago | (#18582975)

Is there a market for super efficient cars that look like tampons with wheels?

I suppose if you drove through a lot of tunnels it might be of interest.

Re:Key concepts (2, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583197)

Only to Mr. Freud.

Re:Key concepts (0, Offtopic)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583309)

Only to Mr. Freud.

That's Doctor Freud to you.

(Someone will probably correct my spelling with some German characters that are not commonly used in the US even for foreign names. That's karma for you!)

Re:Key concepts (0, Offtopic)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583401)

Doc Siggi lived 'round the corner from my place, so I call him whatever I want!

It's spelled Doktor in German, so it's close enough. Most "international" words are quite easy to translate, just replace every c in English with a k for German.

Changing percpetion (5, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 7 years ago | (#18582991)

There are a few things that probably need to change to make this work. First off, there's a macho intertwining of cars with manhood, power etc. Many cars can easily beat a Prius hybrid on fuel economy, but not high performance cars.

To get good fuel economy probably needs a mindshift away from SUVs and Hummers towards smaller 1300cc or smaller cars.

The "look" of cars is pretty much fashion driven, dictated by the car manufacturers to promote consumption. This year it's round headlights, next year square; boxy Hummer look one year, curved Porche look the next; big grill, then small.

Car manufacturers keep advertising more power, size etc (10% more power than last year's model, 5% more space...). How is it that they never advertise reduced consumption (well they might, but only if it does not compromise power, size etc)..

People really need to see cars as transport. Perhaps then they will start to think in terms of efficiency etc.

Re:Changing percpetion (2, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583173)

People really need to see cars as transport. Perhaps then they will start to think in terms of efficiency etc.
The kind of car that can get 100 mpg is going to be:
1. light = unsafe unless made of expensive materials
2. fuel efficient = excessively low acceleration and/or low top speed
3. aerodynamic = low to the ground = drives don't see you

I'd trust my life to a tiny, low slung car if it had a rollcage.
Otherwise it's a death trap.
Crumple zones anyone?

Light != dangerous (4, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583273)

Light cars are not necessarily dangerous. They get to be dangerous if smug dickheads in Hummers think they are safe so they don't pay attention and squish smaller cars or people driving them are silly. Get the Hummers off the road.

Why do you need huge acceleration and top speed? You're using your car for transport, not racing. There's no need for a car that goes more than 70mph. There's no need for a car that burns rubber.

I use a very old technology 1300cc car (probably equivalent in power to a more modern 1000 cc engine car). It has sufficient guts for my purposes, even when carrying 4 people + a load.

Re:Light != dangerous (4, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583425)

There's no need for a car that goes more than 70mph.

Regardless of what those pretty signs say on the side of the road, there are lots of places where the prevailing speeds are significantly higher than 70MPH.

And out in those big, flat states (you know, the ones that the pretentious Manhattanites like to call 'flyover states') there are lots of sections of highway where the posted limit is 75 and I suspect most traffic moves upwards of 80.

More generally, you're engaging in what I call the "burlap sack" argument. I could take the same line of thinking that you're going down, and apply it to clothing instead of cars, and come to the conclusion that everyone should stop putting on all these fancy geegaws and just dress in good old burlap sacks, because really, you're just buying a little warmth and weather-resistance. Spray some water repellent on that, and you're good to go.

Cars are as much about 'transportation' as clothes are about staying warm; sure, that's one reason why they exist, but once you've got that function checked off, that's when the real differentiation starts.

Re:Light != dangerous (-1, Flamebait)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583503)

I don't argue at all that you accurately sum up people's thoughts about cars. While we continue to think like this, cars will continue to get bigger, more powerful and more wasteful and energy efficiency etc will continue to decline.

As per my original posting, the obstacles to 100mpg cars are not technical, they are about perception of cars being for purposes other than transport.

Essentially we're getting 100mph for the transport, but the wanger extension is what is giving us 20mpg. People talk about safety etc, but really these are hedges against speaking the real reason; the perception that Real Men drive Hummers with gunracks, only faggots drive 1100cc Noddy cars.

Re:Light != dangerous (1)

TheGavster (774657) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583445)

A top speed over 80 or so is pretty useless, but I praise having a large engine every time I merge onto the interstate from a slow ramp (either really tight so you can't take it at highway speed, or stuck behind something slow). Sometimes you don't have a lot more than 100 yards to get from 30 to 60.

Re:Light != dangerous (1)

JonBuck (112195) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583513)

If this car is "very old technology" as you say, like one of the original Honda Civics, then you're likely putting out a LOT of other smog-producing emissions. Perhaps get a Toyota Yaris instead?

Re:Changing percpetion (4, Funny)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583443)

Simple answer: reactive armor.

Your small, lightweight 100mpg car will have high explosive charges placed in its bumpers; when it crashes into something they detonate, negating the threat. This will (1) eliminate the need for expensive, heavy crash-proofing, and (2) cause the Hummmers to think twice before bumping into a Mini Cooper.

Re:Changing percpetion (1)

T-Bucket (823202) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583181)

The problem with your argument there, is that some people actually ENJOY driving. For some of us, a car isn't JUST transport. I, for one, don't want to give up being able to enjoy driving. So, rather than putting us all into 100mpg cars powered by what equates to a lawnmower engine, how about these people focus on making real cars more fuel efficient rather than fundamentally changing what a car is. It's not us that's the problem, it's the technology. Hence this competition.

Re:Changing percpetion (4, Funny)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583225)

Oh but your a selfish jerk. You obviously don care about [insert group/cause of choice here]. You disgust me because [insert preferred emotion based reasons], you need to think about someone but yourself.

Re:Changing percpetion (0, Troll)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583533)

So... Don't drive at all. It's easy.

Or even better, PAY for your hobby. How about $10 per gallon, does it sound nice?

Re:Changing percpetion (5, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583201)

People really need to see cars as transport. Perhaps then they will start to think in terms of efficiency etc.

People really need to start seeing clothes as something to prevent their reproductive apparatus from freezing. Perhaps then they will start to think in terms of the material and energy required.

In other words: good freaking luck. Cars have been more than transportation for as long as there have been cars. Before there were cars, people had carriages and teams of horses, the perceived quality of which was a sign of wealth, status, and taste. It's been like this probably since the dawn of humanity, with various things.

People will accept some sort of standardized, generic "people transporter" in lieu of a car, right after they all go to wearing standardized jumpsuits with built-in underwear, because hey, its only real function is to keep you warm, right? Who cares what it looks like. Ain't gonna happen.

Re:Changing percpetion (2, Insightful)

Riktov (632) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583407)

Well, I just happened to ride to work this morning on a "generic people transporter" (otherwise known as a subway) along with millions of others in the city. (Yes, millions [] . ). The people on the subway were dressed fashionably, not in standardized jumpsuits. And for lunch today I had a tasty, enjoyable meal, not a pile of gray gloopy "human nutritional fuel".

Just because 90% of the population in your part of the world is addicted to a horribly wasteful of resources under the excuse of "personal freedom" doesn't mean it's justified or can't change.

Re:Changing percpetion (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18583489)

So, we all must give up our cars, but you must be allowed to keep your fancy clothes and food? Fucking liberals; go batty in sunspot season like lunatics at the full moon.

Re:Changing percpetion (4, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583523)

Oddly enough, however, one of the reasons that many people use public transportation is because of the traffic. (This is definitely true where I am, outside DC, and I suspect it's true elsewhere.) Other people do it because parking a car in a city is prohibitively expensive...because of the high demand for what spaces are available.

What does this show? It shows that given the choice, people would probably take cars, but because more people want to do that than there is space on the road or parking spaces available, those without large amounts of surplus time and money are pushed onto mass transit.

Sure, there are individual exceptions to this. I'm sure there are a few people riding Metro in the morning who would still ride it, even if I-66 wasn't HOV-only and the Beltway wasn't a veritable parking lot. But they're in the minority; given the option of personal vehicles or mass transit, people overwhelmingly choose personal vehicles -- as evidenced by the utter failure of public transportation to flourish in the U.S. outside zones where driving a car is particularly obnoxious or expensive.

But to get back on point, this is all a bit academic: people who don't own or use cars, for whatever reason, obviously don't participate in the cars-as-expressions-of-something-besides-a-desire- for-transportation game. However, as evidenced by the fact that they aren't wearing identical jumpsuits and eating mush, I don't think there's anything fundamentally different about them, and if they did own cars, they would probably be just as desirous of one that externalized the image that they're trying to present to the world -- in the same way that the clothes/briefcase/watch/cellphone/etc. that they wear on the Metro does.

Re:Changing percpetion (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18583465)

"People really need to start seeing clothes as something to prevent their reproductive apparatus from freezing."

Check. Next?

Re:Changing percpetion (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583215)

This might be true in the US. We pay close to $1.50 per liter, so consumption IS an issue. It might also be a reason why you hardly see any SUVs or similar gas guzzlers here.

Re:Changing percpetion (2, Funny)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583237)

People really need to see cars as transport. Perhaps then they will start to think in terms of efficiency etc.

You sir, have obviously never gotten your dick sucked because you were driving a nice automobile.


Re:Changing percpetion (1)

RxScram (948658) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583459)

Ummm... this is slashdot, remember?

Re:Changing percpetion (2, Insightful)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583301)

"towards smaller 1300cc or smaller cars."

I'm 6'5" and I don't fit in your "smaller 1300cc OR SMALLER" car, unless it is a motor cycle, which isn't really car, and is impractical for a family.

Re:Changing percpetion (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583455)

Based on the need for macho mobiles maybe the better use for the money would be penis enlargement technology to take the pressure off cars. They desperately need an X Prize for penis enlargement! It could also help us end the war in Iraq. We just need a commercial of "our friend Bob" driving a tiny car with that stupid smile on his face and we could solve the energy problems and reduce global warming. The new status symbol could be tiny high efficency cars. Maybe it's as simple as using bumper stickers, "hybrid drivers are hung like horses". Or SUV stands for "Seriously Undersized shVatze".

Re:Key concepts (0)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583071)

Is there a market for super efficient cars that look like tampons with wheels?

Wait till fuel hits $15/G & there'll be a market for super efficient cars that look like penises with wheels.

Re:Key concepts (1)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583111)

I'm curious as to possible ways that someone might achieve this. I wonder if it's even possible with something that looks like a car as we know it today, and doesn't stray too far from current internal-combustion engine technology.

I'm particularly interested in things like safety standards: to win the contest, would the vehicle have to be street legal? How about 'not a death trap'? I would think that you could get 100MPG out of a car pretty easily by making it incredibly lightweight, but I wouldn't want to ride in one as it got broadsided by a Suburban.

Re:Key concepts (1)

hpavc (129350) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583143)

You could take my Smart ForTwo and with more efficency get there I am sure, ~60mpg is a good starting place.

Re:Key concepts (2, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583375)

You could take my Smart ForTwo and with more efficency get there I am sure, ~60mpg is a good starting place.

Are those street-legal in the U.S.? My understanding was that they're not, at least not yet. It's possible that my fear is irrational, but if I had to pick between being in one of those, or a Chevy Suburban, when slamming the two together, I think I'd probably pick the Suburban. And in our risk-averse culture, safety does sell cars.

The real problem for subminis in the U.S. is interstate/highway driving: there's a much more limited market for vehicles that can't do high-speed interstate driving in the U.S. than in Europe, and I suspect that what there is could be saturated pretty quickly. A vehicle with a top speed of 70mph might be salable, if it can really handle at the upper end of the range comfortably, but something that's not designed to do more than 45-50mph is going to be a tough sell. (I don't know where the Smart cars fall into this, so I'm not singling them out, just speaking generally.)

But case in point: where I live, outside Washington, DC, it's only the 500k or so people who live in the District proper who would really be candidates for non-highway vehicles, the bulk of the car-commuting population live out in areas served by 65MPH arteries. Obviously during rush hour you're lucky to make 20-25 MPH, but only a fool would buy a car that wouldn't let them drive during off-peak hours when the prevailing speeds are up around 70-80. At 45-50 mph or less, you'd better be driving on the shoulder, because you're basically a hazard to navigation. (And I think legally you're required to maintain at least 45mph, and I suspect that if large numbers of slow-moving vehicles started getting driven around, that minimum would increase.)

I've always thought that the Smart cars were neat, conceptually (especially the diesel), but I'm not sure once you saturate the urban market whether the rest of America would be interested.

Re:Key concepts (1)

paitre (32242) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583485)

There's a dealer selling them a mile up the street from my house.
They're street legal in the US, and they're definitely being drive (I typically see one a day on the road). /shrug.
I personally think they look like ass, but whatever.

As for the highway thing - if you're not doing the speed limit, at least in MD, and it's obvious you're driving in the incorrect lane for the speed you're traveling, you can be pulled over and ticketed for being a road hazard.

Good thing, too.

Re:Key concepts (1)

homer_ca (144738) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583161)

Formula 1 race cars are made out of carbon fiber and weigh a little over 1000lbs. Drivers regularly walk away from 150mph crashes.

Re:Key concepts (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583231)

Sure, but how big would you imagine the market for cars that cost a few million bucks?

Re:Key concepts (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583315)

Sure, but how big would you imagine the market for cars that cost a few million bucks?

how much of those millions is engine, transmission, suspension, tires, etc. ?

all of those could be substantially toned down for a consumer vehicle.

while the CF body might be expensive now, advances in manufacturing techniques and the efficiency of mass production could bring the costs within the consumer range within the decade.

Re:Key concepts (2, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583371)

CF is expensive 'cause the material itself is. A good deal of the cost is development, that's a given, but even if you just lump the raw materials on a pile without even shaping them, you're gonna get a hefty bill.

No matter what you do, the price of the car will be in the luxury range. And I kinda doubt people would want to pay for a compact the same it would cost to put a Ferrari into their garage.

Re:Key concepts (1)

sidb (530400) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583383)

A regular Honda would probably cost a million bucks if it was manufactured by the dozen (or fewer) instead of by the hundred thousand. That said, I suspect a big part of F-1 safety comes from roll bars, four-point harnesses, and crash helmets, not the structure of the vehicle body.

Re:Key concepts (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583411)

Actually a big deal of security comes from the cockpit which can withstand close to 30G before breaking apart. Of course, the pilot is mush should that really happen, but at least he didn't break his legs, something that was quite common before the advent of those cockpits.

Re:Key concepts (1)

scotch (102596) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583439)

Also, part of the safety comes from everyone driving the save direction.

Re:Key concepts (1)

homer_ca (144738) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583487)

Yes, if you look at modern racetracks, there's plenty of runoff room, so most of the time, cars will slide off and safely come to a stop. Collisions are pretty rare, and if they occur, they'll hit barriers at an oblique angle. However, if you've seen crashes where the cars tumble and roll, they do a great job protecting the driver. A street car rolling the same way would be a fatality.

Re:Key concepts (2, Interesting)

homer_ca (144738) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583421)

You can't compare a one-off F1 car to any mass produced vehicle. A Dallara Indycar chassis is just as crashworthy, and they cost $300,000 [] . Indycars are still handmade, but at least they're produced in larger quantities and for several years per design. Most of the R&D cost of an F1 car is in aerodynamics and wringing the last bit of power out of those 18,000 rpm engines. Building a strong, crashworthy structure that hits minimum weight is the easy part.

Re:Key concepts (1)

nmb3000 (741169) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583185)

Is there a market for super efficient cars that look like tampons with wheels?

Interestingly enough, Scott Adams talks about this very thing [] in his latest blog entry. In addition to throwing some humor in the mix, he shares your opinion about the look of available high(er) efficiency vehicles.

Re:Key concepts (1)

anagama (611277) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583339)

If you've ever been to Japan and seen some of the really cool mini-cars they have there, and then come home wishing you could get that Subaru van that looked a tiny VW microbus and probably already gets 60-70 mpg, then yes, I'd say there is a market. Another one I saw looked like a miniscule hummer. There are plenty of bland ones as well, but I cruised all over in a 3 cylinder Honda Today (about 7 years ago) at freeway speeds, air conditioning, power windows, and I could even sit in the back perfectly comfortably. Admittedly, there was no cargo space with four people in the car, but with two and the back seat folded down, there was plenty of room for suitcases and souvenirs. I don't really see the problem with a car that is either a 4 person machine or a 2 person + cargo deal. Look at the roads -- most people are hauling around themselves and a lot of air. Minis would be great for the daily commute and errands around town. When you need something bigger for that once or twice per year 4 person + cargo trip, just rent it.

Re:Key concepts (1)

paitre (32242) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583515)

Part of the issue, there, is that vehicles in the ultra-light/small category are selling for premium and luxury prices.

Do I buy a two-seater commuter-type mini-car for 25k, or do I get a Corolla, loaded, for 19-22k?

The -only- way you'll sell mass numbers of the smaller cars like that is to cut the prices. A lot. Like, by half or more.

Re:Key concepts (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583365)

the ones in minority report did.. and i friggin want one!

Sigh. (0, Offtopic)

michaelhood (667393) | more than 7 years ago | (#18582921)

I'm not even looking for typos.. I just find myself having to re-read the summaries three, four, and five times. Typos that lead to incoherent sentences, unclosed quotations, and more. How many grade school grammar mistakes can be made in a single paragraph?

Re:Sigh. (0, Offtopic)

dwater (72834) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583119)

I agree. It's really sad.

Better X-Prize (1)

vertigoCiel (1070374) | more than 7 years ago | (#18582941)

Hopefully this will result in something more significant than the Ansari X-Prize (for spaceflight). Wasn't that supposed to jump-start private spaceflight as an industry? All I can recall are the two spaceflights the SpaceShip One team made in 2004 to win the thing, and nothing of not since.

Re:Better X-Prize (3, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583015)

SpaceShip Two is gearing up for private space flight as we speak. It has been less than three years since the X-Prize. Personal spaceflight is not an easy process, you shouldn't expect it to be commonplace tomorrow.

Re:Better X-Prize (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583151)

Yep, we have to just wait and see. Personally I think Musk is more interesting. Actually building rockets that can put things into space. Making real money, and planning his Dragon space vehicle for humans.

Re:Better X-Prize (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583073) I guess the spaceport in New Mexico that Virgin Galactic is going to rent out constitutes nothing?

Re:Better X-Prize (1)

caeili (859563) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583095)

I guess maybe if there were a spaceport in New Mexico or somewhere it may have jump-started a new industry.

Re:Better X-Prize (5, Insightful)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583099)

The problem with the X-prize was that all the money was in first place. When Space Ship One won it, there was no financial incentive for the others to keep going. ( I've seen the same thing in chess tournaments - the lower prizes are significant enough to keep people from dropping out )
It should have been something like 1st = 10 mil, 2nd = 5 mil, 3rd = 2.5 mil, 4th = 1.5 mil, 5th = 1 mil. Yes, it costs twice as much, but it gets more than twice the benefit: instead of one company producing results, three or four, maybe five do.

Re:Better X-Prize (3, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583249)

The problem with the X-prize was that all the money was in first place. When Space Ship One won it, there was no financial incentive for the others to keep going.

The classic example of that was the Kremer Prize [] for human-powered flight, won in 1977. Once that was done, interest in human-powered flight declined substantially. That effort didn't usher in an era of recreational pedal-powered flying.

Re:Better X-Prize (1)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583525)

The classic example of that was the Kremer Prize [] for human-powered flight, won in 1977. Once that was done, interest in human-powered flight declined substantially. That effort didn't usher in an era of recreational pedal-powered flying.
Well, the problem there is that human-powered flight is an utterly ridiculous idea. The only reason to pursue it at all was the challenge of winning the prize. It's not like any Joe Schmoe could buy a Gossamer Albatross Mk I and go for pleasure flights on Sundays. You practically need to be Lance Armstrong to keep one of those in the air for any length of time. No, those who want to fly dangerous contraptions for fun do what they always have: hang gliders and ultralights. Much better, because when you crash you don't die tired.

AMD You Say? (3, Funny)

quadra23 (786171) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583003)

amd call for cars in two categories that are capable of 100 MPG in tests to be run in 2009.

AMD calls for cars that are capable of 100 MPG? Meanwhile, I call for AMD to design a processor that is capable of 100 GHz by 2009.

sorry to troll, but... (5, Insightful)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583019)

IMO this contest is looking for a milestone in a direction we may not want to go. On the surface it may seem worthy, but new technologies may be making internal combustion engines obsolete in the next decade, and I can't really tell whether the contest rules will take these advances into account. How would one judge a vehicle powered by a hypercapacitor, or by compressed air? You're comparing apples to oranges by merely judging the equivalent energy used to power the vehicle; the ultimate cost of stored electricity may be a lot lower per joule than that in refined petroleum, or it could be higher. How does one judge the total carbon emissions for that electricity? Was it generated by a coal-burning plant, or by nuclear? Or wind, or sea?

Re:sorry to troll, but... (4, Informative)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583165)

Actually, you raise a very good point. As another example, take ethanol-blended gasoline versus straight gasoline. It's known that in terms of miles per gallon, ethanol blends are somewhat less fuel efficient than gasoline-only blends. It's clear, however, that energy utilization per volume isn't the proper metric for fuel, or else farmers would be the only ones touting ethanol blends as a potential 1.5th-generation fuel.

How do you measure the fuel efficiency of a solar-powered car? Measured by volume, its fuel consumption is infinite, since it uses volumeless photons as its fuel. Even measuring it by utilization efficiency (energy out over energy in) confounds the true goal of next-generation fuels, that being to reduce environmental impact, since the impact of solar power is entirely in the manufacture and disposal of the panels. How do you measure that?

And what's more, if somebody actually did develop a solar powered car that had performance characteristics comparable to compact gasoline-powered cars and was in the same ballpark in terms of price (perhaps taking comparable petroleum-based fuel costs into account), wouldn't it be unfair to deny this prize to the car's designers even though they went, ahem, the extra mile to bring the next generation of vehicles to the public?

Re:sorry to troll, but... (1)

starseeker (141897) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583431)

Solar powered cars are not practical as a general solution to personal conveyance, the energy density offered by sunlight is simply insufficient to power a car capable of practical day to day activities, even under the best conditions. And cars are seldom driver under the best conditions.

Cars are a problem because they require extremely high energy per volume storage at low weight and low cost. In the long run the better bet is to structure society around rail and other forms of transportation that are not so difficult to optimize. Japan is a good example of what is possible with mass transportation systems, and I doubt even there they are close the practical limits.

Most of the motivation for cars is the legacy of cities designed for horse and buggy or foot traffic. Starting from scratch, it should be possible to logically design a city structure that concentrates high traffic commercial sites near major arteries of traffic flow and branches out in a fractal-like system from there. Of course, starting from scratch with cities is not economical, but if a plan is put in place to gradually build up the system as older structures decay (or, in some cases, where a small city with up-and-coming economic fortunes can look ahead) surely we can think in terms of large scale long term scalable viability.

Re:sorry to troll, but... (2, Insightful)

mandos (8379) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583207)

The infrastructure for gas based cars is already in place. In the US approximately 60-65% of oil is imported. A fivefold reduction in use would bring the US down to 20% of current consumption. This means that we would not need to import fuel anymore, and actually could (theoretically) export as much fuel as we use. The short and long term environmental benefits of the US dropping 80% fuel usage are pretty good too. (Yes this addresses only gasoline powered cars, not fuel equivalents.)

I would love to see electric/compressed air/next hot thing cars too but there are problems. They don't exist in the market yet. Example, I would like to have an electric car, but I live in an apartment: where will I charge it? I'm not going to hang out at a "gas station" for an hour while my car charges. Currently, it is very easy to refuel on gasoline and people know how and where to do it. Having to do it five times less seems like a deal to me no matter what may be on the horizon.

Also, I think a "Civic del Sol" type or Saturn type equivalent that got 100+mpg would sell very well. An Accord equivalent that got 70-80mpg would sell equally well.

How's fair comment a troll? (1)

jd (1658) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583263)

Fair, but late. The internal combustion engine was a latecomer in the automotive industry, having been beaten by electric motors some time prior. The steam cars weren't too impressive*, but the cars fuelled off methane and other light hydrocarbons were the forerunners of modern engines that can burn hydrogen directly (not via fuel cells).

*Steam cars were a problem, but steam power for vehicles can still be found. It turns out that steam power for extremely massive vehicles is actually quite efficient. Steamrollers were replaced by diesel but only relatively recently.

There are also many forms of internal combustion engine - the standard piston engine is one, but the rotary engine is another. There have been huge problems getting the rotary engine to be efficient - the designs so far have been pretty pathetic - but it would be possible to imagine a rotary engine designed to be extremely efficient that simply blew all existing piston engines off the planet.

Rotary engines suffer from several problems. First, way too much energy is lost as heat. Second, it is usually implemented as a single unit, which means you get very uneven power generation. No sane engineer would build a one-piston engine with the idea of getting better efficiency, so why make that mistake with rotaries? Next, pressures are all wrong. The rotary engine, when first designed, had a nasty habit of exploding from the internal pressure. Material science has come a long way since then, but the materials used to build engines has not. Nor has the cooling. The supercooling geeks in computing have abandoned using car radiators because they are so pathetically crap at getting rid of heat. They only work in a car because the car is moving at a decent pace most of the time.

All in all, I see nothing particularly hard about building a superior car engine. Now, building one that can be easily produced, provide sufficient power to give a car 100MPG at a decent speed, etc - now, that's a tougher problem. I don't think it's as hard as is made out, but it's certainly not trivial.

Of course, I'll never know, as I'm not going to be able to find the investment needed, but I would start with a computer simulation of the different sections of the car and figure out not how much power is wasted, but how much power is theoretically salvageable. (Most power is wasted in the transmission, but it is unclear any transmission is going to save much more than the double semi-automatic gearboxes can already do, so the wastage there doesn't matter. You're not going to reclaim enough to make it worth making that the primary focus.)

well said (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18583279)

My first thought was "have a small gasoline engine powering an air compressor mounted in the car to fill the air tanks for the compressed air piston engine. 100mpg? no problem. I am in complete agreement with you. PS how does it feel to be the one savant with the clue?

Re:sorry to troll, but... (1)

lee1026 (876806) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583415)

Well, one can judge it by miles per dollar spent on fuel. That would be a rather nice estimate, as it directly relate to people's pocket books.

Re:sorry to troll, but... (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583463)

That's a good point. For a true apples-to-apples comparison, that would capture the per-mile energy efficiency of a car *and load transported*, you would have to go by:

(total mile-cargopounds driven over vehicle life) divided by (total vehicle-life carbon emitted in constructing, operating, and disposing of vehicle)

Presumably, a car in the hands of a mechanic proficient in that car would have an indefinite life (Ship of Theseus [] and all), but there would probaby be a point where additions to the numerator equal additions to the denominator, which would then become the ratio in the infinite limit.

Want to handle non-carbon environmental damage (e.g., strip mining)? Then it gets more complicated, but you could probably handle it by including "cleanup costs", that themselvs only have carbon emitted as the waste, and have everything on one scale again.

Any chance they'll use that metric?

Hell fuckin no.


UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583521)

"but there would probably be a point where additions to the numerator equal additions to the denominator"

should be

"but there would probably be a point where the ratio of additions to the numerator, to additions to the denominator, stabilizes".

A "practical" car (2, Interesting)

Stormwave0 (799614) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583059)

The article seems a bit vague on what practical means. Will it have to include air conditioning, power windows, automatic transmission... like Americans are used to? I can see many entries removing all these features that are pretty much standard on cars today just to save some weight. That's not even going into how I hope it's safe enough to drive and can hit 60 MPH in under, say, 15 seconds.

Now that I've mentioned my concerns, I have to say it's a great idea. Such a prize would push for innovation and provide the world with a useful solution to a growing problem.

Re:A "practical" car (1)

spirit of reason (989882) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583177)

They're still working on the details, but a draft of the requirements is up. The conveniences you have listed aren't exactly required, but they have a sort of catch-all where its cost and features have to permit sales of 10,000 per year. I have no idea how exactly they'll evaluate that, though.

What about Electric (2, Interesting)

wperry1 (982543) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583077)

Why not an X-Prize for an electric car that can charge from standard electrical outlets and has a range of say 200-300 miles? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for efficiency but oil is a finite resource that is concentrated in hard to reach or politically turbulent parts of the world. Even as we improve on efficiency more and more people hit the road so we wind up treading water (or oil) and going no-where. As long as we depend on fossil fuels for energy the demand is going to increase faster than we can make efficiency improvements. Electricity can be produced through a number of means including but not limited to wind and solar and unlike hydrogen the distribution infrastructure is already there.

WP []

Electricity doesn't come out of the power socket (0)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583285)

Electricity is (mostly) reshaped fossil energy. Coal, gas, oil, uranium. Yes, uranium too. No, you don't "burn" it, but there's less left than most people imagine. I think I remember we have enough for 40 years, provided we don't increase our demand. And the demand is on the rise, and the area it comes from isn't too stable either, a lot of it is in Russia and Africa.

Yes, there are "alternative" sources for electric power, solar and wind, geothermic, tidal plants and so on. But they play a very minor role in the overall output. And the power plants are not running idle either, even here where we have strong anti-nuclear sentiments people start pondering whether to build more nuclear plants 'cause we need more electricity already.

Now, what do you think would happen when cars want some juice, too?

I wouldn't see electric cars as an alternative. To make it viable, we'd first of all increase the output of alternative electricity by magnitudes, or we're just shifting the pollution from the street to the power plants.

Re: Uranium is nearly an unlimited supply! (1)

NFN_NLN (633283) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583419)

Yes, uranium too. No, you don't "burn" it, but there's less left than most people imagine. I think I remember we have enough for 40 years, provided we don't increase our demand.
Who keeps spreading the rumor that our uranium supply will only last in the order of decades?!?! Start spreading the truth!

"In summary, the actual recoverable uranium supply is likely to be enough to last several hundred (up to 1000) years, even using standard reactors. With breeders, it is essentially infinite. Hundreds of thousands of years is certainly enough time to develop fusion power, or renewable sources that can meet all our power needs." html []

Re: Uranium is nearly an unlimited supply! (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583473)

Erh... is there a second source claiming that besides one who has a keen interest in saying so?

Re:Electricity doesn't come out of the power socke (1)

scotch (102596) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583461)

Are you trying to tell me Uranium is a fossil fuel?

Re:What about Electric (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583373)

Nothing that is limited to drawing 3kW is going to have that range without a) taking more than a day to charge or b) not being something you'd actually consider driving on a regular basis.

The reason is that a 10h charge gets you 1 hour on the road.

If you want an electric car, you're probably going to have to deal with renting the battery, and having swap-out stations. And probably cell-phone style pricing. And that's only if we can get the battery weight down to reasonable levels. And batteries that energy-dense will be bombs.

Synthetic Diesel is probably the future of automobiles. Whether bio- or something else, liquid hydrocarbons are a pretty ideal energy storage mechanism when you balance all of the needs of a transportation machine.

Electric is not necessarally a solution (2, Insightful)

Chief Wongoller (1081431) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583501)

It's very easy to see electricity as a viable alternative to oil based products for vehicle fuel. after all, electricity is clean, isn't it? Well not always. Granted an electric vehicle gives out no exhaust fumes, but we also need to consider how that electricity is made. The world is experiencing a considerable rise in the demand for electricity, and, despite all the hype, wind, solar, wave power etc can only fill a tiny propartion of that demand. Nuclear fuel is still unfashionable, so electricity generators are forced to look at hydro and fossil fuels (maily coal) to meet the demand. Hydro has its problems as it displaces peoples. In many parts of the develloping world, especially China and India coal is the major source of generating fuel. The burning of this coal creates horrendous amounts of acric pollution in many cities. So, electric cars can only be a long-term 'green' replacement for gasolean ones provided the world has a sufficient supply of 'clean' electricity: which it does not. We (the human race) need to have a complete mind change over, not just how we power our cars, but how we live our lives in general, and we must challenge our expectations of what we can reasonable expect from this planet of ours if we want it to remain somewhere worth living. Forget the car and take the bus - or walk!

Existing electric Vehicles? (2, Interesting)

Ltar (1010889) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583093)

wouldn't existing electric vehicles already meet the "100 mpg" criterea? Undefined gas mileage is certainly better than 100 mpg.
Or what about a gas/electric hybrid that didn't really use it's gas engine, except at highway speeds, and charged up from a wall socket?

Re:Existing electric Vehicles? (1)

spirit of reason (989882) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583271)

That's just the spec on the headline -- there's far more to it than that. The car must be at a cost that the market will support (a demand of at least 10,000 vehicles annually). The cost of batteries is probably the largest problem to a marketable pure EV (that, the general stigma over battery reliability, and charging times -- some of the newer batteries do bring the latter down, though).

Re:Existing electric Vehicles? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583295)

I wouldn't call it undefined. Calculate what the power plant has to burn to create the electricty the car uses for 100 miles and there you go.

VW 80% there (2, Informative)

laptop006 (37721) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583097)

VW already have a production car that gets ~80mpg and have had trial cars beat 300mpg in real traffic. Of all the big car companies they're the most likely ones to do this, yet as a big car company the $10m would be far less useful then the promotion.

Re:VW 80% there (1)

kanweg (771128) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583471)

Winning would help to get rid of the competition. Like another thread says, there should be prizes for being second, third etc.


Re:VW 80% there (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18583477)

For all slashdotters who failed english, then!=than.
And Matt Dillon of DragonflyBSD seems to have failed english too because he gets this wrong *every* single time.

Thank you for your time.

VW have beten them to it already (5, Informative)

farmerj (566229) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583121)

VW [] already have a concept 1 litre car. The 1 litre refers to the fuel consummation of 1 litre per 100 km. Now for the non metric people here this equates to 235 miles per US gallon or 282 mpg Imperial.

More pictures and info here [] and here [] . Now this is a two seat car, and if you follow the links above, you'll see not the most spacious.

VW also produce a 3 litre car, the Lupo [] . The fuel consummation here is 78 miles per US gallon or 94 miles per Imperial gallon and this car is in production, and will hold four people and a wee bit of luggage.

With this in mind, does this competition sound like its really pushing the envelope?

Re:VW have beten them to it already (3, Funny)

Starburnt (860851) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583149)

Fuel consummation?

I don't think I want to know what that means.

Re:VW have beten them to it already (1)

spirit of reason (989882) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583217)

It doesn't meet the requirements. The 1 litre car (at 6.3 kW) doesn't have nearly the output necessary to achieve 100 kph in 12 seconds. The idea is to make a vehicle that performs to bare minimum American standards and have it be marketable. It's not quite as simple as it sounds.

Re:VW have beten them to it already (1)

farmerj (566229) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583353)

You are probably correct in stating that the 0-100 kph would be more than 12 seconds, however I can't seem to find any figures.

It does however have a very low coefficient of drag and low unmanned weight, 0.16 and 290 kg respectively.
Now if we take it that they double the engine power to 13 kW and also double the fuel consumption to 2 litres per 100 km, it would still meet the targets as regard to fuel consumption and I would be willing to bet easily reach 100 kph in 12 seconds.

According to the VWvortex article

Even with this apparently low output and power development, the extremely light vehicle weight (which is comparable to that of an average touring motorcycle) and the excellent aerodynamics (with a drag coefficient of 0.159 -- much better that a motorcycle and far better any series production vehicle) provide for a lively performance. For example, the 1-litre car reaches a top speed of 120 km/h.

So it might reach the standard with the 1 litre engine.

I reiterate: practical (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18583389)

I reiterate practical. Looking at that car, how is it practical? I'm pretty sure it's a 1-seater, and even if you can squeeze someone behind the driver, then there's no space for luggage. It's not practical if Mom can't fit 2-year old Jimmy in the car while going grocery shopping.

What about SAFETY? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18583187)

Lets face it, the reason why a lot of people are driving big SUV's and suffering with 20 MPG highway 15 MPG city is because of the marvelous 5 STAR safety rating these vehicles provide.

The roads are (in America) getting more crowded by the day, the law of tonnage rules and small guys get eaten alive in wrecks.

Is it really worth it to be driving around in a vehicle that gets 30, 40 or even a 100 MPG HWY if it gets compacted like a soda can if merely bumped?

Something to think about.

All cars must be smaller (1)

tentimestwenty (693290) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583399)

It's all relative. You can make small cars safe. Look at the crash testing of the Smart car for example, but the idea is to gradually make all cars and trucks smaller and lighter so they use less energy and are less dangerous in accidents to other cars. Look at the cars & trucks in Japan or Europe on average compared to the US, they're a couple sizes smaller.

The winning car will have the following specs... (1)

Mal Reynolds (676267) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583199)

I'm guessing the winner of this contest will produce a tiny car with a very lightweight aluminum chassis, maybe strengthened with mass produced carbon fiber tubes. It will run a small turbo diesel engine, perhaps at constants revs with a hybrid battery system and regenerative brakes. It will run on small low friction tires and do very poorly in crash tests.

I suspect any of the large auto manufacturers could make this car today. They don't bother because there's such a small market for this sort of vehicle.

That said, I like this X-Prize. It will show the public that high-mileage cars are possible. It will offer convincing proof that the auto manufacturers are exaggerating when they protest higher CAFE standards. It may even light a fire under a few of the auto giants to build some cars approaching this efficiency.

Does it specify petroleum? (2, Funny)

Peter Trepan (572016) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583235)

Can I use a gallon of uranium instead?

Can I total the distance that each piece travels, or does it all have to be in the same direction?

Can the direction be "up"?

Re:Does it specify petroleum? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18583317)

Can I total the distance that each piece travels, or does it all have to be in the same direction?

Yes, let's see if anyone enters a carbomb.

Ya know (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18583245)

...we could always, yaknow, walk. *gasp*

somebody call Volkswagen! (1, Redundant)

compro01 (777531) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583265)

volkswagen already did more than double this with their 1-litre car [] (100km on 1 litre of gas. that's a little more than 235 miles per gallon).

i imagine we can do a little better given that this was created nearly 5 years ago.

Re:somebody call Volkswagen! (1)

Nazlfrag (1035012) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583417)

Fantastic. FTA: "VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech himself drove the 1-Litre-Car from Wolfsburg to Hamburg to join the shareholders meeting - averaging just 0.89 litres per 100 km (317 mpg) along the way."

If they can achieve 317 mpg for a two passenger car, I'm sure a 4 passenger variant can be made to do over 100mpg. I do find it annoying that 5 years later this is still no more than a concept vehicle.

Use nuclear batteries (4, Interesting)

TheSync (5291) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583323)

Power an electric car with a nuclear battery [] .

If you're going to comment (1)

spirit of reason (989882) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583329)

Please read the GUIDELINES [] . It is not just about making a 100 MPG car. That is not difficult at all (I've done so with a team at MIT myself). VW 1 liter car fails it! Gah...

100USMPG car (1)

Deanodriver (962608) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583355)

The only problem is that to be successful as a product, these cars have to look like normal cars, drive like normal cars, be priced similar to normal cars, meet normal car safety tests, and have all the features expected by modern cars.

To meet all of these tests unfortunately requires some compromises. Looking/driving like normal cars might sacrifice some aerodynamic capabilities, being as safe as normal cars without sacrificing too much weight means using more expensive materials, and all the luxury features expected in modern cars aren't lightweight either.

I'm sure a 100USMPG car could be made, but it's likely to be either far too small, lacking in features and unsafe to be viable as a product, or far too expensive.

2-passenger/2-wheel (1)

mechsoph (716782) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583367)

My 250cc motorcycle can move two people and gets 70MPG using 1960's technology not tuned at all for efficiency. Seems like a trivial challenge for $10mil.

100MPG!? Whatever that is .. (2, Funny)

arcade (16638) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583369)

First .. how long is a mile? In real units?

Then .. how much is a gallon? In real units?

When are 'merkins going to start using proper units?

You can find one possible solution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18583427)

here [] .

Metric (5, Interesting)

SimonInOz (579741) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583435)

Sorry to mention this, oh strange American folk (I'm in Australia), but generally, fuel consumption is expressed in lt/100km.
So that's 2.3lt/100km.

You know, my eight year old Hyundai Excel, four doors + hatch, air conditoning, carries my 4 person family about quite effectively, gets 5.5lt/100km (43mpg). I measured it for some years (it varied from 4.5 to 6.5). I don't even try that hard. And it's half way there.

I am stunned to learn the average American vehicle gets 21mpg, or 8.9 lt/100km. Gosh. Do they have special oil burning jets out the back or something?

Loremo (1)

gurudyne (126096) | more than 7 years ago | (#18583511)

Here is a 4 passenger vehicle ( [] ) that goes 0-100 km/h in 9 seconds and consumes 2.7 L/100km for the GT version.

The economy LS version is a pokey 20 seconds for 0-100 km/h, but sips only 1.5 L/100km

Comes with airbags, particle filter and radio.

Options: dashboard computer, air condition, MP3 player, navigation system

Not available until 2009 :-(

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