Our Take on Progressive Auto X Prize as Winners Are Announced
- Back in 2004, in the tradition of the Orteig Prize won by Charles
Lindbergh, the X Prize Foundation created the Ansari X Prize for
Space Flight. It moved on to the contest that became known as the $10
Million Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize. We and many others
were involved early on, and have watched since. Tomorrow the winners
will be announced in Washington DC, culminating a 15-month
competition that started with 111 teams and is now down to 7. See the
details below. We were invited to write on the Auto Prize website
about the significance of the prize. You can read that first below.
And tomorrow or soon thereafter, you can go to
http://autoblog.xprize.org/ where you'll be able to comment on our
perspective and those of others invited to post.
(Shortly after it goes out on email, this posting will also be
viewable at http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html -- there you can
add CalCars-News to your RSS feed.)
WATCH THE ANNOUNCEMENT CEREMONY streamed live, at 10:30AM EST/7:30AM
PST, and get information about the event at
http://www.progressiveautoxprize.org/live . And watch a one-hour
special, "X PRIZE Cars: Accelerating the Future", on the National
Geographic Channel on Thursday, September 16 at 9:00 PM ET/PT.
THE ORIGINS OF THE PROGRESSIVE AUTO X PRIZE -- AND ITS IMPACT
This is a guest posting by Felix Kramer, Founder of the California
Cars Initiative (CalCars.org)
Five years ago, when the Automotive X Prize was just an idea, gas
prices were seesawing, and people were fed up with paying a billion
dollars a day for foreign oil. We're still addicted to oil -- but
thanks in large part to the X Prize, we can see a way out.
Back then, the famed Hypercar spinoff from Rocky Mountain Institute
had previewed a future of lightweight, aerodynamic, safe autos. And
everyone who'd looked at ways to reduce greenhouse gases knew the
answer had to include getting our vehicles off fossil fuels. It was
time for cars to take a quantum leap.
Meanwhile, promising cars like the GM EV1 and Toyota RAV4 EV were
history. But the death of the electric car turned out to be just the
end of one chapter. In 2004, CalCars.org showed how to convert
hybrids to plug in, plastering five-foot wide signs proclaiming
"100+MPG" on the sides of our Prius retrofits. And Tesla raised money
to build a sexy sportscar that would beat almost anything on the
road. We could see a future of optimized vehicles running on cleaner,
cheaper, domestic electricity.
The Automotive X Prize launched in 2006-07 with ambitions to inspire
the public and spark innovation to change the auto industry. Getting
the competition right wasn't easy for its dedicated, creative staff:
* When "100 MPG" came up against vehicles powered by different fuels,
experts developed "MPGe" for apples-to-apples comparisons of
electricity with petroleum and renewable biofuels.
* Faced with public expectations for glitzy track races, planners who
knew drivers most need a fuel-miser for 25-mile-a-day commutes worked
out new tests. They enlisted the U.S. Department of Energy's National
Labs to validate the performance of innovative solutions.
* With hopes that some great idea would emerge from a quirky corner,
they split the Prize into mainstream and alternative paths.
* Recognizing that improving the efficiency of millions of cars
already on the road could make a huge impact, they opened the
competition up to retrofits and conversions.
* And, knowing that imaginative, unique solutions also had to find
their ways to millions of drivers, they made competitors show their
designs could be safe, affordably mass-produced, and sold for a profit.
As we reach the end of this historic competition, we all wonder who
will win. But it's never been more true that "the journey is the
reward." Competitors that didn't make it all the way have gained
significant visibility, investments, and partnerships. Some may
become successful manufacturers. Others will see their teams,
intellectual property, and visions acquired by larger companies. Many
will celebrate their victories.
Of course, the Prize's impact extends far beyond the competition. X
Prize raising the MPG bar certainly encouraged Congress to increase
fuel efficiency standards. As we debate what new car stickers should
say about efficiency and emissions, a new coalition is urging a goal
of 60 MPG by 2025. The DOE has funded development of an advanced U.S.
battery industry and lent carmakers billions to retool for green
automotive jobs. States and companies have added their incentive
programs to the federal $7,500 tax credits for new plug-in cars.
Engineering students have been inspired to find jobs in a reviving
auto industry. High schoolers have seen how cars can be cool and clean.
And automakers? They've been watching closely and making
industry-changing decisions. In 2006, I became the world's first
consumer-owner of a plug-in hybrid. Now, before the end of this X
Prize year, my family hopes to replace that PHEV conversion with a
Chevy Volt that we can drive everywhere. And we'll trade our reliable
Toyota Camry Hybrid for a Nissan LEAF's daily drives with no
gasoline. The cars are coming: the U.S. is on track for a million
mass-produced plug-in cars by 2015!
What's next? How about a follow-on prize? As the high-MPG cars
arrive, it's clear it will take decades before they'll make up a
large enough fraction of our country's 250 million vehicles to have
much impact on fossil fuel use. Visionaries like Andy Grove are
urging us to retrofit tens of millions of pickup trucks, SUVs, vans,
and buses. Like the Home Star building retrofits we're now
accelerating, national gas- guzzler conversions could create green
jobs in communities everywhere. So CalCars hopes for a Drive Star
competition -- from X Prize, DOE, or another sponsor -- to spark "The
Big Fix," creating a global industry to upgrade many of the world's
900 million vehicles.
X Prize began with the Ansari X Prize for space flight. As the X
Prize Foundation broadens, with prizes in genomics, lunar
exploration, and ocean oil cleanup, it's never been clearer that
humanity and our planet face immense challenges. We used to say "the
sky's the limit." Now that we recognize we need to save that one sky
ASAP, we look to future competitions for inspiration, ideas, and a
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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