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Christian Science Monitor: The next X-Prize: How about a 250 mpg car?

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  • Felix Kramer
    The graphic accompanying this story (presumably in the print version as well) includes a graphic sidebar, Auto industry going green that describes as now in
    Message 1 of 1 , May 7, 2006
      The graphic accompanying this story (presumably
      in the print version as well) includes a graphic
      sidebar, "Auto industry going green" that
      describes as "now in view" EDrive conversions
      ($37K, 100-200MPG+ electricity) as well as Honda
      Civic hybrid ($21K,50) VW Golf ($19K, 40), and
      "over the horizon" Honda fuel cell ($1M, 62),
      Honda FIT hybrid ($16K, 60-80), Peugeot 307,
      unknown cost, 69). It also includes links to
      greencarcongress.com, hybridcars.com, calcars.org,

      Sci/Tech > Science & Space
      from the May 08, 2006 edition

      The next X-Prize: How about a 250 m.p.g. car?
      By Mark Clayton | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

      The challenge: Build the world's most
      fuel-efficient production car - one that gets
      maybe 250 miles per gallon and causes little or
      no pollution. The payoff: prize money from the
      group that awarded $10 million for the world's
      first private spaceflight two years ago.

      When the X-Prize Foundation unveils its new
      high-mileage car contest later this year, it will
      join a small but growing number of competitive
      prizes for energy development. Instead of
      watching President Bush and Congress wrangle for
      months to just get Detroit to boost fuel
      efficiency by a few miles per gallon, why not
      offer fat cash prizes to the private sector for
      breakthrough technologies? Proponents say it's a
      cheaper and faster way to unhook America from its oil dependency.

      "Ford's Model T got 25 miles per gallon, and
      today a Ford Explorer gets 18 miles per gallon,"
      says Peter Diamandis, X-Prize Foundation
      chairman. "We believe the time is ripe for a
      fundamental change in what we drive - and we
      believe an X-Prize in this area can drive a substantial change."

      Several of the prize ideas are coming from the federal government. For example:

      • The Department of Energy (DOE) is authorized to
      award up to $10 million in incentives for
      next-generation technology that could turn wood and other fiber into ethanol.

      • The DOE was also authorized by last fall's
      energy legislation to offer a $5 million "Freedom
      Prize" for tangible methods to cut US dependence on imported oil.

      One drawback is that no money has yet been
      appropriated for either prize. But interest
      appears to be catching on. In hearings April 27,
      Congress weighed a proposal for a new "H-Prize,"
      which would dangle $100 million in awards to
      speed up development of hydrogen-powered cars.

      "There's been a rediscovery of prize competitions
      in the private sector, and now it looks like
      government is starting to follow," says Thomas
      Kalil, senior fellow at the Center for American
      Progress, a Washington think tank.

      Such contests aren't new. In 1795, Nicholas
      Appert won 12,000 francs and Napoleon's gratitude
      for a canning system that fed his army unspoiled
      food. Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic
      solo to win a $25,000 prize in 1927.

      And the results have sometimes been impressive.
      Within a year after Lindbergh's feat, the number
      of aircraft in the US had quadrupled and the
      number of pilots tripled, says Mr. Diamandis.

      Modest government interest has been growing of
      late. US agencies procure new technology mostly
      through contracts with universities and
      companies. Taxpayers typically pay, whether or
      not companies or researchers actually succeed.

      But government interest in prizes began to grow
      after 1996, when the $10 million Ansari X-Prize
      was announced for a privately financed craft to fly into space.

      Interest in the space prize spurred Mr. Kalil,
      then deputy assistant to President Clinton for
      technology and economic policy, to organize a
      National Academy of Engineering investigation
      into inducement prizes. The study found key
      advantages, including contests' ability to
      attract a broader spectrum of ideas and
      participants, cut costs and bureaucratic
      barriers, shift risk for achieving results to
      contestants, leverage financial resources, and
      inspire the public. In its final report, the
      academy recommended that "Congress encourage
      federal agencies to experiment more extensively
      with inducement prize contests."

      On Friday, the National Aeronautics and Space
      Administration announced a new $2.5 million
      contest - to be administered by the X-Prize
      Foundation - called the "Lunar Lander Challenge."
      Winners of the contest must develop a lander that
      can take off, hover, travel 100 meters, land -
      and then take off again and return to the starting point.

      Back on Earth, former Rep. Robert Shamansky wants
      to propose a national contest for a high-mileage car.

      During his first tour in the US Congress in 1982,
      when the nation was still reeling from the second
      oil shock, the Ohio Democrat sponsored a bill to
      award $150 million to the developer of a car that
      got at least 80 miles per gallon. His bill
      foundered after he lost his reelection bid. Now,
      running in Ohio's 12th District, he hopes to revive the plan.

      The idea may have been ahead of its time, Mr.
      Shamansky says in a phone interview. But "we have
      to be less dependent on oil - period. The contest
      idea was good then - and it's good now."

      Pulling off such contests also requires a bit of
      P.T. Barnum showmanship to motivate the right people.

      "There are countless failures you don't hear
      about," says Diamandis of the X-Prize Foundation.
      "It's all about creating the dynamic to attract
      the maverick thinker.... It's not about the gizmo
      - it's about the human being."

      That means inspiring the likes of Felix Kramer, a
      California Internet entrepreneur who hopes to
      partner with a big auto company to create a
      high-mileage car. That's what his CalCars team
      did in September 2004, when it developed the
      prototype of a Toyota Prius with an electric
      cord, which users could plug in to charge a
      beefed-up battery. The extra reliance on electric
      power gives the "Prius-plus" better than 80 miles per gallon.

      "Whatever this competition does, it has to
      somehow get Detroit involved," Mr. Kramer says.
      "A big golden carrot should help do that."

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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