Peter Diamandis on the Race to 100 Miles per Gallon (Part One)

This race will draw "a line in the sand," says Peter Diamandis, the CEO and chairman of the X-Prize Foundation. After the Progressive Automotive X-Prize is won, "there is no reason you should not be driving a car that gets over 100 miles per gallon."

With the Tour de France-style competition approaching, it is clear that there is more at stake than just the $10 million prize. Even the runners up may find themselves on the front lines of a transportation revolution. "We've been driving the same old cars for 100 years," says Diamandis. Things will never be the same.

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Full text after the jump.TreeHugger: In 2008, at the New York Auto Show, the Automotive X Prize was officially announced. Can you tell us what the competition's about and what's at stake?

Diamandis: What's at stake is the future of the cars that we drive. The basic message behind the Progressive Automotive X Prize is that you can have it all: you can have a car that's beautiful, safe, affordable, fast, and goes over a hundred miles per gallon or its energy equivalent. We've been driving the same old cars for a hundred years and technology has changed tremendously.

What we've done is put together a ten million dollar competition to attract entrepreneurs, designers, and engineers to bring a new generation of cars to the table. Not just one car, but we're hoping we'll see forty, fifty, sixty cars that give people a choice and say, "Listen, if you can have a car that meets all your needs, why wouldn't you want to drive a car that gets over a hundred miles per gallon?"

TreeHugger: Can you give us a teaser of the kinds of teams and the cars that have entered up til now?

Diamandis: Sure. Maybe I'll go into a little more detail on the rules and then talk about the classes of cars that will be competing. We're going to be announcing six U.S. cities, likely to include New York and San Francisco, Detroit for obvious reasons, and Cleveland (because that's where our title sponsor, Progressive, is located), and two other cities. We've had over 120 teams from 20 countries around the world sign letters of intent to compete and bring their cars forward. That's the first stage.

Of those, over 40 have fully registered and we expect that probably we'll have 50 or 60 vehicles actually come to the competition. As the teams go through the registration process they have to demonstrate a few fundamental things at the beginning.

One is that their vehicle is manufacturable. That there's no exotic elements of it, that it can be manufactured at ten thousand vehicles a year or more. It has to go through a pricing model and be put at a price figure that historically would sell over ten thousand vehicles a year, which is pretty well understood.

They need to demonstrate safety by going through the National Highway Standards in a computer model to show that the vehicle would pass at least crash testing in the computer model approach.

Then they have to bring their vehicles to these six cities in a Tour de France type race. In each of these cities they're going to be racing against the clock to demonstrate long distance, hill climb, acceleration, inner city driving, and the car that gets the fastest overall time, while still doing over a hundred miles per gallon or its energy equivalent, will win.

As humans, we love a race, we love speed, we're genetically programmed to compete, so the race element is important. And, people don't want a hundred mile per gallon car if it only goes twenty miles per hour. So it needs to have at least some good performance for people to enjoy it.

There are three categories the cars are competing in. There's the mainstream class, which is a four seat, four wheel category; this is the average car on the road today.

There will be an alternate class, which is nominally the three seats, two-wheel category or the inner city car. And then there will be a manufacturer's class: so the Fords, GMs, Chryslers, and such, if they choose to enter. To date, the only real manufacturer who is registered to compete is Ratan Tata, the Indian manufacturer who recently bought Jaguar and Land Rover. Tata will be entering two cars.

So that's the range of the competition and the classes of cars, and within those classes there are some beautiful and exotic approaches.

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