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

TreeHugger: So they have to meet all these criteria for safety and manufacturability, but ultimately it comes down to a race, who actually crosses the finish line first?

Diamandis: It does, and in that fashion we keep the public engaged. What we've learned at the X Prize is that the competitions need to not only bring about new technology, but they have to bring about change in what people think is possible.

So at the end of this competition, I'm not interested in having a single winner. We do want a winner, absolutely, but it's more important that it be demonstrated through this competition—through television, through webcasts, podcasts, radio—that the world knows there's a new generation of cars.

That there's literally a line in sand and you say, "After this date, there's no reason you should not be driving a car that gets over a hundred miles per gallon." There's no excuse. The cars are there. They're beautiful, affordable, manufacturable, and get over a hundred miles per gallon.

TreeHugger: Actually just a minute ago before I interviewed you a press release popped up on my inbox announcing that Consumer Reports will be doing a battery of safety tests and roadworthy evaluations for the X Prize. So this is really about real cars. So are Americans going to see the car that wins the competition—is this something that Americans are going to see at a dealership?

Diamandis: I sure hope so. You know, from the very beginning the entire team that has been creating and running this competition has been adamant that this has to be about real cars. For the last 30 years we've been seeing solar cars which, in order to drive the thing, you have to be a 110-pound kid reclining.

This needs to be about cars that people want to drive, that they're proud to drive, that they choose over other cars. And really, at the end of the day if we do our job right, we want to take the cars that are on our roads today and put them in the history museums. And give birth to a new generation of cars that people find beautiful, safe, fast, affordable, and desirable.

With the Ansari X Prize, the first X Prize, something very interesting happened that bears note to our conversation here. The company that built SpaceShipOne was known as Scaled Composites, a legendary company run by Burt Rutan, which also built the Voyager airplane that flew non-stop around the world.

When SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X Prize two important things happened. One: Northrop Grumman Corporation came in and purchased Scaled Composites, and two: Richard Branson came in and bought the manufacturing rights to SpaceShipOne to begin production of SpaceShipTwo.

So in the same way, the teams that win—or even those that don't win but do 80 or 90 miles per gallon—may be the very best thing that's ever happened to Detroit. The auto companies can see the types of cars, the drive trains that these incredible entrepreneurs have developed, and they can swoop in and say, hey, let's produce that one. Let's buy that company. Let's use that drive train.

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