Special Coverage

New York Int’l Auto Show

NEW YORK – Offering a $10 million grand prize is one way to entice companies and gear heads of all ages to build a car with a fuel economy of 100 mpg (2.4 L/100 km), or the energy equivalent (MPGe).

That’s what the X Prize Foundation is offering, with insurance company Progress Automotive putting up the money.

“The Progressive Automotive X Prize is an excellent example of how the private sector can spur solutions to our most complex challenges,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says at the New York International Auto Show here.

The competition to build super fuel-efficient vehicles is open to participants from around the world.

So far, more than 60 teams from nine countries have signed a letter of intent to participate in the lucrative contest. It will culminate in cross-country races scheduled for 2009 and 2010.

Entrants range from electric-vehicle makers such as Tesla Motors Inc. and ZAP Motors, to high school and college teams. To date, no major auto maker has signed on.

The competing vehicles must be production-capable and consumer friendly.

“We’re not talking about concept cars, but real vehicles,” says X Prize Chairman Peter Diamandis.

Yet vehicles displayed at an X Prize press event here look small, lightweight and excessively streamlined.

“Functionality is a challenge,” John LaSorsa, dealer and chairman of the New York auto show, tells Ward’s. “These cars look like they could get to 100 mpg, but they look like racers.”

In other words, they don’t look like something that will be on dealership lots any time soon.

“Maybe the contest sponsors are trying to see where it will go,” LaSorsa says. “It should raise awareness.”

The Ford Model T achieved a fuel efficiency of 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km), Diamandis notes. “We think that, 100 years later, we should be able to get 100 mpg.”

Progressive CEO Glenn Renwick says prize money has been used throughout history to spur technological advancements, such as an 18th-century effort to measure the Earth’s longitude that resulted in improving sea navigation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy announces a $3.5 million grant, subject to Congressional approval, to educate students and the general public on advanced fuel technologies.

Diamandis says that’s important. “It’s one thing to build such an energy-efficient car. We need to build a market too.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com