No matter what the outcome of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE, SABA Motors’ team leader, Simon Saba, will have no regrets. Although he does not have a background in automotive, he knew that the time was now to take advantage of an opportunity that he believes will never come again.
Simon, a mechanical engineer, who works in the field of lasers and fiber optics technology, followed his entrepreneurial spirit when he heard about the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE. Understanding the technical and financial challenges of the competition, he nevertheless jumped in and has not looked back.
Says Simon, “What really made me decide to enter was that I didn’t want to be 65 and think ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’. I didn’t want any regrets of not entering. I don’t mind not winning, but I didn’t want to regret not entering.”
Simon believes that now is the perfect time for automotive innovation and the rise of challengers to the major OEMs. He holds that the new emphasis on green technology, moving away from fossil fuels, improving efficiency, the relative newness of this technology to the OEMs, the eco-friendly government, and the new public awareness of environmental issues creates a perfect storm.
"Only a few years ago, the Detroit auto makers were sort of these 800-pound gorillas that no one would ever consider challenging,” he says. “In the early 1900’s, there were lots of people with new ideas, and it was a level playing field. Until recently, Chrysler and Ford had 50 plus more years of experience in automotive technology than a small start-up. But now, they may only have two or three years of a technical advantage. In the last 67 years, there has not been one new U.S. car company. We have a relatively short three to four year window in order to develop new automotive production companies. As soon as the big companies come out with their alternative fuel vehicles, that window of opportunity will shut. There will never be another opportunity like this. The time is now.”
Simon views his lack of direct automotive experience as a competitive advantage. Calling on his experience with Kevlar and carbon fiber, he created a proprietary new body design that struck the balance that he was looking for between mass produce-able but rigid, safe, lightweight and affordable. Although there were many choices in exotic light weight materials, he settled on using a significant amount of aluminum because of the abundance and low cost that it offers. When he faces challenges, he identifies experts in the area and calls upon them to get their input and insight.
“Being a small group and part of the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE, I have been able to get a lot of inside knowledge that no one would share with me if I were directly involved in the industry,” says Simon. “People have been willing to share information with me that they would normally charge for, which I can’t afford, and that’s helped quite a bit.”
Simon has relocated his company to the Fastlane to Green Technology business incubator located at Club Auto Sport in the heart of Silicon Valley. His involvement with Club Auto Sport, in San Jose, California, has brought him great returns. Its membership, made up of automotive experts, enthusiasts and racers, have supported Simon’s efforts and helped put him in touch with other knowledge sources that have proven invaluable. While showcasing his Carbon Zero Roadster for the auto club at Laguna Seca, he was invited to display his vehicle at the Global Climate Summit in Southern California. There. He had the opportunity to show and discuss the roadster to Governors Schwarzenegger of California, Gregoire of Washington and Kulongoski of Oregon.