While I participated in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X-Prize Competition as a technical inspector, I was struck by the enthusiasm and dedication of the teams to the goal of high mileage vehicles and their benefit to the human race and the environment.
The people in these teams came from many walks of life and professions; entrepreneurs, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, nuclear engineers, dreamers, technicians, mechanics, professors, moms and dads, students, nuclear physicists, PhDs, and many more. All had a clear goal; do their best to build a 100mpge vehicle that would satisfy the requirements of the competition and be able to compete in the events leading up to the finals. Some chose to modify a production car, some chose to showcase a vehicle that they are intent in manufacturing in the near future or have recently started building, some chose to design and build an experimental vehicle from scratch.
Most were huge optimists; thinking that once the vehicle was designed and built, the vehicle was ready for competition. The design and build effort just got them through the gate into the competition. Then the hard work began to tune the vehicle to meet all the performance requirements and to keep the vehicle running throughout the competition events.
All the teams were small, some consisted of only two or three people, most were of five to ten people and a large team had what seemed to be a few dozen people behind them. With the exception of Tata Motors, no major OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) were involved with their expansive knowledge of vehicle engineering, technical skills and extended funding. Maybe the OEMS know something that these teams do not?
So are these teams the dreamers or the realists? Are they dedicated to an unachievable goal of 100 MPGe for a practical vehicle? Or are they the independent thinkers that will show to established manufacturers that there are ways to significantly alter our energy consumption? Maybe if one starts looking at personal transportation from a different perspective great change can happen.
Is it that these teams have little ‘mental inertia’ that they can dream, conceive, experiment and build something of significance? Is it that large companies invest too much in doing it the way they have always done it and cannot envision more radical alternative solutions?
However it’s done, we all stand to benefit from more efficient alternatives to the cars we drive today.