In a recent web post criticizing the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE, Chris Ellis recently opined that “The organizers' key mistake was failing to set a minimum-weight limit for the mainstream cars.”
Arriving at the final X PRIZE competition rules was complicated and difficult, and there were good arguments on both sides of many issues. If we could start over and write the final Guidelines and Supplemental Regulations knowing what we know today, we would likely change numerous things. But we would not add a minimum weight requirement.
The reason is simple: one of our main goals was to stimulate innovation, and setting a minimum weight would have been tantamount to pre-judging certain types of innovation.
Furthermore, if we were to require a minimum weight, what should it be? Pick a number, say 1500 lbs. It’s just not reasonable to assert, for example, that a 1498 lb. vehicle cannot possibly be safe and desirable, regardless of any innovations.
Rather, we addressed issues of safety and desirability via other requirements. Of course in hindsight we would agree that we didn’t get everything 100% right, but it would have been wrong to start with a minimum weight requirement.
Indeed, the Mainstream Class winner Edison2 featured several outstanding innovations, including a new light-weight, low mass hub-mounted suspension for its aerodynamically flared four wheels, an innovative small-displacement engine, and an overall body design that achieved the lowest drag coefficient of any car tested in the GM wind tunnel or at the Chrysler Proving Grounds. Furthermore, the body design includes racecar-inspired features to protect the occupants by absorbing energy in crashes.