« Fuel-efficient cars and the ghost of Thorstein Veblen | Main | Large SUVs Illegal on CA Residential Roads? »


Ed Danzer

It might be wise for the Automotive X PRIZE rules to consider thermal efficiency as opposed to fuel mileage as part of the criteria for winning the award. People purchase vehicles for multiple uses. That is why large comfortable vehicles are preferred. Air conditioning should be a vehicle requirement. Six 50+ adults should be able to ride for 4 hours and still be able to walk when they get out. A person 80 years old should be able to get in or out in less the 10 seconds. The vehicle should be required to reach freeway speed in the length of short freeway on ramps.
The drive cycle test should be obtained by averaging how many different people use their vehicle over several days. The current EPA drive cycle is a joke! People who live in different states have different drive cycles requirements, and the seasons affect the drive cycle energy usage. People with small businesses use their vehicle different than a soccer mom, than a retired person, than an empty nester. Some types of employment effect how a person drives. People who go to an office or plant will have different demand than a farmer or construction worker.
If a point’s method is used to determine a winner, multi-fuel capability, cold weather starting and operation, hot weather operation, and wet weather operation should be included.

Ken Fry

My views are quite different than Mr. Danzer’s. I'd prefer to see a market-determined winner (number of units sold) rather than having specifications on carrying capacity or performance (beyond MPG) imposed. Poor performing cars will die a natural death. Not one of my current cars will carry six 50 year olds (and being 50 something, I'm not sure I'd WANT six 50-year-olds in my car!!).

The fact is, that during rush hour, vehicle occupancy in many US cities is 1.1 person. For most people, carpooling simply does not work, even with incentives like HOV lanes. Our work schedules and our plans for things to do on the way in or the way back are far too varied. For those who CAN carpool or take public transportation, (or better yet, ride a bike) that’s great. But for others, perhaps leaving the 6 passenger car at home, and driving a commuter car at over 100 mpg with just one or two people in it would make sense.

I think the current EPA cycle is not a joke at all. It is objective and repeatable – and that is all that counts: everyone understands that “your mileage may vary.” The combined rating fits for many people and has been verified by many magazine tests (with results varying in predictable ways, such as the "sportier" magazines finding lower fuel efficiencies). Oddly enough, the standard was conceived to address exactly the variability issues Mr. Danzer raises. Why create a new standard when people are already familiar with the old one? EPA tests correlate fairly well with their European counterparts. Of course, the EPA test results would have to be adapted for the various plug-in vehicles – we wouldn’t want to consider an electric car to have infinite MPG or zero emissions.

Having said that, it would be fun, and good PR, to “race” the contenders through a few cities and over some highways, (maybe coast-to-coast) requiring very close adherence to average speeds on sections – much like a sports car rally. Then, see which car uses the least fuel (including electricity, and balanced for wells-to-wheels factors). However, as a qualifier for the race, and for the competition as a whole, a more objective standard is required, and the EPA tests seem very good for that purpose. After all, anyone can fairly closely duplicate the test routines and conditions. Without such a standard, the competitor claiming mileage based on driving around Kansas has an unfair advantage over one testing in the West Virginia mountains.

Ken Fry

I agree with everything Mr. Anderson has said here, but might quibble with a word or two. Regarding oil independence and climate change, I‘d say that fuel economy is “critical” rather than just important. All the trends indicate that we must do something very significant, very soon.

Regarding emissions, all the contenders will have much lower than normal CO2 emissions by virtue of their fuel efficiency. But regarding the requirement for “stringently low emissions” I think that meeting the legal requirements for the vehicle class (motorcycle, like the Aptera, or car) is sufficient. For most small companies, getting their vehicle certified by EPA will be burdensome enough. Going beyond the existing EPA and NHTSA standards will weed out too many small companies and their potentially very good ideas. Further, it puts them on unequal footing with existing market competitors.

Pete Lynn

Sorry to go off track but it seems to me the automotive X Prize should also allow for electric flying cars as this might be a far easier road to much greater fuel efficiency. This might seem a strange statement at first but please bear with me.

There is a rough guideline that says that once one is driving faster than around a 100km/hr, it is more efficient to fly than to drive. That is, a plane would be more fuel efficient than a car. The explanation for this is quite simple, by such speeds most of the power is used to overcome air resistance and planes can be far more streamlined than cars because they do not have to have a cut off back end. By around a 100km/hr, this drag saving is greater than that required to generate the necessary lift.

Of course planes also have the benefit of not needing roads, (directly and indirectly a major user of fossil fuels in and of themselves), and they can fly straight, without continually stopping and starting for traffic. In overall effect this can make them a couple of times more fuel efficient again.

If one only flies at a top speed of 100km/hr, crashes can be mostly survivable as per a car travelling at such speeds, and travel times will still be much faster with less fuel used.

Short take off and landing aircraft are in theory sufficient for a practical flying car, only really requiring the development of a fast and effective folding wing. However the recent development of Lithium battery hybrid cars offers a far more exciting solution. Take something like the Tesla Roadster or the MINI QED, add a folding wing and redundant ducted fans, and you can have a VTOL flying car which is much faster and much more fuel efficient than a ground one. These electric power systems are now delivering much higher power to weight ratios than internal combustion engines, and this makes VTOL viable. The electric aspect should also help keep the noise down.

This potential out of the box solution requires little in the way of new technology, but a lot in the way of a sea change. This seems to me an ideal application for an X Prize, it is a sitter for a revolution.

The comments to this entry are closed.