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American Idol for Autos

John Day

John Day

Posted May 7, 2010

Okay, so the Progressive Automotive X-PRIZE competition isn’t exactly like the TV program, because the public doesn’t get to vote on which vehicles will earn their developers a share of the $10 million that will be awarded in September. Consumers Union is evaluating a total of 36 vehicles from 28 teams in two categories – Mainstream (four-wheeled vehicles able to carry four passengers) and Alternative (two passengers).

Vehicles completed Shakedown testing at the Michigan International Speedway (MIS) in Brooklyn, Michigan this week. Those deemed sufficiently safe will move on to Knockdown testing June 20-30, and those that make that cut will enter the Finals July 19-30. Knockdown and Finals will also take place at MIS. The top Mainstream and Alternative finalists will undergo dynamometer testing at Argonne National Laboratory in August to verify performance results, after which the winners will be announced. The Mainstream grand prize winning team will drive off with $5 million and two Alternative winners – for side-by-side and tandem seating – will take home $2.5 million each.

X-PRIZE officials stress that the competition is not a science fair or concept car show. Evaluation criteria include safety, cost, performance, and the developers’ business plan, in addition to road performance. The winning vehicles are expected to be production-ready (10,000 units or more per-year) as well as to achieve or exceed 100 miles per-gallon or the energy equivalent (MPGe) with low emissions (200 g/mi CO2e wells‐to‐wheels greenhouse gas emissions and low tailpipe emissions). Gasoline, E85, biodiesel, and battery electric vehicles are entered, and as you might imagine, the technology is cutting-edge.

Members of several development teams likened their efforts and the competition to the early days of the last century when the auto industry was gearing up and innovation made the industry exciting. Companies no one had heard of were on the verge of success. Is that likely to happen again? Will an X-PRIZE entrant become a household name?

Argonne National Laboratory, Consumers Union, American Idol, Progressive Automotive X-PRIZE, E85, Michigan International Speedway

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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