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Counterintuitive design decision

John Day

John Day

Posted Jun 29, 2010

Suppose you were competing for a share of the $10 million Progressive Automotive X-Prize. You’d have to design and build a car capable of at least 100 miles per-gallon or the energy equivalent (MPGe), with low emissions, and have a viable plan to bring it to market. Wouldn’t the obvious choice be a hybrid or electric drive?

The Edison2 team founded by Virginia real estate developer and racing enthusiast Oliver Kuttner thought so at first, but they also wanted an aerodynamic car with low mass. They realized that the benefits of regenerating energy in a low mass vehicle could not compensate for the extra weight required for an EV battery and other components. Edison2’s Very Light Car (VLC) would take little energy to accelerate, so there wouldn’t be much energy to recapture with regenerative braking. That’s why they chose to power the vehicle with a turbocharged one-cylinder, 250 cc internal combustion engine running on E85.

The team entered four vehicles in the X-Prize competition’s various classes, and midway through the Knockout stage three of the four are still in the running. But winning the X-Prize is one thing and building a car that people will buy is another.

Design director Ron Mathis says an Edison2 production vehicle may not look quite the same as the VLC, but neither will it look all that different. The current design has plenty of room for four passengers plus luggage, and the light chassis and aerodynamic body will make production vehicles more efficient no matter what drive technology is used. The diamond shape, placement of the wheels outside the “fuselage,” and tubular steel frame around the passenger compartment all make the vehicle safer.

The Edison2 team notes that feature creep has resulted in heavier vehicles that need more energy for propulsion. The VLC is stripped down – rather like a race car. Will buyers be attracted by styling and efficiency or repelled by the lack of feature comforts? It will be interesting to see.

Oliver Kuttner, Progressive Automotive X-PRIZE, Edison2, Ron Mathis, Very Light Car

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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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