High-mpg X Prize cars ready to race

  • 20-Jan-2010 10:10 EST
ZAP.jpg
The ZAP Alias is a production-ready prototype that will compete in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize for clean, production-capable vehicles that exceed 100 mpg or energy equivalent fuel economy.

Laying claim to the title of having the fastest, most fuel-efficient car on the planet will take Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize competitors to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing venue to battle it out.

"Teams already had to demonstrate to our judges that their vehicle could be manufactured below a certain price point if produced in the tens of thousands per year and that their vehicle has a features set that consumers want. And now 51 vehicles—narrowed down from 130—are set to move to the next phase of competition," said Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation.

The 51 vehicles will be scored during speed, distance, hill, as well as other performance and evaluation events starting on April 26 at the Michigan International Speedway (MIS) in Brooklyn, MI. After the MIS events wrap in July, top finishing vehicles undergo dynamometer testing at the U.S. EPA's National Vehicle & Fuel Emissions Lab in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. Winning teams will be announced this September in Washington, D.C.

Steven Schneider, CEO of ZAP Advanced Technology Vehicles of Santa Rosa, CA, was among a group of X Prize competitors with a vehicle on display during media days at Detroit's 2010 North American International Auto Show.

ZAP's three-wheeled, three-seat prototype—primarily styled and engineered at Lotus Engineering in the U.K.—uses an air-cooled, ac induction motor; a 360-V lithium-polymer battery pack comprised of 110 cells; and three dashboard solar panels, according to Schneider.

The solar panels, each about 12 x 4 in (305 x 102 mm), run instrument gauges and recharge a separate battery used for many of the vehicle's accessories. "Those solar panels also provide a slight trickle charge to the batteries," said Schneider. That trickle charge, according to Schneider, acts as a conditioner to increase the life span of the lithium-polymer battery pack.

EV Innovations Inc.'s Wave 2, a plug-in electric vehicle, netted a 0.157 Cd in wind tunnel testing. "With this being a ground-up design, we were able to really focus on aerodynamics," said Ron Cerven, Director of Product Development and Program Manager at EV Innovations in Mooresville, NC. The four-wheel, two-passenger Wave 2's drivetrain uses a lithium-polymer battery pack and an ac induction motor.

The vehicle's in-house designed and built battery management system monitors each individual battery cell's voltage and temperature. "Wave 2 has 80 cells, so being able to monitor each individual cell provides us with more exact information, which correlates to increased dependability and safety of the complete battery pack," said Cerven.

In addition to the 20 BEVs competing in upcoming challenges at MIS, the field of teams from Canada, China, Finland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Thailand, the U.K., and the U.S. are running vehicles fueled by gasoline, E85 ethanol, diesel, biodiesel, and compressed natural gas.

Diamandis pointed out that even teams not earning a share of a $10 million prize are potential winners. "Our hope is that we're going to demonstrate a new generation of vehicles that consumers will have available to them in the decades ahead. And we hope that's not just one or two vehicles, but dozens of vehicles."

X Prize's underlying goal is to get teams focused on developing a production-viable vehicle that is fuel-efficient, safe, affordable, and environmentally friendly.

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