Last week Indy Car racing legend Al Unser Jr. rounded the corners at the Michigan International Speedway in a car with a top speed of 75 MPH, and still managed to make it into the finals. This time the car wasn’t an opened-wheeled, gas chugging race car speeding its way to a CART victory – Unser gave that up years ago. No, this was a battery electric car called the ZAP Alias competing for the Progressive Insurance Automotive X-Prize.
While the more famous X-Prize from a few years ago awarded $10 million for the first private craft to take people into space and return them safely, the automotive X-Prize is a series of awards for achievements in extreme automobile efficiency.
The 111 entrants were announced in April of last year, but by October the entrants had been narrowed to 49 before any on-track competition had begun. Every car in each of the three categories must achieve 100 MPG efficiency over a 200 mile range, the winners from each split a $10 million prize. The first group is the mainstream category which consists of commercially viable, moderate-mass market vehicles competing for a $5 million prize. The second and third are alternate classes that each carry a prize of $2.5 million, one for a side-by-side seating car and the other for a tandem seat car.
ZAP (for Zero Air Pollution), which is in the lead in on-line voting as the Fan Favorite for Most Practical (you can vote online through mid-august), is based out of Santa Rosa and is already taking pre-orders for its Alias. The company has supposedly sold over a hundred thousand of its other cars since its inception in 1994 (though most of ZAP’s media coverage has been about its executives issuing themselves stock while failing to give their dealers cars). For perspective, Tesla Motors has only sold 1200 Roadsters as of mid-July.
On track competition concluded last week and the field has now been narrowed to nine vehicles from seven teams, with final announcements on winners coming in September. Other teams still left in comp include the heavily favored Virginia based Edison 2 car.
It should be interesting to follow the finalists and see if the cars ever make it to market. MSNBC.com has had great coverage of the competition and you can view some of it here.
Alan Boyle’s Cosmic Log
Paul Eisenstein from Driver’s Seat