What is the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE? What did it do to help promote greener car designs?



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    Most of the time, getting an activist message across to big business (like automobile manufacturers) means implementing standard lobbying procedures and standard politics. But sometimes, activist organizations get creative and dig deep to promote their messages in a way that transcends your average politics-as-usual lobbying efforts.

    Take, for example, the XPrize organization, whose motto is “Revolution through Competition”. Their goal was to create a message that big business would have to listen to by promoting green car design in the private sector as opposed to going through the government. XPrize teamed up with Progressive Auto Insurance in January of 2008 to launch a competition for the most fuel-effective car design in the world. It was hoped that this competition would revolutionize the auto industry, forcing car manufacturers to seek alternative methods of auto design in order to meet a new market standard. Things didn’t quite work out that way, as social and economic events since the project’s start date prompted most major auto companies to start investing in consumer-friendly, alternative-fuel vehicle production long before the contest’s conclusion.

    The contest placed an open invitation soliciting car designs from around the world, establishing several qualifications for a successful car model. Candidates had to create a car that was fast, affordable to market, safe to drive, and which successfully achieved over 100 miles per gallon (or the equivalent thereof). The three automobiles which best fulfilled these criteria would split a ten million dollar prize. Over 100 enthused participants converged on the Michigan International Speedway this past summer to test their models in a long-distance stage race, and on September 16, 2010, the results of that race produced three big winners.

    The top car, produced by Virginia-based company Edison2 LLC, was commended for weighing under 850 pounds and effectively reducing drag to half of current industry standards. The aptly named “Very Light Car” was awarded five million dollars for reaching just over 100 MPG and passing all of the contest’s safety and emissions criteria.


       Edison2 LLC’s Very Light Car boasts an unprecedentedly lightweight construction for a four-seater car, courtesy of its steel-frame and aluminum construction.

    Edison2 LLC’s founder, ex-car racer Oliver Kuttner, attributes the car’s success to the team of over 100 people who saw the Very Light Car’s production through all major phases of production. In choosing to focus on weight over fuel, Kuttner’s team hit on a winning combination; the Very Light Car’s impressive aerodynamics and low production value are all due in part to the team’s decision to focus on ethanol gas over electricity (which adds battery weight and cost to the overall product).

    Kuttner later stated that the prize money would be used towards developing a consumer-friendly, marketable version of the Very Light Car. Kuttner wants to focus on making the car “easier on the eyes”; he hopes to successfully create a version of the car that looks less like a space-age science project and more like a car that the average American family wants to own. In an interview with the Associated Press, Kuttner made very clear that the car’s weight and fuel economy will be unaffected by the proposed makeover, and also mentioned the hope that the new design would interest potential manufacturing and distributing partners.

    Other top winners include North Carolina-based company Li-Ion Motors Corp and the X-Tracer design team from Switzerland, who each took home 2.5 million dollars in prize money. Li-Ion Motor Corp. created the second-place winning Wave2, a two-seater electric car capable of 187 MPG per charge (pictured below).



    X-Tracer produced the third place E-Tracer 7009 (pictured below), a motorcycle like creation that boasts 205 miles to the charge.


    Both of these companies are currently taking custom orders for their cars; the E-Tracer 7009 hopes to be made available to US in about a year.

    In addition to the publicity of the contest and the substantial prize money, all winners are eligible for a government car-sponsorship program through which the Department of Energy will help make the winning vehicles ready for the US market. Through the combined forces of market pressure, publicity, and government support, the XPrize foundation hopes to make big business see the economic wisdom of promoting greener automobile design in a market which is, through XPrize’s efforts, far more adaptable to environmental concerns than previously imagined.

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