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Posted at 11:42 AM ET, 09/16/2010

Va. team wins 100 mpg car competition

By Washington Post editors

A team lead by Charlottesville developer Oliver Kuttner has won an international competition sponsored by Progressive Auto Insurance and the U.S. Department of Energy to build a car that can go 100 miles on a gallon of gasoline.

At a ceremony outside the Historical Society of Washington, and addressed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), Kuttner's team, Edison2, was awarded the largest chunk of the $10 million purse offered by the X Prize Foundation, which created the competition. Edison2 won with its race car-inspired Very Light Car, which achieved 102.5 miles per gallon using lightweight materials, aerodynamic design and a combustion engine. It beat out vehicles that relied on batteries, which are heavier -- and thus create more drag -- more expensive, and dependent on electricity generated by greenhouse gas-emitting power plants.

Now that the competition is over, the question facing Kuttner and the two other winning teams is whether mainstream automakers will embrace their innovations.

Kuttner is in talks to work with at least five major auto makers, but would only name one, General Motors, which allowed Edison2 to test the Very Light Car in its wind tunnel. The car is twice as fuel efficient as a Toyota Prius, Kuttner said. He called the effort to convince automakers to adopt Edison2's innovations "a battle for hearts and minds."

One of the central challenges auto makers will face building a consumer-ready car based on the Very Light Car is safety. For the competition, the car was not required to have air bags, side-view mirrors or other standard safety features. While the car is modeled after race cars and is able to survive serious crashes, it is not as safe as traditional cars in certain types of accidents, Kuttner said, such as a direct head-on collision with a heavy car. "This foundational riddle must be broken," he said. "If it is, it could create a whole new automotive segment."

Kuttner is also talking to the states of Virginia and Michigan, as well as other countries, about setting up research and development and manufacturing operations needed to continue to develop the Very Light Car.

Edison2 also intends to collaborate with other X-Prize finalists to develop a vehicle that could run on a lighter, cheaper battery.

The Very Light Car bested an international field of more than 100 competitors, including some backed by foreign car makers. The other two teams that won are Li-ion Motors from Mooresville, N.C., and X-Tracer Team Switzerland.

-- Annys Shin

By Washington Post editors  | September 16, 2010; 11:42 AM ET
Categories:  Traffic and Transportation, Virginia  
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