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Three Minnesotans and their fuel-friendly vehicles join the pursuit for the $10M X-Prize

Western Washington University's entry in the Progressive Automotive X-Prize competition.
Western Washington University’s entry in the Progressive Automotive X-Prize competition.

A minivan, a sports car and an “econobox” from Minnesota have to beat a Tata, a Tesla and a 1959 Lincoln convertible to win a share of a $10 million dollar purse in a race to build a marketable 100-mile-per-gallon vehicle.

The Progressive Automotive X-Prize contest has attracted the likes of musician Neil Young and his music-video-friendly drop-top, the Indian mini-car maker Tata, the electric sports car Tesla and absolutely none of the big three automakers from Detroit.

The Minnesota big three are from Chanhassen, Ham Lake and Brainerd. Each has to build a vehicle that carries four passengers, has four or more wheels, and can travel 200 miles without stopping for whatever fuels it.

“I hope people pay attention to what the X-Prize is,” said Cordell Moe of Ham Lake, who will be entering a minivan called Green Motivation powered by an engine of his own design. “What it’s done is to cross boundaries and make it possible for guys like me to have a chance.”

Moe is a self-described “blue-collar guy who likes to work with his hands” who spent years behind the wheel of a diesel Mack truck. Across the Twin Cities in Chanhassen is Chris Taylor, a transplanted Brit who has several decades of experience as an automotive engineer, including stints with Formula One and Indy Car teams.

“Even in a technology competition, you have to understand where the strategies and gains are to be developed on the track,” Taylor said.

There will be 10 on-the-road competitions across the United States next year in four cities yet to be announced; the winner also has to be able to build 10,000 units per year and meet safety and other technical standards. No wacky slow-rolling solar panels on bicycle tires in this event.

Taylor’s vehicle is ULV-3, a hybrid based on a Lotus Evora platform. “It’s high performance through lightweight technology,’ said Marty Kaye, one of the ULV-3 team members. “We know we can do 100 miles per gallon equivalent.”

In Brainerd, Ed Mattson is entering a Geo Metro with a hybrid system bolted to the original engine. There are 136 vehicles in the contest, representing 25 states and 11 countries. Many (36) are gas-diesel/hybrids, although there are full electric (32), gasoline (23), solar (3) and two that run off of urea, though it is unclear whose urea we are talking about.

There are several steps in the contest, including the submission of a business plan in the next couple of months. Although there is a backyard mechanic feel to it, make no mistake about the investment needed to compete. Moe said he’ll need to raise $1.5 million and Kaye said his team needs more like $2 million to $3 million.

The whole thing reminds me of the Orteig Prize, which is what Charles Lindbergh won when he made his 1927 nonstop flight from New York to Paris. A New York hotel owner named Raymond Orteig put up $25,000 in 1919 — and no one even attempted the trip until 1924.

You may also remember reading about the X-Prize Foundation’s $10 million prize awarded to Burt Rutan and Paul Allen for a reusable spacecraft in 2004. It also has a genome-sequencing prize still on the table.

And Lindbergh was from Minnesota…

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Kelley Welf on 04/22/2009 - 12:36 pm.

    This is very exciting news. Yes, the X Prize was absolutely modeled by the Orteig Prize, which Charles Lindbergh received after his non-stop New York-to-Paris flight in the Spirit of St. Louis on May 20-21, 1927. X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis talked about this when he accepted the Lindbergh Award from the Lindbergh Foundation in 2006.

    Incidentally, anyone who cares about Lindbergh History should write a letter to Gov. Pawlenty, or their local legislators, to prevent the Lindbergh Historic Site from being permanently closed due to budget cuts.

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