Automotive X Prize
By Jeanette Joy Fisher
Regardless of what automakers tell us, the internal
combustion engine has changed very little in the past
hundred years. In fact, Ford's Model T averaged 28 mpg,
while Ford's current model of the Explorer barely makes 16
mpg. No matter how you look at it, that isn't what you
would call progress.
However, Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize, hopes to
force automakers to do better by offering the first
Automotive X Prize, which will focus on the creation of a
new breed of vehicles that will be far more fuel efficient
than anything offered by the current automobile industry.
Part of the innovative rules for the competition will be
that the winning vehicle will be made available to
consumers at a price they can afford.
The X Prize Foundation hopes to encourage entrepreneurs to
bring about significant changes in the way vehicles are
propelled, with one of the main focuses still being on the
use of fossil fuel, since the vast majority of consumers
still would prefer to be able to use a "gas station" model
The Auto X Prize money hasn't been officially announced,
but they awarded $10 million to the winner of their
competition for the world's first private spaceflight in
2004. The challenge this time: build a vehicle that gets
up to 250 mpg while creating little or no pollution. It's
a change that's sorely needed, and since the government
and Big 3 automakers don't seem capable of making it
happen, perhaps prizes such as the X Prize will bring
about the change.
There are other prizes being offered by other
organizations, and surprisingly, some of the largest
potential awards come from the federal government. For
instance, the Department of Energy (DOE) has been
authorized to award up to $10 million in incentives for
technology that can be used to affordably convert wood and
other fibers into ethanol. The DOE also has been
authorized to offer what's been dubbed the Freedom Prize,
a $5 million award for workable methods to significantly
lessen America's dependence on foreign oil. Unfortunately,
congress has yet to appropriate any actual money to fund
either one of those prizes.
The good news for consumers in the long run is that the
federal government may be catching on the fact that large
cash awards can stimulate innovation in the private
sector, but it's been a long time coming. Charles
Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 in
pursuit of a $25,000 prize, but the government has done
little since then to stimulate interest in alternative
energy sources or fuel efficient vehicles.
The technology is out there, and if American entrepreneurs
have enough incentive, our energy problems can be
defeated. Here's hoping the X Prize Foundation's auto
competition will be the first giant step in that process.
It worked for private space flight, so there's no reason
not to believe it won't work for those of us here on
Earth, as well.
Copyright © 2006 Jeanette J. Fisher
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