Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Build a Better Mousetrap, Win $10 Million

In this case, the X Prize Foundation is focused not on a mousetrap, but on a car:

The race is on to develop a commercially viable car that can travel 100 miles on a gallon of gasoline.

The same group that awarded $10 million to a team that built the first private spacecraft to leave the earth’s atmosphere is expected to announce today the rules for its automotive competition.

The group, the X Prize Foundation, says that the automotive contest, expected to carry a prize of more than $10 million, could have a significant effect on the automobile industry by speeding up efforts to use alternative fuels and reduce consumption. The average fuel economy of vehicles sold in the United States has remained nearly stagnant — around 20 miles a gallon — for decades.

“The industry is stuck, and we think a prize is perfect to disrupt that dynamic,” said Mark Goodstein, executive director of the Automotive X Prize. “Failure is frowned upon in this industry, and that doesn’t make for big advances. It makes for incrementalism.”

Even before it began publicizing a draft of the rules for the competition, the foundation had fielded inquiries from more than 1,000 potential contestants and institutions willing to participate. Many major automakers have also expressed interest in monitoring the contest, including some that are considering competing themselves.

Ideally, Mr. Goodstein said, some of the top teams would see their designs purchased and used in some form by automakers.

Here's the key:

Indeed, the organizers want to ensure that vehicles entered in the contest, which will compete in races in 2009 to determine the winner, are commercially viable. Entries must be production-ready, unlike many of the fantastical concept cars that are presented at auto shows. Each team must prepare a business plan for building at least 10,000 of the vehicles at a cost comparable to that of cars available now.

Great to see. One hopes that the automakers who actually have to build the vehicle will have some say in determining what constitutes a commercially-viable vehicle. It would be extremely unfortunate if a prize was awarded and the vehicle not built.

There's also more information here. (Hat Tip: Glenn)

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