Efficient Vehicle Startups Vie For $10m Automotive X-Prize

Most people are familiar with the original X-Prize, won by Burt Rutan and Paul Allen’s SpaceShipOne. The foundation now supports a few other endeavors, including rapid genome sequencing, Lunar exploration, and creating super-efficient vehicles. This last contest is making news this week by announcing all of its 111 entrants at the New York Auto Show. Seems a strange place to show off a lot of cars, Manhattan, but it’s probably a good place to find investors.

The entrants, hailing from 11 countries (but 80% American), range from upstart EV maker Tesla to University teams to a Neil Young-backed outfit running a ’59 Lincoln with hybrid-electric guts. The rules, roughly, are:

…Only production-capable, consumer-friendly cars [may] compete. Those that qualify will race their vehicles in rigorous cross-country stage races in 2009 and 2010 that combine speed, distance, urban driving and overall performance. The winners will be the vehicles that exceed 100 MPGe, meet strict emissions standards and finish in the fastest time.

Interestingly, none of the big automakers are getting involved — directly, at least. GM commented, saying they’re all working too hard on the Volt to dive into the X-Prize. Really? Too busy to write a check sponsoring a promising team that could use a couple grand? To be fair, the big guys likely already have their fingers in a few of these pies. And stuff like this. I already have a two-wheeled urban transport vehicle, but thanks.

One might ask why so little money is going towards creating the innovations that may last a century, and so much to automakers which have failed to innovate for decades, but I think we all know the answer to that question. It’s “quiet you, unless you want a horse’s head in your bed.”

The big news will mostly hit tomorrow, with X-Prize representatives answering questions and publishing lists, that sort of thing. We’ll keep you updated.

[image credit: X-Prize Foundation]