Don Foley Quote at X Prize SiteThere is a long list of cars coming that will take you 100 miles or much more for a $3.00 gallon of gas. Its been quite a while now since one could get some place by car for $0.03 a mile or less for the fuel expense. With common 30 mpg cars available from most any manufacturer with a $0.10 fuel cost per mile, saving $0.07 each or $105.00 per month the money freed up by high efficiency use will add up quick when the fraction of the fleet grows. That $105.00 x 12 months = $1260 annually per car so even at 10 million cars or less than 10% of the fleet loosens up $12.6 billion dollars of disposable income. That does not consider the impact of the investment or purchase effects on the economy. One would think there would be a lot more pressure to get on with the production.

There are the technical issues, which we’ve looked at over the past months. While complex, and in some cases the manufacturing capacity isn’t in place yet, the only real hang up is in the batteries. Technology offers much, so much that as buyers most of us remain a little confused and short of information to best estimate which way to look to solve our choice. Even designers are challenged as the oncoming technological advances are coming fast and furiously.

It’s likely that battery choices will be based on chemistries. Leading in most people’s thoughts are the Lithium-Ion batteries. These are destined to be the choice for longer ranges and higher performance. Next on the list will likely be the Nickel-Zinc that is at this date still in the earliest stage of technology innovation for automotive application. With a good energy to weight ratio, increasing charge-discharge cycles and low cost recycling costs Nickel-Zinc has a good shot at being very popular and used widely. For the heavier, larger and lower invested cost market Lead-Acid with the new technologies such as Caterpillar’s Firefly will give good economical service with low cost recycling costs.

All of the battery chemistries over time will get super or ultra capacitor assistance. As the common knowledge and experience with these innovations is yet to get into engineer’s calculations we may be a new car or two purchase away before these make a big impact.


The impact is what will matter. The Progressive Automotive X Prize is on now and the website offers a list of entries. Sixty-Six Entries at this writing. Clinking over will take you to a page where there are links on to pages of some entrants. They range from university sponsored student groups to fully registered manufacturers that expect to have products out in the coming months. The most recognized is Tesla Motors and the most interesting maybe the Aptera Motors offerings. By any measure the prospects to take transport fuel as significant cost in modern life and reduce it dramatically is virtually certain now. The personal, educational, venture and corporate investment is getting widespread and the inventiveness of humanity and its genius will be blessing us soon.

Tesla Roadster in Deep Red

These investments are going to lead to more investment in plants, facilities, jobs and management and over time to local dealers, service and support investment and jobs. That will be the most important impact; the transition will come offering new opportunities across a wide segment of any country that takes up transitioning to very high efficiency personal transport.

I would guess that the common question most of will ask is being or will be asked by the members of the X Prize entries group. “I have this space that needs filled with “X” kilowatts at “X’ voltage. What do you have at what price?”

The shopping is happening now. While absent from the list, GM has its “Volt” concept promised to come to market that has shown a prelude to the task facing battery manufactures and the engineers of these new car offerings. GM is a huge company with a lot of experience in bringing large, complex and significant products to the mass of citizens that rely on personal transport.

This kind of shopping is different in that we’re still, for a few more months at least, going to be narrowing choices rather than making commitments to buy. Another difference is that we’re looking at manufacturers with little or no background in long term manufacturing experience. Although most all of the offerings will be based in components that could be available from outside sources there isn’t a guarantee that today’s best in field will be here in the coming years to service, upgrade, or offer parts for these products. It is a concern. On the other hand, the main manufacturers are not offering the caliber of choice that the new market players suggest they will be selling. If one is a “fan” or follower of a particular manufacturer that could be a dead end as well.

The major shopping shift will be in our expectations. For most of us the new car purchase over the past years has been about “new” of course, but the main offerings have been based in “benefits” like more power to keep the acceleration brisk as we’ve been choosing for more size and weight. Things are different now. Some of us have faced the more size and weight target and found it wishful and destructive in both a personal and global economic sense. Size and weight in many engineering exercises are safer, but other engineering exercises offer increased safety over size and weight through materials and active systems that are much better than at preventing injury both within and to those outside of a vehicle.

With these thoughts in mind a look through the current worldwide manufacturers like GM, Ford, Toyota and others plus the X Prize newcomers, the shopping experience for personal transportation is truly becoming a fascinating experience.


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