Roughly two dozen teams have been descending on Michigan International Speedway, or MIS, about 100 miles west of Detroit, this week, and the stakes they’re after are pretty significant – a total of $10 million in cash.
But the Progressive Auto X-Prize isn’t the typical sort of high-speed race. In fact, victory likely won’t go to the fastest car on the track. Modeled after the Orteig Prize that, more than 80 years ago, sent Charles Lindbergh aloft over the Atlantic Ocean for his legendary solo flight, the Auto X-Prize aims to encourage the development of super-clean, ultra-high-mileage automobiles.
But the competition also puts the emphasis on real-world practicality. The winners of the X-Prize, sponsored by Progressive Insurance, will have to demonstrate that their vehicles not only can achieve the equivalent of more than 100 miles per gallon, but that they can be put into production at an affordable cost – all the while meeting both customer expectations and federal regulations.
Revised federal regulations recently began ramping up the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standard to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, a roughly 30% increase, and most industry observers expect Washington to bump the numbers even higher by 2020.
“We’re not only hoping to accelerate the pace of change but also serve as a broker of information to the consumer,” says Eric Cahill, the Auto X-Prize executive director.