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 |  Feb 03 2012, 4:45 PM

Although electric vehicle technology has been touted as the way of the future, some believe that there is still untapped potential lying within the conventional internal combustion engine.

To encourage engineers to push the internal combustion technology forward, Republican Congressman Dan Lungren has introduced a bill that will reward a handsome $1 billion in Federal prize money to the first U.S. automaker that can successfully sell 60,000 mid-size sedans that are capable of achieving 100 mpg on gasoline.

In 2007, the X Prize Foundation held a contest with a similar format called the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize. Participating teams were challenged to create a vehicle that was capable of reaching 100 mpg, travel safely in highway speeds, and emit less than 200 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. The winner of the challenge would receive a $10 million reward that will be used to fund the project to become a mass-market vehicle. Unfortunately, none of the vehicles were deemed commercially viable for mass production.

But now that it has been 5 years since the Automotive X Prize, the technology may be closer to our reach if not already attained. However, unlike the Automotive X Prize, Congressman Lungren would only award the winner after 60,000 units of its landmark 100 mpg mid-size sedan have been successfully sold. Not only does the bill ban vehicles of radical shapes and sizes like the Aptera, but 60,000 units is a daunting number that’ll effectively discourage any startup automaker. Compounded with the restriction to U.S. automakers only, the bill suggests a three-way battle between GM, Ford, and Chrysler.

While the bill does not necessarily suggest that a hybrid system is off limits, the aim is to encourage technological advances in the internal combustion gasoline engine, which rules out diesel technology as well. Given the parameters, perhaps earning the prize is much more difficult than it seems.