July 24, 2010 at 12:31 AM ETWith only a couple of days of on-track testing left, four ultra-efficient cars have fallen out of the race for multimillion-dollar payoffs in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize competition. That leaves 11 vehicles still in the running, including a couple of little cars that seem likely to bring home a big $5 million prize for the Virginia-based Edison2 team. The months-long X Prize contest is aimed at promoting the development of ultra-efficient cars that are also safe and roomy enough to succeed on the open road as well as the showroom floor. Both of Edison2's mainstream-class, four-seat Very Light Cars passed this week's efficiency and range tests at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich. To make it through, the ethanol-burning hybrids had to hit the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon of gasoline (MPGe) during a 136-mile series of urban, city and highway drive tests. According to The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va., one car had a combined efficiency rating of 100.3 MPGe, while the other recorded 95.6 combined MPGe - not quite 100, but good enough to surpass this week's adjusted requirement of 90 MPGe. The cars also had to show in a separate range test that they could go at least 200 miles without refueling or recharging. Because the two Very Light Cars are the only ones left in the $5 million mainstream competition, the Edison2 vehicles just have to fill in the final boxes on the checklist for victory: pass next week's safety and acceleration/braking tests, stick to a 100 MPGe performance during a final 200-mile run, and get their engines' performance verified during lab tests next month. It's not as easy as a Sunday drive, but at least real-estate developer Oliver Kuttner and his Edison2 teammates have no other competitors breathing down their necks. Edison2 has a third Very Light Car competing in a different X Prize contest, the $2.5 million competition for two-seat tandem vehicles. Yet another $2.5 million awaits the winner of the competition for two-seat, side-by-side cars. The two-seaters must satisfy the same 100 MPGe requirement, but need only drive 100 miles without refueling or recharging. (Penalties of extra laps are assessed for rule infractions.) One of the Edison2 team's secrets is the lightness of its cars. They weigh in at less than 800 pounds each, compared with roughly 1,800 pounds for a Smart Car. But just being lightweight isn't enough to take the prize, as demonstrated by this week's dropouts in the alternative two-seater classes:
Mainstream Class vehicles must carry four or more passengers, have four or more wheels, and offer a 200-mile range. • Edison2, Lynchburg, Virginia (E85, two cars) Alternative Class Teams:
Alternative Class vehicles must carry two or more passengers and allow for a 100-mile range. Side-by-side seating: • Aptera Motors, Vista, California (Electric)
• Li-ion Motors at EV Innovations, Mooresville, North Carolina (Electric)
• RaceAbout Association, Helsinki, Finland (Electric)
• TW4XP, Rosenthal, Germany (Electric)
• Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington (Gasoline)Facebook friend or hooking up on Twitter. And if you really want to be friendly, ask me about "The Case for Pluto."