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Buzz builds for plug-in cars

Visionary Vehicles
A quarter-scale model shows the concept for

Visionary Vehicles' $35,000 luxury plug-in hybrid

electric vehicle. Production is targeted for 2010.

Even though the $10 million-plus Automotive X Prize hasn’t been officially launched yet, the competition picked up some extra flash today with the entry of auto-entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin’s Visionary Vehicles electric plug-in hybrid.

Bricklin, the guy who brought Subarus (and Yugos) to America, promises to have the first prototype on the road next year and get the $35,000 vehicles rolling off the assembly line by the time the X Prize race really gets going in 2010. But in order to win the prize, Bricklin will have to vie with 31 other teams, and maybe more yet to be announced.

During today’s teleconference, X Prize founder Peter Diamandis also dropped a hint about next week’s biggest-ever X Prize. "It's in the space and exploration realm, but that's all I can say about it right now," he told reporters on the call.

The Automotive X Prize aims to promote the development super-efficient motor vehicles that would cut greenhouse-gas emissions and get the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon.

"That is exactly Visionary Vehicles' goal, and that is exactly what we're planning on doing," Bricklin said. "So entering this prize - and hopefully we are going to win this prize - is exactly what our mission is."

Most of the would-be entrants who made themselves known last month have said they would use some form of hybrid electric drive system - and the car that Bricklin is planning to build for the X Prize race follows that model as well.

The five-passenger EVX/LS plug-in hybrid luxury sedan that he unveiled today would use a lithium-ion battery system as its main power source. When the juice runs low - after, say, around 40 or 50 miles - a 60-hp engine would kick in to refill the battery, Bricklin said. The vehicle would surpass the 100-mpg mark, with a range of 850 miles.

"It is proposed to sell for approximately $35,000," Bricklin said.

That may sound like a steep price for the crowd that bought Subarus and Yugos in an earlier age, but Bricklin said the EVX/LS could be just his first entry in a market that is crying out to be born.

"People out there are demanding we get rid of this oil problem, where we're spending all the money and giving it to the wrong people, and this global [warming] problem - which is a real serious problem, not maybe not for me, but for my grandchildren and their grandchildren," he said. "And we are really anxious to do something about it, besides just making some money by selling some cars."

Right now, there's not much to show in public, other than a quarter-scale model of the car. Bricklin said he's still talking with potential suppliers and manufacturers, in the United States and abroad. But the engineering work is already under way, he said.

"You will see running prototypes on the road in '08, and you'll see cars coming off the manufacturing line in '09, and you'll see delivery of these cars in '10," he said.

That parallels the development curve for the Automotive X Prize: Executive director Don Foley said sponsors for the competition were still being courted, but the aim was to have a "minimum of $10 million" for the prize purse. The contest would get its formal launch in early 2008, with qualifying rounds for the contenders in 2009 and the race finals in 2010.

So far, the X Prize Foundation has had surprising success in coming up with the money for  the $10 million Ansari X Prize for private spaceflight (which relied on a tricky hole-in-one insurance policy) and the $10 million Archon Genomics X Prize for personal genome sequencing (funded by Canadian geologist-philanthropist Stewart Blusson). But the foundation will have to kick it up a notch if its offerings are to match Diamandis' target.

He told reporters that he aimed to launch "about a quarter-billion dollars in prizes over the next five years," with two major prizes making their debut each year. That would work out to an average of $20 million to $25 million per prize (with a few million left over for the "minor" prizes). Diamandis listed several potential areas for the awards: life sciences, and particularly cancer research; energy and environment; exploration in space and underwater; education, solutions to poverty, and global entrepreneurship.

"We think humans are genetically bred to compete," Diamandis said. "We do our best work. One of the issues, especially in America, is that we're becoming risk-averse as a nation, and without risk, you can't really have breakthroughs."

You can listen to today's entire telephone briefing by heading over to the EV World Web site, which has additional background about Bricklin's ups and downs in entrepreneurship. The initial reaction from AutoblogGreen is not optimistic about the prospects for the EVX/LS.

Will Bricklin and Diamandis hit their respective targets? Feel free to weigh in with your comments, and stay tuned for updates as the wraps are taken off still more X Prizes and future car concepts.