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Smart Auto Shakeout as X-Prize Automotive Teams Hit the Track

If you are searching for the connected, high-efficiency car of the future, you might expect to find the leading candidates in Southern California, home of the much-publicized electric vehicles like the Tesla Roadster, the well-appointed Fisker Automotive Karma, which bills itself as “the World’s First Luxury Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle,” and the more basic Coda electric sedan coming by the end of 2010. You might even consider taking a closer look at the latest EV announcements from the reviving mainstream automakers.

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But this summer, the place to find the most innovative examples of future automotive design is at the Michigan International Speedway. That’s the track where the designers and the cars competing to for a share of the $10 million X-Prize Automotive prize money are undergoing three rounds of testing and evaluation. Of the 40-plus teams that started this year of X-Prize competition, only 28 are still in the running and taking part in this week’s Shakedown stage in Michigan. The competing vehicles range from conversion designs, in which the team has replaced a standard gasoline fueled engine in traditional auto with a hybrid or completely electric plug-in source of power, to alternative, purpose designed and manufactured vehicles.

Among the contenders is the Tango, the ultra-narrow vehicles that aim to re-shape U.S. commuter patterns by fitting two Tangos per driving lane. Tango president and founder Rick Woodbury, who is posting regular updates about his vehicle’s performance at the X-Prize event, reported:

“There were lots of issues to contend with up to the end, but got through with flying colors….I ran the endurance run today on the MIS test track. It was very rough road, over two miles of every kind of turn and elevation change. In our group, The Tango was the only one completing the full 40 miles without having to pit. I lapped a bunch of cars and never got passed. In fact, I had the second fastest time of all competing teams.”

Another striking alternative vehicle, the ultra light Edison2, got rave reviews from some reporters for its innovative design and stability on the track. Heading home after a successful trial run, the Edison team blog summed up the Shakedown experience as follows:

“There is an impressive array of specific solutions here: some very nice electric car installations and some very heroic combinations of different approaches. However, the hurdles are set high and only the very careful and very well executed solution will stand the test of this X Prize. There is a reason why the big automobile manufacturers have not done it. It is really hard to do…”

Bloggers on the West Philly Hybrid X Team reported that the Shakedown’s in-depth vehicle inspections and evaluations sometimes felt “ like a bad proctology exam” while the track events put the car through its paces:



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