Kuttner conquers: Oliver's Edison2 car wins $5 million X Prize

news-kuttneredison2carwinsKuttner (fourth from left) and team designed a car weighing 830 pounds. YOUTUBE VIDEO

Oliver Kuttner, the Charlottesville real estate developer turned automotive developer, has won the $5 million top prize in the Progressive Automotive X Prize, it was announced Thursday morning, September 16. His Edison2 team's winning vehicle, a four-seater called the Very Light Car, reportedly gets 102 miles per gallon of fuel and could, Kuttner hopes, reshape the automotive industry.

Kuttner's quest was the subject of the Hook’s June 17 cover story.

Accolades have begun streaming in. There was a celebratory party hosted by Arianna Huffington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke at the September 16 victory ceremony held outside the Historical Society of Washington D.C., and Fifth District Congressman Tom Perriello quickly issued a congratulatory statement pointing out that he's made numerous visits to Kuttner's Lynchburg laboratory.

Two years ago, Kuttner helped embarrass local water officials–- who were busily portraying dredging their main reservoir as impossibly expensive–- by offering to dredge for $30 million, a fraction of the quarter-billion one consultant claimed it might cost. "It would be a dream job," Kuttner said. "I'll make so much money."

news-perriellokuttner-mKuttner gets his flesh pressed by Fifth District Congressman Tom Perriello. PERRIELLO PHOTO

His brazen form of entrepreneurship ran him afoul of Charlottesville officials years earlier. He's the guy who embedded two stone arches salvaged from an old gothic church into the side of the former Woolworth's building. The City made him remove the arches.

In a 2005 Hook cover story, Kuttner–- after sifting through a stack of stop-work orders and other official rebukes–- explained that Charlottesville red-tape had pushed him to Lynchburg, where an allegedly more business-friendly environment would smile upon his visions for developing property and, as it turned out, cars.

If officials once fled any association with Kuttner, now they clamor to be associated with the conquering visionary.

news-kuttnertodayshow-mMatt Lauer (left) introduces Kuttner (third from right) to the world on the September 17 Today show. PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER

"Every time I visited their lab," Congressman Perriello says in a statement, "I felt like a witness to history and to a re-imagining of the automobile for a new century. From the scientists to the machinists, they are blazing a path towards the efficient, affordable, American-made technology of tomorrow."

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Mark Warner also showed up for the award ceremony and made some gushing statements of his own:

“Edison2’s innovations really represent a home run–- not just for Virginia, but for the whole country,” said Senator Warner.

Politicians aren't the only ones now clamoring for Kuttner. The day after the announcement, he appeared live on the NBC Today show as well as on National Public Radio. But it's not all champagne and interviews. On Monday, September 20, Kuttner appeared in City Hall, urging City Council to give dredging a try.

"I've been thinking about it all weekend," says Kuttner. "It's liable to save the citizens over $100 million."

So how does he deal with his sudden popularity and the fact that he's been proposing visionary ideas in Charlottesville for several years without much appreciation.

"Some people understand things sooner," says Kuttner, "and some people understand things later."

One of the "sooner" folks is Sierra Club Chairman Carl Pope, who posted a video of Kuttner's X Prize victory speech on his personal blog and called him "2010's inspiration."

While Kuttner says Pope's endorsement has been the "coolest thing" coming out of the X Prize, he's not slowing down to bask in praise no matter how glowing. By Monday morning, September 20, he was back in the Edison2 workshop in Lynchburg, where the team is now hard at work on a next generation edition of the Very Light Car, this time with an electric engine and assistance from fellow X Prize competitors Li-ion Motors (winner of one of the two-seater X Prize categories) and a firm called TW4XP.

"They have a lot of experience," says Kuttner.

Also in the cards: raising an additional $3 million to take the company forward. Kuttner declines to reveal the exact amount already invested in Edison2, which he says is now valued at $15 million. But after the next round of fundraising, he says he believes that value will double and continue to rise.

"In a couple of years, this is a couple hundred million-dollar company," says Kuttner, who is "strongly considering" expanding the company into Campbell County, just outside Lynchburg, or to Michigan.

The economic downturn has been bad for most businesses, but for a start-up car company like Edison2, Kuttner says, there are heretofore unseen opportunities.

"Right now, you can buy machines for $300,000 which, if new, would cost millions and millions of dollars," he says. "During this crazy time you can do things which you'll never be able to do again in our lifetime."

Kuttner's victory has also spurred environmental groups to action. The L.A. Times reports that in the wake of the X Prize, 19 such groups have joined together to push the government to adopt a 60-mpg standard by 2025. Currently, the 2016 standard is 34.1 mpg.

As for when Very Light Cars might hit the street, Kuttner is cautious about making promises to future buyers and even his own investors.

"We still don't know our path forward," he says. But he is certain the car he believes is the best solution for this country's energy woes won't hit a dead end.

"We're not wrong about this," he says. "We've got this tiger by the tail."

–-with additional, on-the-scene reporting by Courteney Stuart


–updated 11:19am Friday (60 mpg standard)

–-updated 2:35pm  Thursday (corrects car weight)

–updated 10:46am Friday (with Today show photo and Mark Warner quote)

–updated 2:12pm, Monday (with a little more about Kuttner's backstory)


Did not Oliver Kuttner accept some of the Federal Stimulus money? I wonder now that he has won if he would return the money.

boo and ack, go ahead and propose tax breaks for Mr. Kuttner or for any business that is "cool". There's nothing illogical about me pointing out that low real estate values are not to the community's benefit.

One business locating here, no matter how cool, is not worth it. Don't be foolish.

Congratulations Mr. Kuttner. I hope Charlottesville and Albemarle embrace your can do spirit. Our country will continually fall behind the rest of the world unless; we are willing to leave the past behind, and embrace new technologies.

One in seven Americans now live in poverty, the highest it has been since the 1960's - The overall poverty rate climbed to 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million people ( Census Bureau statistics for 2009). We need more entrepreneurs like you to re-imagine our future, and stop wasteful spending on outmoded energy and infrastructure solutions.

Smokey Yunick was on the right track long before this guy, I wonder why his ideas never made it into american vehicles?

chill, boo. My comment was more towards ack. I hit 'submit' and then did read your comment. Sorry. Don't take it personally.

No tactic, just stating my opinion. And my quickie comment isn't meant to be a projection of my massive ego.

I concur with your kudos to Mr. Kuttner. It's quite a coup and quite a prize! I read in the DP that he spent more than $5 million to make the winning entry, but obviously this was also a labor of love.

And I agree with your comment about the speculative nature of new businesses. Yes, all new business is, by definition, speculative.

I do regret my use of the word "foolish" and for that I apologize.

830 lb x 5 = 4150 lb about the weight of an average car

average car mpg about 25; so

5 x 25 = 125 mpg

take out weight; raise mpg, amazing

I am curious at how far this car would sail if hit in the butt with an suv... I would say it would look like a titlist headed down the fairway...


You must not have actually read my comment to you. As already mentioned, I was addressing one point specifically, the one concerning your labeling of Kuttner's business as being "speculative." I did not address the point of tax breaks. I was just playing devil's advocate on that *one point.*

Do people not actually read what other people say? Or is this a deliberate tactic that's used, whereby a respondent purposely skips over a point and focuses on some other point instead, even if it's a point that wasn't even made to begin with? I can't make up my mind. I used to think it was just bad reading comprehension. Now I'm starting to suspect it's a person's huge ego that refuses to concede on a point, so they just skip over stuff.

Anyway, congrats to Mr. Kuttner. I had a dream a few months ago that he won, and that I was looking at the front page of the Daily Progress with the big story. Kind of surprising since I wasn't even following the story and have no personal interest or investment in the outcome. o_O

Red tape was another important issue for this guy. He is attempting to start a business where the money would come from outside the area and stay inside the area through its payroll. The county needs to learn this valuable lesson and encourage these kinds of businesses.

If a car dealer opens up and sells ten million dollars worth of cars and creates 20 jobs only about 1 million stays in the area and the rest goes to honda or toyota or whomever. Business who get their money from out of town and pay it out here swell the net worth.

Simple. Work WITH businesses so they succeed.


125 mph is great and Oliver is wonderful...

But, corn ethanol is still pork!


Yeah, but aren't many, if not most, entrepreneurial endeavors "speculative" at best when first getting off the ground? By your rationale one should flippantly disregard all new business ventures and the revenue they'll bring and the jobs they'll create, merely because they're new, and therefore, quite possibly "speculative."

Just playing devil's advocate on that one point.....

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One is seven americans is NOT in "poverty" What a bunch of BS. The poorest of the poor in america still have it better than the middle class did when JFK and LBJ stareted the war on poverty.

2/3 of Americans are obese. Is that from starvation? 80% of americans have cell phones... is that poverty?

There are 125 million cars on the road out of 200 million adults.
Is that "poverty"

These statistics are written by people who have agendas to take from those who work and give it to those who do not.

Right. The Census is "written" by folks who want to force rich people to contribute to the upkeep of our nation. Who writes the garbage you spew, Ed?

Bug and Mecury,

You are absolutely correct about ethanol it is the worst kind of pork. I was recently at the minnesota state fair and stopped by the minnesota farmers union booth to get some free stuff. I asked the two gentlemen running the booth if the farmers union supported ethanol (just to get a rise)
"of course" they replied.
I stated that the energy required to create ethanol was way beyond the energy recieved from ethanol. I expected some kind of reasonable argument but the response I got was "sir, where do you get your information?"

I replied "everywhere"

$$$$- there will be no jobs. The "car" is not practical and has no chance of being manufactured.

Perriello will take credit for this, I am sure.

Bug and Mercury- it is 125 MPG not MPH..........

The X-prize is just that, a prize. It is won by those who have the seed money to compete. You earn nothing at all and use your own or investor money to compete and win.

Wouldn't want any factories in or near The Magic Mountain of C'ville...besides who would man the factory since everyone in C'ville is either a professor, a lawyer, a real estate agent, or living on a trust fund...

Lets bring back the ricksha ane pedi-cab...environmentally friendly, solves the unemployment problem, reduces dependence on foreign energy supplies, improves the fitness of a segment of the population at least...

Oliver - you da man.

Lynchburg: Kuttner has made it very clear he moved the development of the car and his future business 60 miles south to the City of Lynchburg because of the much lower cost of real estate (warehouse space) and b/c red tape issues in this area were too much of a headache.

Big loss for this area. There goes another potential set of jobs.

way to go team Kuttner!

$$$$, yeah because what Charlottesville needs is an automobile manufacturing factory.

So you're saying that Charlottesville should somehow reduce real estate values so that Mr. Kuttner would locate his speculative business here?

Huh. Something tells me that public policy is not your forte...

Very old timer, think of what happens when you hit a whiffle ball with a bat or golf club compared to what happens with a regular ball. which travels farther? a lighter car would be like the whiffle ball.

think the lighter car would be more dangerous to the occupant if an suv hit it? would you rather wear a concrete bicycle helmet or the regulation styrofoam type?

Very old timer, I don't know how you got away with that *naughty* word, my use of it got my comment eaten by the beast who watches over.

anyway, to answer your question (again), think of what happens when a whiffle ball gets hit by a bat or golf club. which travels farther? a light weight car would be more like the whiffle ball.

think that a lightweight car wouldn't protect the occupant if it were hit by an suv? in the event of a fall on to pavement, would you rather have your head protected by a concrete bicycle helmet or the regulation styrofoam type?

there is more to safety than just those two things of course, but the point is that heavier does not automatically equal safer. many race car drivers have walked away from very high speed crashes of their lightweight vehicles.

" offering to dredge for $30 million " Oliver we need you - dredge our reservoir ---and here's your challenge, prove them wrong again and make money doing it.

@Meanwhile, there's plenty of unused space here that has "zero" real estate value without a tenant or a buyer. There's not going to be an "auto manufacturing factory" here, or in Lynchburg. There's going to be R&D - "Reasearch and Development."

Huh. Something tells me that logic is not your forte...

edward, completely off topic but, what is the level of consumer debt today as compared to LBJ's day?

Cell phones and cars may be ubiquitous, but that is a sign of the times, not that people are prosperous. Your notion that people living at today's poverty level ($22,000 for a family of four) are better off than the middle class were in the '60s needs some substantiation. I simply don't believe it.

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the prize for crossing the channel under human power went to a team led by Paul MacCready
a little from the wikipedia page on his later accomplishments. not bad for "nothing"

He later created solar powered aircraft such as the Gossamer Penguin and the Solar Challenger. He was involved in the development of NASA's solar-powered flying wings such as the Helios, which surpassed the SR-71's altitude records and could theoretically fly on Mars (where the atmosphere is thin and has little oxygen). MacCready also collaborated with General Motors on the design of the Sunraycer, a solar powered car, and then on the EV-1 electric car.

He was the founder (in 1971) and Chairman of AeroVironment Inc., a public company (AVAV) that develops unmanned surveillance aircraft and advance power systems. AV recently flew a prototype of the first airplane to be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, the Global Observer.

Ira Platow is talking to Oliver Kuttner on NPR's Science Friday today, And what do you want to bet that this isn't Mr. Kuttner's last prize


Nothing will come of this. It's just a "prize" for a tour de force and not something that they're going to start mass-producing down in Bible City. Reminds me of the prize won some years ago by the guy who flew the "human powered plane" across the English Channel. That was a cool stunt, but nothing more, and so is the Olivermobile.

CookieJar- but nothing had to do with the original prize for crossing the channel under human power. The prize "may" have paid for future work on other pet projects and that is it.

And look where GM ended up...........

Way to go Oliver. Just could not happen to a nicer guy. You are a visonary.

That "22k" they like to cite does not include earned income tax credit, childcare subsidy, food stamps, housing assistance, free school lunches and healthcare subsides for children. So "22K" is more like "35K".

Living in your in-laws basement with heat a/c and moms homemade lasagna does not make one "impoverished"

It is an insult to those who are 12 dollars away from homelessness to put them in the same boat.

Maybe he and Octagon can team up to make the old Martha Jeff a car plant. What a great use of cheap real estate!