X-static: Kuttner's cars leading the X Prize pack
If Oliver Kuttner's Very Light Car doesn't win the Progressive Automotive X Prize, nobody will.
That's not boasting–- it's now a fact in the mainstream category of the international contest after every other four-seater vehicle in that class– more than 60 of them originally–- was eliminated, leaving only two of the Very Light Cars built by Kuttner's company, Edison2, in competition for the $5 million prize given to the maker of a vehicle that can get 100 mpg while meeting steep emissions and safety standards.
"Things are looking good," says David Brown, the Charlottesville city councilor who became spokesperson for Kuttner's Lynchburg-based company earlier this year. As detailed in the Hook's June 17 cover story, "Can this car save the world? Oliver Kuttner's counting on it," Kuttner's cars were rare in the contest in that they run on a combustion engine fueled by E85–- a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline as opposed to most of the other vehicles which were electric or hybrids. The impressive efficiency is achieved by using extremely lightweight materials– hence the Very Light Car's name. The bullet shaped vehicle weighs less than 725 pounds, but thanks to high tech engineering, it offer handling and safety that cars many times its weight can't offer.
In fact, according to Brown, the Very Light Cars topped many of the competition categories including braking, lane switching and a test that requires the cars to drive in a circle at a certain speed to ensure they won't roll.
"This car was designed by race car guys," notes Brown, explaining their superior handling.
The only other vehicle in the mainstream class–- an electric car called Seven made by an Illinois-based company called Illuminati Motor Works–- was eliminated during the second of three contest phases on June 28 after it failed to meet the contest's acceleration requirement of 0 to 60mph in 15 seconds. The company's website cites transmission breakdown for the failure.
There is also some bad news for Edison2: the side-by-side configured Very Light Car was knocked out of its $2.5 million prize category after "a pressure sensor went bad," says Kuttner, interviewed hours before Illuminati's elimination was announced.
"It was fair and square, it didn't make the time," he says of Edison2's fourth (and oldest) car in the contest, citing possibly faulty installation of one of the rare standard production parts in the custom built car.
"This one died, but it's not going to happen again," he insists of the remaining Very Light Cars. The front-back configured two-seater remains viable in the contest, along with four other vehicles in that category, which has the lower final range requirement of 100 miles as compared to the 200 mile range required for the mainstream prize.
At presstime, there was still one day to go in the Knockout Phase–- the second of three phases–- but Edison2's mainstream vehicles were already assured their spot in the finals, which take place at the Michigan International Speedway at the end of July. While the most recent phase only required mainstream vehicles to achieve 67 mpg efficiency, the Finals require the full 100mpg efficiency, which then must be validated in a lab before any prize is awarded in September. And it's possible no one will win, if Edison2 fails to meet those final requirements. Still, Kuttner is confident.
"Our attitude is," he says, "if we do our job and we do it well, we have a good chance of winning."