More than two years after challenging engineers to develop a new class of vehicle that could achieve 100 miles per gallon or the energy equivalent (mpge), the X PRIZE Foundation on Thursday crowned three winners in its $10-million Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE competition. Charlottesville, Va.'s Edison2 team took home a $5 million prize for its Very Light Car, a vehicle in the "mainstream" category that runs on an E85 ethanol-powered internal-combustion engine. Switzerland's Team X-Tracer and Mooresville, N.C.'s Li-ion Motors won $2.5 million each for producing the top "alternative" tandem and side-by-side vehicles, respectively.

Edison2, the only team in the mainstream category to make it to the final round, won with its svelte 376-kilogram Very Light Car, which was rated at 102 mpge, a measure of distance traveled per unit energy consumption. Vehicles in the mainstream category were required to carry at least four people, have four wheels and be able to travel at least 322 kilometers without refueling. During his acceptance speech Thursday, Edison2 founder and CEO Oliver Kuttner pointed to the low weight of his team's vehicle as a major factor in its success. The Very Light Car features a lightweight suspension system and steel chassis that requires only a 3.5-horsepower engine to reach 81 kilometers per hour, he said. Kuttner also called the vehicle "fuel source agnostic," adding that it could be designed to run on gasoline or electricity.

Li-ion Motors has been developing the technology in its winning Wave II alternative vehicle over the past seven years. Alternative vehicles in the competition were required to carry at least two people and travel at least 161 kilometers before refueling. The 987-kilogram battery-powered electric Wave II achieved 187 mpge, accelerated from zero to 97 miles per hour in 14.7 seconds and hit a top speed of 121 kilometers per hour. The side-by-side two-seater can fully charge in four hours and uses regenerative energy to assist in braking. Li-ion narrowly beat out Sweden's RaceAbout Association for first place in its category.

The 651-kilogram E-Tracer, made by engineers from the Swiss firm Peraves AG (who make up Team X-Tracer), is a two-seater that achieved a dazzling 205.3 mpge and a zero-to-97 kilometers per hour acceleration time of 6.6 seconds. The vehicle, referred to as a "cabin motorcycle" because of the enclosure around the driver and passenger, features two extra outrigger wheels that deploy at low speeds for stability.

A number of politicians and X PRIZE organizers at Thursday hailed the competition for encouraging new approaches to building vehicles that would ease the U.S.'s dependence on oil—a video montage shown early in the event even featured a few seconds of footage of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig after its April explosion.

"We have become OPEC's ATM machine," Rep. Edward Markey (D–Mass.) said. "We need to invent our way out of this dilemma."

The Automotive X PRIZE competition began with a field of 111 teams representing 136 vehicles. X PRIZE Foundation Chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis acknowledged during his opening remarks that the competition was launched without knowing whether anyone could meet the criteria. Each vehicle also had to emit no more than 200 grams of CO2 per mile. "When you're looking for a needle in a haystack, the key is to inspire that needle to look for you," he said.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) attended the event, calling the vehicles the "ultimate example of a public-private partnership that works." In addition to the money contributed by Progressive Insurance and other sponsors, the U.S. Department of Energy chipped in $3.5 million, and another $5.5 million came from President Obama's stimulus package.

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Image of the Very Light Car courtesy of Edison2

Image of the Wave II courtesy of Li-ion Motors Corp.

Image of the E-Tracer courtesy of Peraves AG