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$10m for a 100mpg car

At this week’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) there has been news of a hybrid truck, a hybrid Jeep, and even a hybrid sports car, but none of them comes close to 100mpg. Not yet.

The new Dodge Ram (introduced alongside 120 steer, which were marched through Detroit city center) was accompanied by the news that a hybrid version of the truck will be available in 2010. Chrysler’s VP Jim Press told NPR that this makes the truck very environmentally friendly:

If you look at the CO2 emissions of the fuel use, which vehicle uses more — a little car or a big truck? Big truck does. So we’re actually saving a lot more per mile driven than on a small car.

Of course, driving a Prius over the same distance will produce fewer emissions. But if you need a big truck, this definitely helps.

There’s also a plug-in hybrid sports car on display. For a mere $80,000 you can fetch yourself a limited edition “Karma” (really? Karma?) which is packed full of lithium-ion batteries to provide 50 miles of “emissions-free full-electric driving”. The car’s designer, Henrik Fischer, claims the Karma is “more environmentally friendly than the Toyota Prius”.

Fischer’s claims are based on the notion that plug-ins are “emissions free”, something that is only possible if your plug-in’s socket and upstream power supply is itself emissions-free. Most electricity is still generated by coal or gas-fired power stations, and these are decidedly not emissions-free.

I was pleased to see this point made in an engrossing piece in this month’s Wired Magazine. The article reveals details of some of the first entrants for the latest innovation challenge from the X Prize Foundation. The $10m Automotive X Prize will be awarded to the team that can win races with a 100mpg car. The rules haven’t yet been finalized, but they fall into three main areas:

  • the car must get at least 100 miles to the gallon
  • produce less than 200 grams of greenhouse gases per mile
  • mass production has to be feasible, with plans in place to produce at least 10,000 a year

Hidden in the detail is the observation that any non-gasoline fuel (including plugging into the electricity supply) will also have to be accounted for in equivalent emissions rates for that particular supply. Best hope they’re not racing in Kansas (where emissions generated from electricity average at 2lbs carbon per kWh).

This looks like a fascinating challenge. Wired explains that 43 teams are already working hard to claim the prize, which won’t be awarded until 2010.

Picture by Misha Gravenor of

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