08.05.2010 - by Chad Schwitters
Exhaustion and Excitement at the Automotive X Prize

One hot summer day when I was a child, my parents took me to the county fair. This was an unusual event for us, and we were there all day. We didn’t get home until late, so I went straight to bed–exhausted, yet excited and happy.

Etracer The way I felt that night kept popping in to my mind last week as I represented Plug In America at the Progressive Insurance Automotive X-Prize Leadership Summit. The first day was inside some comfortable conference rooms; through the large windows we could see the blistering heat on the track where the competitors were running the last events of the Finals Stage. That evening we were released on to the (fortunately much cooler) track to see the cars and mingle with the competitors at the Closing Ceremony.

Keep in mind that the X Prize was announced in 2008, and measured evaluations of 136 vehicles from 111 teams began in April. The competition was grueling, it was hot…and as of this day, there were only 9 cars from 7 teams left. The remaining teams must still go through a Validation Stage before prizes are awarded. So yes, exhaustion was clearly visible. And yet…so was excitement and happiness. Even from the teams that had been eliminated in the past week! The camaraderie, pride, and determination were inspiring.

The Leadership Summit itself was similar. Getting plug-in vehicles back on U.S. roads after the much-publicized crushing of California EVs in 2003 has been a very long haul, with a number of frustrating setbacks. The goal of the Automotive X Prize is familiar: to commercialize new vehicles that reduce our dependence on oil and stem the effects of climate change. I enjoyed the chance to get perspective from a broad range of industry players at once–event competitors, automotive suppliers, governments, NGOs, researchers, venture capitalists, etc.

Edison2 While the X Prize event is technology neutral, almost all of the conversation at the Leadership Summit was about electrification. As one federal government official noted, only automotive electrification has a chance of making enough of a difference to meet national goals (which were related to energy security and carbon emissions for his organization; others there were concerned with other factors like pollution and the economy). Despite the wide variety of backgrounds, everybody believes that major change is coming. Incentives have been granted, cars are being built, and infrastructure is being installed. There is much work left to be done, but really the biggest open question is how large consumer demand will be.

The Summit was a few hours out of my normal timezone, so by my watch I had to get up at 3:30am to attend the second day. By the time the conference was over and I’d been on a couple of airplanes and managed to get home to my own bed, 21 hours had passed. So I went to bed–exhausted, yet excited and happy.

Posted by Chad Schwitters

Photos courtesy of Peraves AG and Edison2

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