Recognizing that the automobile has changed very little since its introduction over a century ago, the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize competition was created to spur innovation in the area. The competition offered a top prize of $10 million, to be awarded to the team that could create a safe, clean, production-capable, well-performing vehicle that gets over 100 miles per gallon equivalent. The team that took away that prize was Edison2, which was founded by Virginia real estate developer and automotive entrepreneur Oliver Kuttner.
Edison2 is designing beyond the electric car and its infrastructure and battery recycling issues, developing a vehicle that achieves fuel efficiency through the absolute virtues of low weight and low aerodynamic drag. The “Very Light Car” weighs only 830 pounds and gets more than 110 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. Edison2’s Very Light Car is powered by a one-cylinder, 250cc internal combustion engine fueled by E85 that eliminates the weight of batteries in an electric or hybrid ride. “We entered the competition expecting to build an electric or electric-hybrid vehicle,” says Brad Jaeger, director of R&D at Edison2. “But our early analyses showed that instead of lugging around hundreds of pounds of batteries, a car would get better mileage if it were lightweight and had low aerodynamic drag.”
The company has also cut out features like power seats or door locks which have made vehicles heavier, requiring more energy for propulsion. Safety is enhanced through collapsible space and a shape that deflects impact. Edison2’s low-mass vehicle is composed mostly of recyclable aluminum and steel, its production is highly energy efficient and does not involve rare or hazardous materials. The design principles of the Very Light Car apply regardless of power source and Edison2 has designed an electric version of the vehicle that achieves 350 miles per gallon on the highway, setting a new standard for 4-passenger electric car efficiency. “The Very Light Car has the potential to be the car platform of the future,” says Jaeger, giving hope for a dramatic paradigm shift in the automotive industry in the near-term.