Automotive X-Prize is Official; Progressive to Sponsor

So far 65 teams have signed up to compete for a piece of the $10 million prize

Strange as it might seem, the Automotive X-Prize—which will award a $10 million prize to the team(s) that develop production-ready cars that get the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon—wasn’t official until this afternoon. But today at a press conference at the New York International Auto Show, X-Prize honcho Peter Diamandis fired the starting gun (see Diamandis talk about the competition in the video above).

So far, 65 teams from places as all-American as Wichita and as far abroad as Australia and Turkey have signed a letter of intent to compete. The title sponsor is the insurance company Progressive.

“The Model T got 25 miles per gallon, and we think 100 years later we should be getting over 100 miles per gallon,” Diamandis said about 100 yards from a showroom containing hundreds of cars that make the Model T look like a model of fuel-efficiency.

There will be two classes in the competition: “mainstream,” which means four-wheel, four-passenger cars that won’t freak out the average consumer; and “alternative,” where the more bizarre designs—three-wheelers and the like—will compete. The $10 million prize will be split 3 to 1 between the two classes, with the larger share going to the mainstream category.

The contest begins immediately, and once the field of competitors is winnowed down, the deciding factor will be a multi-stage road race set to start in New York City in September 2009. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg was on hand to say a few words about the X-Prize and New York initiatives for reducing CO2 emissions: “There’s no bigger threat to our country and world than global warming,” he said.

Bloomberg also threw out a dispiriting fact: While New York is per capita one of the most energy efficient cities in the country, this town produces more greenhouse gases than the country of Portugal. Not that 100mpg cars will do much for the CO2 emissions of a city so reliant on the subway, of course, but they would have a major impact on the rest of the country. Keep watching the site for updates on the prize and details of the competing cars. We’ll be covering this one obsessively.