Michigan’s economy, and its self-image, could get a big boost from a $10 million competition this summer to build a super fuel-efficient car.
Contest organizers and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. will announce Tuesday in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show that the — 41 international teams trying to build a vehicle that gets 100 miles per gallon — will be held at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, starting April 26. The finals are set for late July.
Organizers initially considered a staged race across the United States, but decided instead to hold the event where the modern auto industry was born.
“As birthplace of the American auto industry, Michigan has the knowledge base, the talent, the facilities to support the innovation central to achieve the goals,” said Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X Prize foundation.
About 200 people will compete, judge and help run the contest, which will cost about $500,000. The MEDC is a major financial contributor, but the Progressive Automotive X Prize is still looking for other sponsors.
State officials seeking to make Michigan the home of advanced-battery electric vehicle manufacturing hope to lure some of the start-up companies that will participate in the competition.
“This is another step in our reinvention as a state and as an industry,” said Gov. Jennifer Granholm. “We are not afraid of new technologies and of these creative, entrepreneurial companies that are ground-breaking.
“We want them here and we want them to take their technologies to scale here.”
She noted that Michigan has more automotive engineers than the rest of the states, Canada and Mexico.
“Why wouldn’t you come here if you want the manufacturing talent?” Granholm said.
The competition is to build a 100 mpg vehicle — or energy equivalent, if it doesn’t use gasoline. The prizes, funded by title sponsor Progressive Insurance, will be divided three ways: $5 million for a mainstream entry and $2.5 million for each of two divisions in the alternative class.
Mainstream vehicles will have a 200-mile range, carry four passengers and have four or more wheels. Alternative class vehicles must carry two or more passengers and have a 100-mile range.
The teams are from 10 countries and 18 states, with 35 U.S. vehicles and 16 international vehicles taking part. Among the vehicles, 15 run on gasoline, and 20 are fully battery electric vehicles. Others run on biodiesel or E85, and one runs on a mix of hydrogen and gasoline.
In June, organizers plan to convene senior-level officials from around the world, along with auto industry executives and analysts, “for a high-level discussion about automotive innovation and reinvigorating the auto industry,” said Eric Cahill, senior director of the Automotive X Prize.
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Officials want to get participants from the test track to the showroom. “This is all about getting these vehicles into production,” Diamandis said. “None of this is about a demo car. This is about getting real cars in the hands of real consumers.”
The teams include Troy-based Enginer, whose vehicle runs on gasoline and steam.
India’s Tata Motors, which owns Jaguar-Land Rover, has entered an electric vehicle in the alternative category. Aptera Motors, a Vista, Calif., electric vehicle startup backed by Google, has entered an electric model as well.
By July, organizers expect to have winnowed the field to about five finalists in each of the three segments.
Finalists will have proven they can meet two-thirds of the 100 mpg requirement, and will have completed timed tests for real-world performance, including events such as a hill climb challenge. Vehicles also must meet safety, emissions and drivability requirements.
Finalists will have time to fine-tune and improve their vehicles.
After the finals, the top performers will undergo testing on dynamometers at the Environmental Protection Agency labs in Ann Arbor and at Argonne National Labs outside Chicago. Teams will get 50 percent of their scores from fuel efficiency lab tests and 50 percent from the competition this summer.
The public will be able to watch video of events and follow team rankings at the X Prize Web site.
Planning for the automotive X Prize competition began in 2006. Since then, interest in highly fuel-efficient vehicles and electric vehicles has surged, with almost every major automaker planning to bring one to market, starting this year with the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf.