STEVE INSKEEP, host:
More than 100 teams went after what's called the X Prize. That's the competition that offered $10 million in prize money for building a super fuel-efficient vehicle. The money is being split among three winners, and the official announcement takes place today at a ceremony in Washington. The top award goes to a group from Lynchburg, Virginia. The team is called Edison2, and it will get $5 million for a four-passenger, gas-powered car. And wait till you hear how much mileage it gets.
NPR's Joshua Brockman got a sneak peak and a ride.
JOSHUA BROCKMAN: The prize-winning car is called the Very Light Car with good reason: It weighs just 840 pounds. You can push it with just a finger or two. The aerodynamic car looks like a futuristic egg suspended on four small wheels.
Oliver Kuttner led the prize-winning team, Edison2. He says the car just has the basics.
Mr. OLIVER KUTTNER (Leader, Edison2): You know, it has a heater. It has some basic ventilation. It accelerates briskly enough not to hold up traffic. But it's just a modest car. It does get 111 miles per gallon.
BROCKMAN: That's 111 miles. Well, it's actually closer to just over 100 miles per gallon, according to official X Prize results. But that's at least four times what most cars on the road today can achieve.
Should we take it for a spin?
Mr. KUTTNER: Let's go.
(Soundbite of car revving up)
BROCKMAN: To get inside, we climb through a window - just like a race car.
Does this feel like a victory lap?
Mr. KUTTNER: You know, one of the very unusual things about the X Prize is it's a very serious matter, and in many ways, it's the biggest prize in motor sports.
BROCKMAN: As Oliver Kuttner drives around the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, the car hugs corners and stops on a dime. But the real tests for the competition happened over the summer at the Michigan International Speedway. There, the team's professional race car drivers ran it through safety tests used by Consumer Reports on mainstream cars.
David Champion, the magazine's director of automobile testing, says the X Prize cars aren't ready for consumers just yet.
Mr. DAVID CHAMPION (Director, Automobile Testing, Consumer Reports): I think these cars are very much in the development stages.
BROCKMAN: He says car engineers still need to iron out kinks with braking, emergency handling and acceleration.
Mr. CHAMPION: But they really showed the passion and the drive and the ingenuity of these engineers to produce these cars that were extremely fuel-efficient.
BROCKMAN: Peter Diamandis heads the X Prize Foundation, which organized the competition and raised the funds from Progressive Insurance. He says the goal is to change what people want to drive.
Dr. PETER DIAMANDIS (CEO, X Prize Foundation): This is a prize to show the public that you can have a car that's beautiful, affordable, fast, safe and, oh, by the way, it gets over 100 miles per gallon or its energy equivalent. And why would you want anything else?
BROCKMAN: Competitors had to demonstrate that their vehicles have mass appeal. Felix Kramer, the founder of CalCars, an advocacy group for plug-in Hybrids, says that means attracting the attention of mainstream automakers.
Mr. FELIX KRAMER (Founder, CalCars): So if anything's going to have an impact, it's got to scale and it's got to reach the large automakers, as well, because it's very rare that you get a new auto company coming in.
(Soundbite of machinery)
BROCKMAN: Inside the Edison2 workshop, Oliver Kuttner says his team is using recyclable and low-cost materials to make their cars.
Mr. KUTTNER: If we, as a society, want to use less energy, we must design cars that can be sold for, let's say, $20,000 and deliver this unprecedented level of efficiency.
BROCKMAN: That's the price he thinks Edison2's winning car could sell for if it ever reaches the mainstream market. That's still a ways down the road.
(Soundbite of engines revving)
BROCKMAN: But their engines are revved up. Joshua Brockman, NPR News.
(Soundbite of song, "Drive My Car")
INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.