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Transportation Earth Science

Early Contenders for the Automotive X-Prize 309

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'll-take-an-aptera-please dept.
longacre writes "With the official entry period for the $10 million Automotive X-Prize contest just around the corner, Popular Mechanics offers a preview of the most promising entries. Among the 100-mpg vehicles that Detroit (and Japan) have claimed impossible to build comes a hybrid designed by a class of inner-city high school students in West Philadelphia. Also displayed is a futuristic-looking electric model with a range of 300 miles. We discussed the beginning of this contest earlier this year."
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Early Contenders for the Automotive X-Prize

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  • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris.beau@org> on Thursday May 01, 2008 @07:20PM (#23269774)
    > Among the 100-mpg vehicles that Detroit (and Japan) have claimed impossible to build...

    I know it is fun to rip on 'evil' corporations and all, but there is a bit of difference between some glorified go-cart some kids cobble together and what will pass the Dept of Transportation crash tests. Detroit and Tokyo live in the world where trial lawyers will rip ya a fresh asshole if a jury can be convinced your design wasn't 'perfectly safe.'
    • by Rei (128717) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @07:32PM (#23269862) Homepage
      Try to argue that, say, the Aptera is something that "some kids cobbled together". 45" crumple/deflection zone (designed to ride up and over in an accident, extending deceleration time). In-seatbelt airbags, like are used in small planes and are being used in some new luxury cars -- instead of exploding toward you, they explode upward from your lap, between you and the dash, and shield your whole body. F1-style roll cage (with only a couple hundred pounds of weight in the batteries and a composite skin, it's obvious that the frame comprises a large chunk of the Aptera's 1500lb weight), with double the NTSB standards for roof and door crush strength (and yes, they've tested it with a crush rig). It's been digitally crash tested from the beginning (like BMW and many other auto makers do nowadays), and will be physically crash tested this fall. Yes, they're not required to do crash testing, since it's a three wheeler; they're doing it anyways. ~7' wide front wheelbase and low-mounted batteries for rollover resistance, combined with aerodynamics to produce downforce at high speeds. And of course, tadpole trike configuration, not delta (which tends to produce oversteer).

      Sure, it's not for everyone. With only 2+1 seating, it's not a "family car" (although their next model will seat more people); it's a commuter car. But as far as commuter cars go, I think it's a beautiful design. I can't wait to test drive it (test drives and factory tours are to start this summer).
      • Still (Score:3, Informative)

        by pavon (30274)
        There are reasons that the Aptera has three wheels and not four, and they are entirely regulatory and not technical. Part of that is just the red tape required to prove that the car meets the requirements, but not even Aptera claims that they meet or exceed all the government requirements for passenger vehicles, just the ones they considered most important for safety.

        I have little reason to disbelieve auto manufacturers when they say it is impossible to build a 100 MPH automobile, according to the legal de
        • Re:Still (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Rei (128717) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @08:28PM (#23270178) Homepage
          There are reasons that the Aptera has three wheels and not four, and they are entirely regulatory and not technical.

          Actually, there are good technical reasons, too. Three wheelers are lighter, cheaper to build, and have less drag (and weight and drag reductions correspond to battery reductions, which further makes the vehicle lighter and cheaper). As for the regulations, safety regs are just one kind (again, since they're doing crash testing voluntarily, what's the problem?). There's also emissions regs (irrelevant to the Aptera) and lots of real world driving requirements (something that customers are lining up around the block to take care of for them ;) They're starting in low production rates from reservation only, so most people will have a lot of real-world driving behind them before they buy. Also, they've driven the prototypes a lot, and will have test drives starting this summer), as well as a ton of paperwork and delays.

          I have little reason to disbelieve auto manufacturers when they say it is impossible to build a 100 MPH automobile, according to the legal definition of automobile.

          Loremo meets the legal definition of an automobile. It's tiny, mind you, and a good example of why a definition based on the number of wheels is a stupid standard.
      • by hardburn (141468)

        designed to ride up and over in an accident, extending deceleration time

        At which point you'll decapitate the other driver. But hey, the same underlieing logic worked for SUVs.

        . . . not delta (which tends to produce oversteer).

        As a rule, oversteer is good fun. The problem with a delta tri-wheel is the whole "death" bit. Just ask anyone who's still manufacturing three-wheeled ATVs.

        The Aptera is a magnificent achievement, especially for high school kids. But it's not designed to meet the same requi

        • by Rei (128717)
          At which point you'll decapitate the other driver. But hey, the same underlieing logic worked for SUVs.

          That'd be some accident if you could make it *all the way* over the other vehicle. Plus, the Aptera is going to be lighter than virtually anything it can hit; if what it hits was able to survive rollover, it'd be able to survive an Aptera.

          The Aptera is a magnificent achievement, especially for high school kids.

          Aptera has absolutely nothing to do with high school kids. In fact, their head of production al
    • by Original Replica (908688) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @08:13PM (#23270080) Journal
      Detroit and Tokyo live in the world where trial lawyers will rip ya a fresh asshole if a jury can be convinced your design wasn't 'perfectly safe.'

      Well then perhaps they should start with the automakers that make over sized Soccer-Mom Assault Vehicles and over powered Impotence Compensators. The trend towards ever larger and more powerful cars is what is increasing the danger of our roads. [berkeley.edu] The gains made by auto safety improvements has only served to As Click and Clack pointed out in a recent Nova show about the "Car of the Future", no commuter needs 500hp, and that is ridiculous to even offer it. [newscientist.com] Automakers will be quick to point out that consumers (as a broad trend) buy the most horsepower they can afford for the car type they buy. But huge monster cars are not a true necessity for a car to be a success. Lets look at one of the most successful cars of all time. The 1967 VW Beetle weighed 1850lbs and had 53hp, [wikipedia.org] and they worked just fine. With modern techniques it should be easy enough to make a vehicle with enough room, with a curb weight of under a ton. Then a simple 75 hp engine can get you where you are going just fine. There is no need to go 0-60 in under ten seconds if most cars on the road do it in fifteen seconds. Perhaps if there were tighter regulations on vehicle size (without a special license) and size to horsepower ratio limits, then there would be more room for innovative cars like the Aptera. Structural engineering of cars is really only half the crash test, the other half is the size of the other car they collide with.

      And getting all of those SUVs off the road is easy, it's called $10-a-gallon gas.
      • There is no need to go 0-60 in under ten seconds if most cars on the road do it in fifteen seconds.

        You have clearly never merged onto a freeway in Los Angeles. Particularly on the 110 north of downtown. It doesn't matter how fast other cars accelerate; it matters how fast they're moving toward your rear bumper as you try to get up to highway speed.

        Seriously -- try to merge on this [scvresources.com] (source [scvresources.com]) ramp with a 53 hp motor. Yes, that's 65-miles-per-hour freeway traffic on the left, a stop sign on the right, and ma
        • meh. my 53hp will do that no problem. of course, the vehicle only weighs 370 pounds... and only has two wheels...

          but maybe that's the point. If cars had less mass, then you wouldn't need all that honking horsepower to make high speed merges.

        • Well, it's actually 55 m.p.h. freeway traffic on the left. I've done those entrances many times, most of which were done in my old Mazda B2200 way-underpowered truck. The real trick is not feeling like you have to pull out when there clearly isn't enough room for you to accelerate your under-powered vehicle to fit into the traffic stream. :-)
        • by Dun Malg (230075)

          Seriously -- try to merge on this [scvresources.com] (source [scvresources.com]) ramp with a 53 hp motor. Yes, that's 65-miles-per-hour freeway traffic on the left, a stop sign on the right, and maybe 20 feet of merge between the two. It's 100% real and not atypical on the 110.

          Indeed, over the years I've had the dubious honor of attempting just that, at that very on-ramp (and the similar "hairpin turn into the right lane" at Ave 43), in my '68 Beetle (53hp), my '78 Bus (70hp), and most recently my '90 Vanagon (95hp). Scary as hell, man. Scary as hell.

      • by mobby_6kl (668092)
        Look, if you want to go 60 years backwards in terms of automotive transportations, go ahead and get yourself the abovementioned beetle to enjoy its "fine" performance and the excellent 32 mpg. Nobody's stoppping you. I myself would take one of those M5 [wikipedia.org] thingies the germans seem to be offering before people such as yourself will manage to destroy all that is good in this world.

        PS
        Even if you force everyone else to drive around in cardboard cars, you could still crash into concrete wall and no amount of "S-MAV
      • > Perhaps if there were tighter regulations on vehicle size (without a
        > special license) and size to horsepower ratio limits...

        Yup, that's always a good answer when stupid people don't realize how much smarter you are, ram a gun in their face and yell DO IT MY WAY YOU MORON OR DIE! That is after all what ALL government 'regulation' devolves to, obey or else.

        Listen up ya junior league nazi, if people WANTED underpowered crackerboxes they would buy them and Detroit/Tokyo/etc will be happy to make em in
        • Your version of liberty would work in a world with unlimited resources, but here on planet Earth, we are stuck with each other. Your "right" to a 500hp engine may well exist, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't cost $100,000 to buy and $500 to fill up, if that is the effect of damage it has on the ecosystem we all share.

          Most others, thankfully, are reasonable. Perhaps a more effective rail system for freight delivery would eliminate the 18 wheelers from the highway system, and make a mother feel safer transp
        • If we decide that horsepower is a good thing, for whatever reason, it is our decision to make, not yours.

          And if you decide to smoke, that's your decision to make, not ours.

          However, if you decide to smoke on an airplane, that's where it starts being my problem -- you're endangering everyone else with your own reckless, moronic behavior.

          If you decide that horsepower -- or, more relevantly, huge-ass cars -- are a good thing to drive around your own backyard, or around miles of farmland that you own, that's fine. As soon as you take them on the road, they become everyone else's problem.

          I'd call you a Type A Repub

        • by joggle (594025)

          if people WANTED underpowered crackerboxes they would buy them and Detroit/Tokyo/etc will be happy to make em in whatever qualtity moves off the lots

          Actually, Japan would be happy to make them, not Detroit. I distinctly recall an interview on NPR where a Ford or GMC executive was interviewed 2 summers ago about why they weren't preparing to make more fuel-efficient cars and the reply was, "Well, people want big cars so we're making big cars." Of course, this ignored the fact that it takes years for them to retool should demand change (which it did the following year mainly due to high gas prices that was 100% foreseeable). So they then had a couple of

      • by LWATCDR (28044)
        "Lets look at one of the most successful cars of all time. The 1967 VW Beetle weighed 1850lbs and had 53hp, [wikipedia.org] and they worked just fine."
        Not it didn't.
        1. It wouldn't come close to meeting modern safety requirements.
        2. It wouldn't come close to meeting modern emission.
        3. Don't even think if driving it in the mountains.

        I do agree that modern cars seem way over powered. I had a VW golf GTI in 1986. It made all of 90 HP and was pretty dang quick for it's day. I just bought a Mazda 3 and was shocke
      • by Dun Malg (230075)

        Lets look at one of the most successful cars of all time. The 1967 VW Beetle weighed 1850lbs and had 53hp, [wikipedia.org] and they worked just fine.

        Poor example. I owned one of those, and "worked just fine" depends very heavily on context. So long as heat, AC, handling, reliability*, and ability to accelerate or climb hills are not on your list of necessities, yeah, you could say it "worked just fine".

        * as a friend of mine once said "they only SEEM reliable; in reality, they're just easy to fix"

      • by fractoid (1076465)

        There is no need to go 0-60 in under ten seconds if most cars on the road do it in fifteen seconds.

        Yes, there is. It's fun. Also, it's not enjoyable driving a car that you have to wring the neck of to get it moving. If a car can comfortably accelerate to 60 in 15 seconds without pushing it, then at full throttle it'll do it a lot quicker.

        And there ARE situations in which strong acceleration is the safest course. Example: on the freeway at peak hour, I had to brake sharply for traffic with a truck following me, which promptly locked its wheels and would have hit me if I hadn't been able to accelerate

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by maddskillz (207500)
      Did you RTFA? The car the kids "cobbled" together looks pretty impressive to me. It's hardly a go-kart, at 2500 lbs. Maybe lighter then a normal car, but not outside the realm of possibilty. They just took an already excellent engine (VW TDI) and added hybrid technology, then ran it off biodiesel.
      I wish we had projects 1/10th as interesting when I was in high school
    • by timeOday (582209)
      The point isn't that highschool kids can out-engineer Detroit. They can't. Detroit's problem is they are not willing to push into the future. Watch "Who Killed the Electric Car." They built a great car and then utterly refused to believe anybody would want to buy it, even when customers were stepping forward with checkbook in hand.

      Or look at Hybrids. Detroit dinked around for decades with fuel-efficient prototypes, but refused to believed they could sell. Then Toyota came along with the Prius and sp

      • by jmorris42 (1458) *
        > Detroit dinked around for decades with fuel-efficient prototypes,
        > but refused to believed they could sell. Then Toyota came along...

        You just figured out Detroit is dead? What the unions didn't destroy the stupidity of the management finished off. But because we still have a mostly free market somebody served the demand. Of course most of the demand is due to government subsidies.... grrr.

        But the previous electric cars died because of economics as much as stupidity. The prices were subsidized, o
    • by longacre (1090157) *
      If you'd RTFA, you'd know the high school team's entry is simply a modified and very much DOT approved Toyota Corolla.
  • Go Aptera! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Rei (128717) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @07:22PM (#23269790) Homepage
    I'm cheering for Aptera [apteraforum.com] not just because I'm in line to buy one (indirectly, through a California intermediary), but because technologically, they really deserve it. A drag coefficient of only 0.11 (Prius=0.26), combined with a low cross-sectional area -- i.e., they let physics dictate the shape. Speaking of the shape, it's an inverted wing, so more downforce the faster it goes. That, combined with a wide (~7 foot) front wheelbase and low-mounted batteries for a low CG, lead to strong stability against rollovers. The design is a tadpole trike [autospeed.com] for stability, weight reduction, and drag reduction. Long 45" crumple/deflection zone, in-seatbelt airbags, with roof and door crush strengths double the NTSB standard. Composite construction for light weight and safety (stronger than steel). Lithium phosphate batteries, which should last the life of the vehicle. The ridiculously low drag and rather light weight approach allows them to use only 10kWh of batteries, meaning faster charges, charges on only wall current, lower potential maintenance/repair costs, and a whole host of other benefits (uses only 80Wh/mi @ 55mph, 140Wh/mi @ 85mph). I could go on for hours; it's an impressive piece of work. I'm simply not as impressed by the other contenders.

    Oh, and they recently brought on the head of production for the Ford GT, Dodge Viper, and half a dozen other high end cars to head up their manufacturing. First cars go out the door this December; mine should be late next summer. Can't wait!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gad_zuki! (70830)
      Im cheering for some light rail in America. Seriously, Im sick of the solution being ANYTHING but building some decent public trans. Yes, Im aware that the US is a large place, but the US is a country of cities and there's no need to connect them. So why dont we have intra-city light rail? Well, we do but car ownership kills it anywhere there might be parking.

      Perhaps its time to start putting train and trollies back into our cities.
      • by MightyYar (622222)
        Rail only makes sense in densely populated areas. I live in NYC, and it makes a lot of sense here - and thankfully they aren't afraid to spend billions where they need to.

        But even here, it is an expensive way to move people. Fares are subsidized, and it still takes me 1/2 hour to go about 2 miles across town (since I have to walk or take a slow crosstown bus to the station).

        Since much of the population lives in suburbia, there is no way you could create rail serving that part of the population in anything a
      • Not all cities are the same. My mothers house is a 15 minute DRIVE to the store. The Planned communities around here mean up to 5 miles with no commercial space. You gonna run light rail to each house? Not so light... The light rail that is in Houston is eliminating cars on the road, but only by hitting them.
        • The Planned communities around here mean up to 5 miles with no commercial space.
          Subdivisions and planned communities are precisely the problem. The energy markets of the future will not be kind to people who chose that lifestyle. "Cheap gas" is not a sustainable energy policy.
      • by FooAtWFU (699187)
        You know, there's some light rail just south of me in San Jose. I've tried it and I wasn't impressed. You need to build most of the infrastructure of a heavy rail system, you can't take the things on the roads, the things are short and underused and expensive.

        San Francisco, to the north, has these little things called "streetcars" (I'm on one now) that seem to work a lot better (they can actually share the road with cars when they need to without big ugly railroad crossings in the way, or you can run them

        • rail (Score:3, Insightful)

          by loshwomp (468955)

          You know, there's some light rail just south of me in San Jose. I've tried it and I wasn't impressed.
          You're making the classic mistake of basing your judgment on the poor rail implementations we have here in the states. If you want to make a fair evaluation of rail, visit a country where it's done well.
    • What do ya think you will do with that car? This is the question I have for most of these exotic vehicles.

      Based on their own numbers you get a 120 mile distance to dead so you wouldn't want to get more than forty or fifty miles afrom home and that is going to be with the climate control off. From their webpage it looks like you can get a hybrid drive as an option but they don't have any details as to how much cargo space you sacrifice for the gas engine/generator.

      Do the math. A basic el cheapo econobox w
      • Re:Go Aptera! - NOT (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rei (128717) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @08:10PM (#23270058) Homepage
        [quote]What do ya think you will do with that car? This is the question I have for most of these exotic vehicles.[/quote]

        Commite, shop, and all of the stuff I normally do with a car except for long trips**. Duh. :)

        [quote]Based on their own numbers you get a 120 mile distance to dead so you wouldn't want to get more than forty or fifty miles afrom home[/quote]

        Depends on whether there's merely a normal household power socket on the other end, but let's go with that. So?

        [quote]and that is going to be with the climate control off.[/quote]

        Small car, efficient heat pump, solar-powered climate assist. Sure, it'll impact range, but probably not as much as you're picturing. Also, there's no initial cooling load, as it has a solar-powered vent fan that keeps the car just above ambient temperature when you're not in it and it's out in the sun.

        [quoteFrom their webpage it looks like you can get a hybrid drive as an option but they don't have any details as to how much cargo space you sacrifice for the gas engine/generator.[/quote]

        None. The generator displaces 2/3rds of the batteries; it has a shorter electric range, but the 5-gallon gas tank gives it a range of 600-700 miles.

        The Aptera has 15.9 cubic feet of cargo space.

        [quote]Lets run the numbers. Assume a commute that runs 35 miles, 70 both ways. On a good econobox you can get 35mpg so it works out to two gallons per day or assuming gas hits $5/gal you pay $10/day for gas. Average of about twenty work days per month and ya get $200 for gas to commute. Now compute the difference in the monthly note for the econobox and the savings on the light bill from not plugging in every night and gulping down a few KWH (remember it takes more than 10KWH to charge a 10KWH battery) and it's probably a wash. If your commute is less the economics get worse pretty fast.[/quote]

        I find it funny that you said "let's run the numbers" and then didn't actually run the numbers. That's pretty amusing. :) Let's *actually* run the numbers.

        Econobox: $13k, +$2k in taxes, -0k deductions.
        Aptera: $27k, +3k in taxes, and let's assume that deductions roughly cancel out taxes (could be a lot more, but let's be pessimistic).

        Price difference: $14k

        $10/day = $3650/year
        Aptera goes 120mi on 10kWh = 80Wh/mi (0.08kWh/mi). Charging is usually ~93% efficient, but let's be pessimstic and say that it raises power consumption to 0.09kWh/mi. I pay $0.05/kWh, but the average in the US is more like $0.10/kWh, so let's go with that. That's 4/5th of a cent per mile. * 70 miles, * 365.24 days, that's $230/year.
        Net savings: $3420/year. Time to pay off the difference: 4 years.

        See what happens when you *actually* do the math? Electricity is dirt cheap, and the Aptera uses very little of it.

        There's also maintenance, but when you consider that a good lithium phosphate pack should last the life of the car, and even if you had to replace it, by the time you had to replace it, LiP should cost under $0.20/kWh, you're only looking at a couple thousand dollars thanks to the small pack size (thanks to the efficiency). I.e., it'd cost far less than you save by eliminating 90% of the moving parts in the drivetrain compared to a normal gasoline car. It doesn't even have a transmission, let alone all of the breakable parts of an ICE. So the payback time is even sooner.
        • by jmorris42 (1458) *
          I assumed anyone at slashdot could take the math the rest of the way and apply it to their situation but apparently you need some help with yer figuring.

          Lets use your figure of $15K for an econobox. We will leave out interest (hell, everybody is doing zero interest financing every other week anyway....) to keep the numbers simple. Besides, it doesn't make much difference because it hits both sides about equally. And we are ignoring insurance, and not putting numbers on maintaince, etc.

          So lets do the 60 m
          • by Rei (128717)
            So lets do the 60 month deal and pay $250/month plus $200 a month for gas. Total cost is $450/month to commute in an econobox.On a 48 month note the math gets worse

            Yes, you're right -- in your custom-made scenario designed to hurt the Aptera (2/3rds the gasoline consumption as in your previous example), the payback period is longer than four years, and closer to five. *ooooh*. What a terrifyingly long period to wait for payback. And this assumes that there are no significant tax breaks for the Aptera. F
            • Does that tax credit apply to any electric vehicle? I'm taking delivery of a Tesla Roadster in '09, and was interested if I could use said tax credit.
              • by Rei (128717)
                Getting a roadster, huh? That should be a lot of fun. :)

                The bill has passed the house and is awaiting a Senate version to go through; it's stalled there, and it's possible it may take until next year. The house-passed version only applies to PHEVs; it requires an additional "significant" source of power in addition to batteries (whether a car with a small solar panel on the roof, like an Aptera Typ-1e, would qualify is up in the air). However, there is a movement to try and get it expanded to cover pure
          • Re:Math (Score:5, Interesting)

            by tknd (979052) on Friday May 02, 2008 @02:01AM (#23271876)

            I assumed anyone at slashdot could take the math the rest of the way and apply it to their situation but apparently you need some help with yer figuring.

            Clearly you're not in finance. All of these mathematical calculations are wrong in the face of finance. By finance I'm not talking the terms banks and lenders throw around as a verb, I'm talking about the finance department of any company to compute the feasibility of a project or investment. For example everyone likes to use the "pay back period" as a financially sound way to compare two projects when it ignores a critical factor: the time value of money.

            So now you claim the original post not to "take the math the rest of the way" when you've clearly got some issues in your math. To settle this, I'll do a decent job in taking the math all the way by giving you a fairly sound financial computation on net present value. I'm no finance person, but I've been in accounting and finance classes to know that your calculations are wrong and there are better ways. So since you asked, here is your math problem solved correctly.

            There are two common ways to compare to streams of cash flows financially: internal rate of return, and net present value. The easier one to understand (and also with fewer math issues) is net present value. All net present value is is taking a stream of cash flows and calculating their values in dollars at the current point in time. As you know, a dollar today is not worth the same amount as a dollar next year due to inflation and other things. Net present value accounts for this by introducing the risk free interest rate into the equation so that you can get two sums of money to compare at a single point in time.

            Before I go further, I need to say that dividing the fixed investment cost and time zero (today) over the lifetime of the investment is wrong for time value of money reasons. That is when you buy a car in pure cash today, you cannot receive the benefit of reinvesting that cash because it is gone! What you can do is say you spent X dollars at time zero and if at the end of the useful life, you sell the asset, then you will receive some money back but quite a bit less due to depreciation and market value at the point of sale.

            In order to compute the net present value, all you have to do is take the present value of each year or month's cash flow and compute the present value of that item. So for example let's assume the risk free rate is 2.5% and because we don't care about the rate of return (this is not really an investment to make money, but to save money and fill a need), all we care about is the risk free rate. So today a dollar is worth $1. Next year the same dollar invested today will be worth $1 * (1.025 ^ 1) = $1.025. (You can also think in the other direction and say that a dollar in the future by one year is worth $1 / (1.025 ^ 1) ~ $0.97561 today.) As you might guess, a dollar invested today will be worth $1 * (1.025 ^ 2) = $1.050625. If we keep doing this for 5 years, the factors for each year are:

            1 year: 1.025
            2 years: 1.050625
            3 years: 1.076890625
            4 years: 1.103812890625
            5 years: 1.131408212890625

            So let's do the real financial math to compare costs. In order to do this, we need to compute how our cash will flow for each investment. I will reduce the calculations to years since it is easier to show, but you could also do the calculations compounded by month if you wish by dividing the interest rate by 12 and recomputing the multipliers on a monthly basis (or use Excel's net present value function hint hint). We will also assume that both cars depreciate at a rate of 20% a year so in 5 years, they will be worth (1 - 0.20) ^ 5 = 32.768% of their initial value and we will find a buyer that is willing to pay that exact value for the asset at the end of the year. That means after 5 years we will sell the econobox at $4,915 (rounding off 20 cents) and the Aptera at $8,683 (rounding off 52 cent

        • There's also maintenance, but when you consider that a good lithium phosphate pack should last the life of the car, and even if you had to replace it, by the time you had to replace it, LiP should cost under $0.20/kWh

          I'm generally supportive of the idea, but this bit jumped out as being potentially "not so great"

          I could be completely wrong here, but apart from the OLPC, LiP cells have never entered into commercial use, and not very much is known about their longetivity, or how well the economics of scale will apply to their production if/when they become popular.

          Assuming that LiP cells share the same time durability as "traditional" LiCoO2 cells, 24 months seems like a better timeframe.

          Similarly, although potentially n

          • by Rei (128717)
            I could be completely wrong here, but apart from the OLPC, LiP cells have never entered into commercial use, and not very much is known about their longetivity, or how well the economics of scale will apply to their production if/when they become popular.

            LiP cells have entered wide use in power tools, and are taking increasing roles in RC airplanes, RC helicopters, robotics, and other tasks. A BEV will stress the cells a lot less than any of the above things. Automotive uses for LiP are relatively new --
        • by FooAtWFU (699187)

          Net savings: $3420/year. Time to pay off the difference: 4 years.

          Hold up, hold up! You forgot to pay opportunity cost. In more concrete terms: you still need to pay interest in that $14,000 difference, one way or another (through a loan, or through investing/saving less). That's going to be, oh, say, at 9% interest (paid or lost), $1260/yr, for a net savings of just $2160/yr, or 6.4 years to pay back the difference.

          And maybe you can get better interest rates than that, maybe not. Maybe you have better things to do with your credit, maybe not. Either way the numbers don

          • by scotch (102596)
            Who the hell pays 9% interest on an auto loan? People that should be taking the bus, that's who.
      • Good points, and don't forget the upcoming turbodiesel hybrid/econoboxes with ~50 mpg figures!
        • by MightyYar (622222)
          Using diesel will gain you a bit of efficiency, but remember that diesel is a denser fuel which takes more crude to produce. And already, there is trouble with the refiners trying to keep up with demand. So diesel costs more than gasoline (16% currently), and probably will in the long term - especially as cars begin to use diesel for the useless "MPG" marketing comparison.

          Obviously, there is some benefit to using diesel or the truckers wouldn't all be running around with it - but it's not as big a jump as t
        • by Gordonjcp (186804)
          Good points, and don't forget the upcoming turbodiesel hybrid/econoboxes with ~50 mpg figures!

          Why would you ruin the efficiency of a perfectly good diesel by hauling around an electric motor and batteries?
          Over here in the UK and Europe we've had 50mpg diesels for decades. Even a fairly large car like a VW Passat (or the Skoda or Seat variations) can easily get over 45mpg in day-to-day running.

          If you want *really* efficient, look at the VW Lupo 3l, with its 1.2l diesel giving nearly 95mpg.
      • by Rei (128717)
        Blah, forgot to use italics tags rather than [quote]s. Also, forgot to fill out my "**":

        ** -- Actually, if they do offer more charging options, or if I can get that aftermarket, I *may well* take it on long trips. We already have infrastructure: RV parks, which can usually be found every 20-50 miles, and are found in even the most remote locations. Sure, fast chargers would be better (lithium phosphate batteries can take a charge in 5-10 minutes if sufficiently cooled, if needed), but RV parks should be
    • by tknd (979052)

      Someone I used to work with landed a job with Aptera. We keep pestering him to drive the prototype down here for lunch.

      From some of the pictures he sent us, the area they work in looks pretty cool too. Like your average tech startup company, except they have prototype parts and equipment lying around instead of just desks and computers.

      • by Rei (128717)
        Heh, neat :)

        The company just recently posted a video tour of their current production facility [youtube.com] (they're in the process of moving to one ten times as big for full-scale production). It's pretty neat, and gives a good idea of just how far they've come, from Steve Fambro building a little wooden car in his garage (it's now a plant holder), to an empty steel frame they built to make sure that the suspension system would work (it's now a wall decoration), to the Mk0 and its spartan interior, to the ever-impress
  • 100 MPG is highly deceptive when the vehicle is a plug-in hybrid. Much of the power would not come from the fuel, so 100 MPG would only be applicable on short trips. Unless that number does in fact come from non-plug-in testing. I mean sure it is still more practical than an all electric car, as the internal combustion engine eliminates the range limit, but what about the use of Lithium Ion batteries? Is that safe? My understanding is that these batteries can explode under certain circumstances. Might not a
    • by Rei (128717)
      I think the X-Prize has standards for how to calculate MPG when part of the energy comes from electricity.

      The gasoline-only Loremo is 100mpg, although it's so small you expect to see clowns stepping out of it. The Aptera Typ-1h gets 130mpg in charge sustaining mode (i.e., *after* its battery pack has been drained).

      But I agree with you -- giving MPG numbers for PHEVs is an unfair approach. You really need two numbers: all electric range, then MPG in charge-sustaining mode.

      • Yes, they count total carbon footprint in their prize. It isn't just 100 MPG, but under a certain emissions (counting emissions from producing electricity for an electric car) AND the fastest to win the race.
  • Wired had a really great article on some of the entrants a few months back.
    http://www.wired.com/cars/futuretransport/magazine/16-01/ff_100mpg [wired.com]
  • Why? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Enahs (1606) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @08:28PM (#23270180) Journal
    There are decades of high-mileage cars. You just have to ask Exxon, Shell, etc. pretty please for all the plans they bought to keep 'em off the market. :->

    Seriously, I remember reading about several such contenders in magazines such as, well, Popular Mechanics, and they never materialize.

    In fact, what's with mileage going DOWN over the last 15 years? Why do I have to buy a hybrid to get a 35MPG Altima, when I owned a 6-cylinder '95 Intrepid with a 3.5L V6 just a few years ago that got a measly 35MPG when I drove with a lead foot? Who do they think they're fooling?

    People, you may be mad about the price of gas, but you should be a lot madder.
    • by tjstork (137384) <todd@bandrowsky.gmail@com> on Thursday May 01, 2008 @08:58PM (#23270320) Homepage Journal

      In fact, what's with mileage going DOWN over the last 15 years?

      Look at the horsepower. Given the same engine size and roughly the same fuel, for the most part,additional efficiency has been applied to produce more horsepower to the engine. In the 1980s and even into the 1990s, fuel efficient cars were so utterly anemic that the best thing to do to get any kind of performance would be to buy a truck or a 1970s muscle car.

      No more.

      Nowadays, you've got 4 cylinder engines supercharged up to 300hp, and GM's new V6 in the Caddy CTS is a naturally aspirated 6 that makes the same horsepower as the V8. If you want a V8, you are usually talking at least 350 hp to start, going all the way up to 500 or even close to 600 hp once you put a blower on it.

      Just look at the 0-60 times. First 7 seconds was good for a stock car, then 6, and now mid 5's are common. A supercar gets you to the speed limit in 3 seconds.

      Speed sells. People like to go fast and accelerate quickly, and that is what car makers made.

      Most people aren't mad about the price of gasoline, except in a bitter sense, because they intuitively know that Detroit didn't victimize them - 35mpg cars have been there all along, and they know it wasn't some crazy oil conspiracy. Rather, they know it was their own dumb fault for buying a gas guzzling vehicle when we should have learned having been burnt by this first in 1973, then 1979, and certainly we would be burned again.

      The thing is, yeah, the price of gas sucks. But everyone knows that the pandering by all of the candidates is not the real solution. I mean, sure , idiots can rise up like Obama blaming the "oil companies", or almost as nearly as bad, McCain trying to get the gas tax repealed, but, if you ask most people if they would rather have just drilled the shit out of the country to get every last drop of oil, turned Colorado into looking like the moon in order to get all the shale, many, shockingly, (and I would almost say foolishly) would rather preserve the environment. I guarantee you, if you really wanted to lower the price of fuel, you could put in the right environmental waivers and tax breaks, blow off global warming, and we'd be back to about $2/gallon gasoline within 3 years.

      Really, most Americans intuitively know that they need to get out of their low mileage vehicles, and get higher mileage vehicles, if they are so pissed off about fuel. For some, its the environment and concerns over global warming. For some, cars aren't mystical beautiful things, just transportation and they'll consider the train. For some, its a racial hatred of arabs and a political hatred of chavez. So really, no matter how you arrive at it, a bit of conservation either saves the planet, screws the arabs, and saves some money, so, really, it's all good.

      This isn't stuff we didn't know about before, but we know that now is the time to get on it.
  • Firefly Energy's new advanced Lead-acid battery [fireflyenergy.com] is suitable for use in Hybrids. Energy capacity of NiMH, without the nickel and a fraction of the lead. The key innovation is replacing the lead plates with carbon foam.

    As neat as hybrid/electric cars are, they don't do much to solve the energy dilema, because there are already hundreds of millions of hydrocarbon burners on the road today - 200+ million in the United States alone. Tom Kasmer's Hydristor [hydristor.com] offers an intriguing potential to retrofit the entire fl
    • by Rei (128717)
      Firefly batteries have nice power density, but their energy density is still pretty bad. Lead-acid is really just obsolete tech.
  • by gz718 (586910)
    Sadly 40% of all trips made by car are less that 2 miles, i.e. 10mins by bike. So really all this money, time, energy, and man power is put towards solving only 60% of the problem.

    Anyways, go to google maps, right-click on where you live and select "Directions from here" then right-click on where you work and select "Directions to here". If the result is less than 5mi, you should be biking to work.

    Help the planet, help the country, help yourself, ride a bike.

    http://www.bikeleague.org/resources/why/environme [bikeleague.org]
    • by jonwil (467024)
      A few problems:
      1.Where do you put the bike when you get to work. Most office buildings just dont have anywhere secure to lock a bike so it wont get stolen (in some cases people just lock their bikes in places that aren't designated as bike storage and then have them removed by security or the like)
      2.Its not going to look very professional if you turn up to work after having just done physical excercise, all sweaty and etc. The last place I worked provided showers to take care of that but most workplaces don
    • by clarkcox3 (194009)
      Hell, if the results are less than 15 miles, you should be biking to work.
    • for distances over 15km. to work...

      http://www.twike.com/ [twike.com]

      still get your exercise, but still get to work.
  • Among the 100-mpg vehicles that Detroit (and Japan) have claimed impossible to build comes a hybrid designed by a class of inner-city high school students in West Philadelphia

    Detroit and Japan never said it was impossible to build these sorts of cars. They just said it was impossible to build these cars for 250k. Seriously, there's no secret conspiracy between Detroit and Japan and the oil companies. If Ford or GM or Toyota could invent a car that ran on air (ala Ayn Rand's Gault-mobile), then, they woul
    • by Dutch Gun (899105)

      Detroit and Japan never said it was impossible to build these sorts of cars. They just said it was impossible to build these cars for 250k. Seriously, there's no secret conspiracy between Detroit and Japan and the oil companies. If Ford or GM or Toyota could invent a car that ran on air (ala Ayn Rand's Gault-mobile), then, they would invent. Every motor company has researched just about every sort of way you can put people from point A to point B in a car... Chrysler has worked on gas turbine engines... Japan has gone crazy with turbo and superchargers and Mazda has the rotary engine, and GM tried diesel once and even once upon a time Ford actually looked at putting a small nuclear reactor in a car. It just turns out that, that hydrogen carbon bond is a pretty good way of storing chemical energy, and the most efficient way of carrying those bonds is in something like, well, a gasoline.

      Sheesh, no crazy conspiracies? No secret back-room deals of quashed super-technologies? You're no fun all all, with your common sense and logic...

  • I'm getting tired of hybrid vehicles that advertise massive "MPG" numbers. Of course they're discounting the energy that went into charging the batteries. If you take an entire trip using only the electric motor, you could claim infinite MPG but it would be meaningless.

    It would be very helpful to be able to rate cars on a standard efficiency scale regardless of how they happen to be storing and consuming energy. Miles per dollar would be a start, but the ratings would always be changing with the fluctuation
    • by Rei (128717)
      It's very easy: you just need two numbers:

        * All-electric range in a standard driving cycle, in miles
        * MPG in charge sustaining mode in a standard driving cycle

      That's it. Let me list a couple (rough numbers, from memory):

      Aptera Typ-1e: 120mi, N/A
      Mitsubishi MiEV: 120mi, N/A
      Aptera Typ-1h: 40mi, 130mpg
      Chevrolet Volt: 40mi, 50mpg
      Regular Prius: 0mi, 45mpg
      Plug-in Prius: 18 mi, 50mpg

      Makes for easy comparisons, no?
  • If you'd like more info on the Automotive X Prize, check out these:

    Table comparing 15 competitors side-by-side [xprizecars.com]
    Summary of the (draft) rules [xprizecars.com]
    Podcast focusing on interviews with the teams [podomatic.com]
  • I quote: Boeing engineers will help the West Philly kids with body modifications

    No, really - go check it out. I didn't make this up.

    Caaaaaaaafeine!

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