The X Prize Foundation, best known for its competitions promoting space flights, is offering $10 million to the teams that can produce the most production-ready vehicles that get 100 miles per gallon or more.
The foundation was to announce the size of the purse and its sponsor, Progressive Casualty Insurance Co., on Thursday at the New York International Auto Show.
More than 60 teams from nine countries have signed up for the competition so far, including California electric carmakers Aptera Motors and Tesla Motors, German diesel carmaker Loremo and a team from Cornell University.
Teams will be able to sign up through mid-2008, when applicants will be narrowed to those who can prove they would build production-ready, consumer-friendly cars. Those that qualify will race their vehicles in cross-country races in 2009 and 2010 that will combine speed, distance, urban driving and overall performance.
The purse will be split between two categories: mainstream and alternative cars. Mainstream cars must carry four or more passengers and have climate control, an audio system and 10 cubic feet of cargo space. They also must have four or more wheels, hit 60 miles per hour in less than 12 seconds and have a minimum top speed of 100 miles per hour and a range of 200 miles.
Alternative vehicles will be required to carry two or more passengers and five cubic feet of cargo, have a top speed of at least 80 miles per hour and have a range of at least 100 miles.
"The environmentally friendly technologies created as a result of this competition will affect everyone who drives in ways we can't even imagine today," X Prize Chairman and Chief Executive Dr. Peter Diamandis said in a statement.
British Columbia-based Fuelvapor Technologies is among the competitors. Vice President Todd Pratt said the six-person company, which has funding from 47 shareholders, has spent more than two years developing its car.
The car has three wheels and two seats and has the aerodynamic design of a jet cockpit. It is gas powered but saves fuel through a proprietary technology that replaces traditional fuel injection. The car currently gets 92 miles per gallon, Pratt said, but the company thinks a hybrid version could achieve up to 400 miles per gallon.
"It's kind of like the X Prize was designed for us," Pratt said. "We're just six guys who are really passionate about doing something different."
The Santa Monica, Calif.-based X Prize Foundation, which was founded in 1995, gained fame in 2004 when it awarded $10 million to the first private vehicle to fly into space. The foundation since has launched a $10 million prize for rapid human genome sequencing and a $30 million prize for sending a robot to the moon.