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Of 31 organizations trying to build a 100-mpg car, only one is a university: Cornell

The Automotive X Prize (AXP), which promises a multimillion-dollar award for the development of a practical, marketable 100-mpg car, has so far attracted 31 competitors, according to an announcement by the X Prize Foundation. The list includes a variety of small companies, one nonprofit organization and so far only one university: Cornell.

That could change. The foundation says that more than 300 additional teams have inquired about competing but have not yet signed a formal letter of intent or sent in the $1,000 registration fee.

The foundation will not declare the competition officially open until it has completed fundraising and announced the amount of the prize. Previously, the foundation awarded $10 million for the first private spacecraft to lift three people 100 kilometers (61 miles) above the Earth's surface, twice within two weeks. Another $10 million prize is being offered for a significant advance in DNA sequencing.

Perhaps other universities capable of competing simply haven't heard about the prize, says Kyle Rasmussen, a first-year Park Leadership Fellow in Cornell's Johnson School, who is developing the business plan for Cornell's team. Cornell got an early start, he says, because Phillip Bell, MBA '07, happens to frequent auto industry Web sites and came across "whispers" about the prize. This inspired him to contact several Cornell engineering faculty members, including Al George, the J.F. Carr Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and John Callister, the Harvey Kinzelberg Director of Enterprise Engineering, both in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

The Cornell AXP team now comprises more than 45 undergraduate and graduate students and a seven-member faculty board of directors, including George and Callister. Most team members are in the Johnson School or the College of Engineering. Rasmussen and Terence Davidovits, a graduate student in mechanical and aerospace engineering, are student team leaders.

So far, the team has attracted such sponsors as General Electric, the Triad Foundation, Lockheed Martin, First Manhattan, Popular Mechanics, Cornell's College of Engineering and Cornell's Systems Engineering Program.

To date, the most fuel-efficient vehicle made is an 80-mpg car with marginal performance, Callister says. The X Prize competition requires that the winning car be able to accelerate from 0 to 60 in 10 seconds, have a top speed of at least 100 mph and seat four people with reasonable cargo space. The competition also requires that teams create a workable business plan to bring the car to market. The goal is to create not just a "concept car," but a vehicle that people would actually buy.

Industry experts will scrutinize the competitors' plans, and qualified teams will race their vehicles in rigorous cross-country stages that combine speed, distance, urban driving and overall performance. Winning vehicles will not only will have to exceed 100 mpg but also must meet strict emissions caps as well as finish in the fastest time.

The X Prize Foundation is an educational nonprofit institute whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. Since awarding the $10 million Ansari X Prize for a private spacecraft, the foundation has expanded its mission to offer new prizes for breakthroughs in the areas of life improvement, equity of opportunity and sustainability.

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