ZAP Alias Among 6 Electric Finalists Remaining in X PRIZE
The ZAP Alias, the most production-looking and production-ready electric car competing in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE, has survived in a competitive, international field of 115 teams and 136 vehicles down to the final six electric vehicles remaining in the competition. Now it moves onto dynamometer testing at Argonne National Labs with the remaining 9 vehicles to validate the final efficiency numbers and declare a winner.
The ZAP Alias is in the most competitive class of the X PRIZE, the Alternative Side-by-Side category with two-seats in a side-by-side configuration. Other classes are Tandem seating for two and Mainstream for four. From the $10 Million purse contributed by Progressive Insurance, the two Alternative Classes are competing for $2.5 million each with the Mainstream Class for $5 million. Monotracer and Edison2, each with two vehicles, are the last teams in their classes, while the 5-team Alternative Side-by-Side Class is a dogfight to the finish.
One of the most dramatic moments of the X PRIZE was a 100 MPGe “race” that Edison2 team leader Oliver Kuttner dubbed “The Race of the Century.” A time trial with five futuristic cars was held at Michigan International Speedway on Tuesday, July 27, 2010 as a tie-breaker in case more than one finished over 100+ MPG or energy equivalent. Competitors included our own ZAP Alias, the well-known Aptera 2e, the quirky, slippery Wave II from North Carolina, the powerful, expensive RaceAbout from Finland, and the tiny, minimalist TW4XP from Germany.
ZAP’s car was driven by Chuck Turney, our master automotive builder who led the ZAP Alias build team from the beginning. Turney stepped in to drive without skipping a beat when team driver and Indy 500 winner Al Unser Jr. left to officiate an Indy Racing League event, a prior business obligation for which he regretted having to leave. An automotive genius who was integral to the success of the Alias, Chuck was cool and smooth in the driver’s seat as the Alias sailed effortlessly through efficiency, range and dynamic safety testing, passing each of the Consumer Reports safety tests on his very first attempt. Chuck was clearly one of the smoothest drivers in the emergency lane change and acceleration test and appeared to post the best 60 to 0 MPH braking test. Turney’s talent is the pride of ZAP’s engineering and we are all in his debt.
The 100-mile, 50-lap “race” was non-elimination and included a challenging serpentine chicane on the backstretch to simulate real-world driving. The best time while achieving the 100 MPG or equivalent efficiency that passed validation in laboratory testing would be declared the winner. Teams were required to keep their speeds at 70 MPH or below and 45 MPH or above throughout the course, except through the chicane where cars passed through at speeds of 30-35 MPH and had to accelerate up to 45 MPH within five seconds after exiting. The circuitous chicane extended the distance of the course and taxed the cars far more than expected.
The powerful Finnish team RaceAbout had a high degree of confidence going into the event with its expensive, 400-horsepower EV and was the odds-on favorite by some to win the competition with 12 team members calculating every move of their vehicle. The Alias, with super smooth Chuck at the wheel, pushed the pace and may have caused the Finns to exceed the 70 MPH speed limit twice during the event, earning penalties which ultimately cost them victory. The second favorite Aptera with its multi-million dollar 3-wheeler, a sophisticated, lightweight and aerodynamic design that began engineering in 2007, ran into technical problems on the first lap due to what appeared to be overcharging and regenerative braking issues, and completed just 18 laps before stopping. The aerodynamic, odd-shaped Wave II was 800 pounds lighter, and had sophisticated wind tunnel testing, which meant that the Alias was less efficient and needed to have luck, skill and strategy to win this race. The lightweight, minimalist TW4XP 3-wheeler ran conservatively to save energy, while in this all or nothing tie breaker event, the ZAP team went all out for the win. All of the other four teams received max and minimum speed penalties while the Alias with super-smooth Chuck behind the wheel roared on for 47 laps without any penalties at all.
Several days before the race and up late each night, Gary and Prash calculated and recalculated speeds and times. We knew we would need skill, luck and ultra performance from the Alias. We were not the most powerful, nor the lightest, nor the most aerodynamic, so the laws of physics and simple math were not on our side. Carlo watched the action from his computer in Colorado, Sam had the lap times, while Dave and Alex counted down the laps. The only radio contact with Chuck was race-side through Ben. Early on the team mathematically surmised that the RaceAbout had over-sped the course. Indeed, following the race we learned they were penalized twice for going over 70 MPH.
The laps continued to tick down.
For much of the race the Alias was locked with the Wave II trading leads and then taking the lead towards the end. Up until that point, the Alias was spectacular throughout the X PRIZE, making it to the final stage against all odds. Confidence was high, but again, math was not on our side.
As others have pointed out, it is a reality that the hyper-efficient, lightweight Wave II from Li-Ion Motors most likely would not have been in the finals without ZAP’s engineers lending them a hand and parts during the Shakedown. Some have said that it was wrong and a crazy thing to do. In this dog-eat-dog world it has often been pointed out by Progressive Insurance and the X PRIZE that sportsmanship rose high during the competition. At the X PRIZE leadership seminar it was pointed out that only through cooperation would these cars of the future really have a chance of competing against the current multi billion-dollar industry that represents the status quo. The reality was that ZAP had the part that another team desperately needed, and a decision was made to give it to them. Later, the Li-Ion Team helped another team that was struggling.
Who knows how things would be different if that decision had not been made? But who knows where our auto industry would have been if they truly met the goals of the original the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles program which was suppose to cooperatively share technology and produce high mileage cars years ago? Or what happened to real cooperation on fuel cell technology? Would the Japanese have crushed us with hybrid technology that was originally invented in the USA? Would billion dollar government-sponsored programs like the fuel cell initiative, the Freedom Car program, and the electric car mandate of the 1990’s have died? Would the foreign car companies have out-produced and out-sold US companies? Would we have had to give them tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to bail them out? Who knows what the final outcome will be here, or who will recognize what really happened… But those who participated in this contest and those who were in the thick of it all know, what the ZAP team is made of, what they accomplished and what they did.
As the Alias went for the win, ZAP could also not have anticipated that the challenging course would consume more energy than earlier calculated, and by keeping up with Wave II, that was more aerodynamic and 800 pounds lighter, apparently all it took was one of the Alias’ 110 lithium battery cells going so slightly out of balance on the 48th lap, our automatic safety systems went into effect, and the Alias started losing power when the controller reacted and the overworked battery pack sent a low-voltage signal for cutoff. The vehicle slowed and came to a stop just 2 laps short of its goal. In a gallant effort the team tried to re-boot and reprogram the system and unlock a small reserve of power, but time eroded and ran out.
Ironically our driver was so smooth with no penalties and the ZAP Alias performed so well, the math says we most likely would have won by going slower and conserving energy, and not racing the Wave II for the lead, but we couldn’t have known for sure at the time without a crystal ball, more engineering time, or simply a few more personnel on-site. The two most committed, serious teams RaceAbout and Aptera had many more engineers present throughout the competition. ZAP spent perhaps the least amount of capital of all the finalists, and was simultaneously engineering and constructing a vehicle for the USPS as well as a new lithium powered electric truck and an electric taxi for a venture in China, all at the exact same time as the X PRIZE events. Throughout ZAP’s Alias development, management at ZAP had a difficult time supporting a three-wheeled car. And progress happened through the will and persistence of a dedicated few.
After crunching the numbers, the technicians concluded that the Wave II, which had only one low-speed violation, was named the winner of the potential tiebreaker over RaceAbout with two over-speed penalties. Wave II was declared the winner by an incredible 0.129 second margin! Both teams and all the rest should be congratulated for such an exciting finish and for their perseverance in this “Race of the Century.” Now the Alias remains in the competition with a wild card chance among the 7 teams remaining going onto the validation phase at Argonne National Labs. The ultimate winners will be named in Washington D.C. on September 16.
ZAP is extremely proud of how the team pulled together with the support of our suppliers, (especially Carlo!) sponsors, employees, investors, family and friends. We need to thank the ZAP Alias Team for the X PRIZE: Al, Chuck, Prash, Dave, Gary, Joe, Aubre, Frederic, Ben, Brandon, Alex and others, including our fellow employees, volunteers including daughters, sons, brothers, and wives, many who have worked crazy 16-hour days in 95 degree temperatures for 7 days a week, some nights ’til 2 in the morning, some waking up at 4 am. We need to thank those who used their own finances and their own credit cards to float the expenses of this competition. Even the willingness of the team to share an old house without air conditioning instead of a hotel to save on cost. The Alias earned respect and admiration from competitors and officials alike, including the third-party recognition of the X PRIZE, Consumer Reports, and the Department of Energy. Our stylish, innovative, and practical three-wheeler outperformed many of the best three- and four-wheeled cars in the world, so we are extremely delighted with its performance. The Alias is now among an elite group of seven teams to survive the grueling three-year competition. Thank you to everyone for your support, including all our fans on Facebook and Twitter. And a special thanks to Al Unser Jr. and family for their support, helping to bring much more attention to the competition and providing a wealth of knowledge and experience to our team.
All the teams involved in the competition deserve a huge amount of credit for having the audacity to believe in and achieve 100+ MPGe automobiles. One of the X PRIZE officials pointed out that the upcoming Nissan Leaf would not have been able to complete tests like this. Thanks to the event organizers and sponsors for executing the difficult challenge and mission of a 100 MPGe vehicle competition, including Dr. Peter Diamandis, Julie Zona, Bethann Budenbaum and countless others. The Tech Team, led by Steve Wesoloski, ran a tough but fair competition. Congratulations to all and good luck in the future.
ZAP joined the X PRIZE in the middle of its preparations for finalizing the design of the production Alias. While the competition outlined criteria for production-ready cars over the next few years, ZAP’s goal is to go into production soon after the competition is over, which at this point we are projecting to be by 2011. For these reasons, it seems that the Alias matched the spirit of the competition more than it did the minimal rules that helped the other four cars. The Alias is heavier because it was designed with more safety equipment than the other cars, including a NASCAR-style chassis and safety cage. The competition vehicle uses double reinforced door panels to meet side impact standards. Some of the vehicles only had one seat or extremely hard, lightweight seats while the ZAP Alias used standard, low-cost, off-the-shelf, well-padded and comfortable automotive seats. The Alias also had off-the-shelf wheels, steering, braking, real automotive front and rear glass, defrosters and standard size tires and wheels. It was the combined solid engineering, experience and vision of the ZAP team members that allowed this low budgeted race vehicle to compete with the best.
Due to the “I want one” look, the Alias is less aerodynamic and never had the sophisticated and expensive wind tunnel testing of the other cars designed solely for the competition. Instead it used an aggressive, futuristic styling that would be attractive to consumers yet still surpasses the aerodynamics of most conventional cars. The ZAP Alias was designed to win in the marketplace, not necessarily just win the X PRIZE like the majority of all other vehicles.
It was believed that our goals of a production-ready, low-cost vehicle with good technology was a match for the X PRIZE rules, and so with little support, a 2-person, part-time team of Gary and Frederic filled out the original paperwork to enter and pass the early technical reviews. The Alias was created out of air, even when we were told that three wheel cars didn’t make sense and didn’t have a market. Two different senior management groups would not financially back the project. Even without any prior third-party analysis, or the funding or dedicated single focus of most of the other teams, the Alias still achieved an impressive 121.8 MPGe efficiency from the on-track testing, and had the least problems with the performance safety requirements. It also appears that it was the least expensively built race vehicle by several multiples, all keeping with the goal of a true production-ready car to ultimately prove through sales that it could be built affordably even in modest volumes, at the currently projected retail price of $35,000.
For these reasons we would argue that the Alias is the best all-around car competing in the X PRIZE, which has been affirmed time and time again by third-parties, and by you, our fans. Thank you for voting the Alias as the ‘Most Stylish’ car on the X PRIZE website, which is now up for ‘Most Practical’ through August 16. Vote today at http://progressiveautoxprize.org. Don’t forget, you can also reserve a ZAP Alias today on ZAP’s website, http://www.zapworld.com. And look to see the ZAP Alias in Washington D.C. next month!
It remains to be seen whether history will look back on the X PRIZE’s 100 MPGe “Race of the Century” and remember it in the same terms of the Wright Brothers, Henry Ford, Charles Lindberg or Thomas Edison. One thing is for sure, for those who were there and watching on U Stream that day, 100 MPGe cars put on an unforgettable show and won over more believers. Perhaps it will represent, not a finale, but a new beginning, knowing that the technology for 100 MPGe cars is possible. Perhaps this is the beginning of the real race – getting these 100 MPGe vehicles into production. ZAP is now proposing the formation of a new alliance, an alliance of these fuel exciting teams and vehicles to assist each other in creating these quantum leap vehicles. Join us.