Blog: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Kelli B. Kavanaugh is Model D's development news editor and writes a weekly column, Green Space, for metromode. In light of the North American International Auto Show, her blog will focus on the the automotive industry. But she is liable to write about any environmental issue that comes to mind.

Post No. 2

Any initiative of any kind would give their left hand to land a cover story in Wired the very month it makes its formal public debut. But that's exactly what's going on with the Auto X Prize, featured in this month's issue.

But the Auto X Prize (AXP) has the type of back-story that lures media like mice to cheese. A (minimum) $10 million prize will be awarded a team that produces a vehicle that achieves 100 miles per gallon while emitting less than 200 grams of greenhouse gases per mile -- and has a business plan in place that demonstrates that 10,000 of the cars can be produced in a year. Any team that passes that threshold will then compete in a series of races throughout 2009 and 2010.

Funded by the X Prize Foundation, an organization with a history of big cash prizes for scientific innovation, the contest has lured more than 50 teams from seven countries. The X Prize Foundation was founded by Peter Diamandis, who was inspired by Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic (I didn't realize Lindy's Hop netted him a $25,000 prize!).

It's exciting to think of the inspired minds hard at work across the globe on this problem -- but it raises the question: Why is there not a 100 MPG car already? If a large manufacturer had put serious energy in this years ago, it would already be the norm.

AXP executive director Donald Foley sees the contest as one that has the potential to grasp the public's imagination, much the way that Lindbergh's flight once did. "It excited American people, the world," he says. "It spurred further innovations."

Further innovations in this case might mean that the letters MPG become relics of a silly, wasteful era in which humans came to depend on a finite resource.

One last thing: AXP has issued an RFP for cities interested in hosting one of the 10 on-road races. How cool -- and fitting -- would it be for Detroit to be one of them?

On Monday, I'll start in on the Auto Show itself.