The lone Finnish entry in the Progressive Automotive X Prize is the Electric Raceabout, which made its virtual debut two years ago. When the actual car was unveiled in Helsinki last month, we got our first glimpse of the E-RA on the track. The car is in Michigan now as part of the X-Prize's Shakedown Stage, and team leader and chief engineer Sami Ruotsalainen told AutoblogGreen that his group's car has it a bit harder than others fighting for a piece of that $10 million prize purse.
Like other teams, the "moose test" proved a bit difficult for the E-RA. The car needed about 20 tries to successfully pass the test designed to show that the car is capable of avoiding accidents. The problem stemmed from the team's decision to use winter tires, which have lower rolling resistance, but got very soft and didn't perform as well as desired during the test Wednesday. Today the car will be subjected to the durability test, which will require the car to go 40 miles on the road. This one shouldn't be a problem, given that the team has put around 300 miles on the car so far, including one drive that drained the battery after going around 120 miles.
The Finns have a partner in Southern Illinois University Carbondale. This is where the car will be stored after the Shakedown Stage until the next X-Prize event in June. Some of the team will go home to Finland, others will go to SIU and work to improve the car. The main goal? Increase efficiency. The car right now is heavy and the team needs to tweak a few things to get to 100 miles per gallon equivalent. They are confident they can reach the target, but Ruotsalainen explained that the electric cars in the race really need to hit around 114-116 mpge to pass the X-Prize's strict CO2 emissions limits. Since the X-Prize is basing an electric vehicle's CO2 emissions on the expected electricity generation mix of the U.S. in 2014 – a mix that will be quite coal-heavy – just reaching 100 mpge with the E-RA will result in emissions over the limit, Ruotsalainen said. While this gives the E-RA team a tougher challenge, Ruotsalainen understands why the rule is important. "It doesn't help if we produce EVs it we don't produce clean electricity," he said.