The Progressive Automotive X-Prize is done messing around. During the Shakedown Stage in April, teams were allowed to retry some of the tests they failed and to tweak their cars in order to try and reach the benchmarks. That was the whole point of that part of the contest, to shake out some of the problems in the vehicles and make sure teams were ready for the Knockout Stage. This is the place where we are now, with 21 teams trying to jump the next hurdles at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, MI. Actually, make that 20 (probably). The Smart EVX team has failed ones of the tests, but have filed a protest with the judges.
Eric Cahill, the X-Prize's senior director, told AutoblogGreen that, if he were a betting man, he would predict that anywhere between 10 and 16 cars make it through the Knockout stage. What will be the big problems for the teams remaining in the competition? For combustion-engine-powered vehicles, hitting the emissions targets will be tough, he said. For electric vehicles, especially those in the mainstream class, the problem will be meeting the range goals. Of course, there could also be a "normal" problem, like an engine failure, that can happen in any other race.
If a team is eliminated, they will be told quickly so they can file a protest or pack up and go home. Cahill said he thinks most teams who fail a test will chose to protest but that, like with the Smart EVX, the judges "will have to make an internal decision" and will treat everyone fairly according to the rules.
Even though the Knockout Stage will probably eliminate a quarter or a half of the remaining teams, this isn't the highest hurdle for the contenders. The basic challenge now is to reach targets that are two-thirds as tough as the ones the teams need to meet next month during the Finals Stage. So, for example, if the final target is 100 miles per gallon equivalent, the level for the Knockout Stage is 67 mpge. The final emissions target of 200 grams of CO2 per mile is instead 300 grams to pass the Knockout stage.
These targets were designed by the Automotive X-Prize to mimic people's driving patterns as calculated in the 2000 National Household Transportation Survey (the AXP did not use a similar 2009 survey because there are questions about the validity of the newer document). On top of re-doing the Shakedown Stage tests, there are also new urban, city and highway drive cycles tests. These are series of laps around the track, defined as follows:
- Urban cycle: average of 22 miles per hour, three stops per lap, 8 laps (16 miles).
- City cycle: 29 mph average speed, 30 miles, two stops
- Highway cycle: 90 miles, one stop every five laps.