AutoblogGreen exclusive Q&A with the Auto X Prize's Mark Goodstein

In 2004, the spaceplane SpaceShipOne won ten million dollars in the Ansari X Prize. Following the resounding technological and media success of that launch, other X Prizes were put into motion, including the Automotive X Prize. At the end of July, the Auto X Prize's website went live, but a lot of information on the Prize has not yet been released. Mark Goodstein is Executive Director of the Auto X Prize, and we tracked him down to get more details. Goodstein answered AutoblogGreen's questions about the Auto X Prize, the future of driving green and Goodstein hopes for a turbo charged dilithium crystal flux capacitor car.

ABG: There was a lot of media interest in the space X Prize, both the competition and the winner. With all the attention being paid to our addiction to oil and high gas prices, it seems almost impossible that there won't be a lot of attention focused on the Automotive X Prize. What sort of response have you been getting so far to the prize?

Goodstein: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Certainly, the intense media focus on oil addiction, global warming, high gas prices, conflict in the Middle East, alternative fuels, etc. is fertile ground for launching this prize. From an industry perspective, we have been able to engage people from all sides of this issue, including big auto, regulatory, political, design, environment, media, science, start-ups, etc. They have all been helpful and positive, not to mention skeptical and cynical. Not surprising, really. In fact, encouraging. Frankly, if there weren't skepticism, this wouldn't be a challenge. Plus, the public seems ready to support and demand real change. Regardless of the person or their position, almost all have said that this is the right thing to do at the right time.
Creating this prize is an incredible challenge, but a challenge we're up to.

ABG: The final rules of the Automotive X Prize will be released later this year. What needs to happen between now and then?
Goodstein: The bulk of our effort right now is focused on structuring the competition and rules. With a prize, the rules are everything. They need to strike a delicate balance between sufficiency and significance, they need to reflect the complexity of this industry, and they need to be very simple to understand and communicate on a high level. Fortunately, we're getting a lot of help across the board.
In the process, we're working on getting official buy in from key donors, partners, sponsors, and competitors.

ABG: What are the general aspects of the Automotive X Prize that you can reveal right now? I've read that the goal is 250 mpg and 10,000 units sold to win the prize. Is this accurate? Is it a temporary goalpost before the final rules are released?
Goodstein: Those were strawman figures we played with early in this process that somebody unfortunately ran with to print. So no, they are not accurate. Since then, we have learned an incredible amount about what is possible, significant, etc. While I can't give you hard numbers yet, our goal is to spur innovation that results in large numbers of super-efficient cars on the road.

ABG: How will you be converting the results from vehicles powered by, say, electricity?
Goodstein: We intend to remain fuel- and technology-neutral, as long as competitors meet our goals of reducing petroleum use and harmful emissions. To that end, we will create and/or adopt a fair and balanced energy equivalency table that will allow for conversion between energy sources.

ABG: What types of auto enthusiasts have contacted the foundation on participating in the competition?
Goodstein: We've heard from garage inventors, major automotive manufacturers and everything in between... and we haven't even announced the rules yet. This concept really captures the imagination of the best and the brightest out there, and we hope to create a structure that lets them all compete on a level playing field.

ABG: The X Prize foundation lists the reasons for having an Automotive X Prize (ICE are 100 years old and have been getting the same MPG for 40 years, the immense amounts of petroleum used to power our cars). What are your reasons for being involved in the competition.
Goodstein: Each member of this team, the best in the world, I might add, all has their own specific reasons to spend their time on this. We've all been starting companies together for a while, share common values, and a passion of things sustainable, natural, and historical. We've owned a wide variety of cars, from Festivas to Ferraris. Okay, we've lusted after Aston Martins, too. My point is that we're similar to and different from everybody else... we just happen to be good at starting things up and the opportunity to tell our friends that we were trying to save the world – with a straight face – was too difficult to pass up.

ABG: I think this competition is really more of an "everybody wins" type of event than the Ansari X Prize. It seems like the foundation values it more as well, more than doubling the prize money to the winner. Do you agree?
Goodstein: Not so fast... we haven't announced the dollar value of the prize yet! But, yes. We absolutely see the Automotive X PRIZE creating lots and lots of "winners" – whether it's the public finally having viable options to buy super-efficient cars they actually want to drive, or it's inventors and start-ups proving their technology on a grand stage and attracting the investment to bring it to market, or it's big auto manufacturers responding to real public demand for clean, efficient cars with great new models. If we do this right, everybody wins.

ABG: What type or car/technology do you expect will win? Will it be something we can imagine (like a highly efficient diesel-hybrid, say) or are you expecting some totally new technology?
Goodstein: We expect to be surprised, wowed, and enthralled every step of the way (although we all hold out hope for the turbo charged dilithium crystal flux capacitor car).


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