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When the Automotive X Prize competition began back in March of 2008, the organizers laid out an ambitious goal: inspire a new generation of viable, safe and super fuel-efficient vehicles capable of achieving 100 miles per gallon or the energy equivalent (MPGe). The response they received was staggering -- 136 vehicle design proposals from teams across the globe, all eager to innovate and set a new standard for energy efficiency.

In the two years since the competition was announced, the field thinned through various stages of competition, evaluation and testing. Not content to simply settle for theoretical milestones, approved designs were put through their paces on the track, having to meet considerable safety, durability and emissions benchmarks throughout the event to ensure that they could handle the rigors of real world driving conditions.

Yesterday, the long journey finally came to an end as Edison2, X-Tracer and Li-ion Motors all claimed a share of the $10 million dollar prize. The creators of the Edison2, which runs on E-85 fuel, earned $5 million dollars for creating a vehicle with the ability to seat four people and still get 102.5 MPGe. The other two cars received $2.5 million apiece for achieving 187.6 MPGe and 187 MPGe off of a battery electric powertrain in the tandem (X-Tracer) and side-by-side (Li-ion Motors) divisions of the alternative class, which required seating for two.

The winners were announced during a ceremony at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. that honored the accomplishments of all the participants and reminded all in attendance that the real work was just beginning. Having proven that it’s possible to create high efficiency vehicles that meet the standards of safety, design and durability expected by the American consumer, they must now work to get them behind the driver’s seat.

That’s exactly the position Secretary Chu found himself in when two of the X Prize entrants cruised over to the Department of Energy after the ceremony. The Secretary had a chance to inspect the cars and chat with team members about the finer points of their engineering, at one point looking on as one of the designers thumped the side of the car with his fist to illustrate its durability.  He also met with a group of students from Dos Pueblos High School in Santa Barbara, CA whose vision for the dashboard of the future won the Department of Energy sponsored Dash+ design contest. As the Secretary congratulated them on their accomplishment and posed for a photo, one of the onlookers climbed into the driver’s seat of the green and white Aptera 2e, gripping the steering wheel as he settled into the seat and peered down at the futuristic dashboard. “I could get used to this…” he muttered with a smile as he gazed out the windshield at the road ahead.

Let the race to the show room begin.