Lynchburg firm trying to build 100-mpg car

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Print this page by Heather Hayes

Efforts to improve energy efficiency in vehicles have tended to focus on finding alternative fuels to gasoline, but Oliver Kuttner, a successful real estate developer and auto-racing aficionado, believes that mindset totally misses the mark. He is the owner of Edison2, a company that is building a prototype vehicle called the Very Light Car (VLC) that relies on minimizing weight and aerodynamic drag to dramatically boost fuel mileage.

The company, based in Lynchburg, is a contender for the Progressive Automotive X-Prize. The California-based X-Prize Foundation is sponsoring the competition to build a practical, safe car that gets more than 100 miles per gallon. The winner will receive a $10 million cash prize.

“Our car doesn’t care if you give it an electric motor or a gasoline engine or an engine that is run by natural gas,” says Kuttner. “It doesn’t matter because we’re attacking the problem from the point of view of building a box that requires very little energy to move. And we think that’s the only real answer.”

The VLC uses a high-performing gasoline engine for power, rather than the battery-laden, heavier electric engine, and has a modular design inspired largely by Indy cars.  The car nonetheless is relatively roomy and comfortable for passengers, its creator says.

“This is very exciting because we believe there is this opportunity right now for a one-time leap in automotive efficiency that no one has been able to make,” Kuttner says.

Edison2 drew its design team from auto racing and the aerospace industry. They started building the VLC in hopes of winning the X-Prize but are now focused on objectives well beyond the competition. The ultimate goal is to develop and patent technologies, then license them to other auto manufacturers and suppliers. These technologies would include Edison2’s patented suspension system.

“We have no illusions of becoming a large automaker and it is not our intention to become hugely wealthy on this,” Kuttner says. “It is our intention to make our discoveries broadly available. We think that our ideas and technologies will help make our planet better in terms of pollution and resource preservation, and so it is better that more people have access.” 

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