MAX Update No. 32: Why We Resigned from the Auto X Prize

| 8/17/2009 4:51:41 PM

Tags: MAX, 100 mpg, Auto X Prize,

“When I gave up cigarettes, my dad called me a quitter.” — an old McCornack joke

We have officially withdrawn MAX from the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize competition. It was a no-hard-feelings decision by both parties.

Have no fear, this doesn't mean the end of MAX. It doesn't even mean an end to our involvement with the Auto X Prize competition. I intend to be there for their race events and cover them as a journalist. And I expect MAX will be the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the press corps.

Jack and MAXBut from a competition standpoint, it is clear that we and the X Prize Foundation are marching to the sounds of different drummers, so it’s time we take our hat out of the ring.

For the first year or so, the X Prize Foundation thought MAX was pretty neat. They didn't have many applicants yet, and we were one of the few with an actual car on the road. The MAX Project and the Auto X Prize were good for each other in the early days.

But lately, this competition has been interfering with our goal for MAX: a high-mileage car you can build on a budget. The final rules have no place for a DIY car, and preparing MAX (even on paper) for factory production — as in 10,000 cars a year — has been sucking up our resources like you wouldn't believe. In the last year I have literally spent more hours filling out X Prize Foundation paperwork than I've spent developing MAX, and MAX has suffered for it. Instead of working on streamlining to improve the car’s gas mileage, I've been writing business plans and tech documents and getting price quotes, for every single part in the car. Imagine trying to figure out the cost of 20,000 windshield wiper blades to be delivered in five years, etc., etc., etc.

9/21/2009 6:19:03 PM

Please Please, Please Don't listen to Ben H or Neil!!! I don't want some POS hacked Ford or Toyota that you DIY'd into decent gas mileage. I want Max! A cute, sexy. FUN roadster that happens to get 100 MPH (I don't care if you only hit 80). Re use the good stuff...Miata suspension (maybe the 6 Sp manual), brakes etc but skip what's coming out of Japan, Detroit or Europe when it comes to styling. I have to admit that the Tesla's turn my head but since max costs less then the SALES TAX on a Tesla guess which one I might actually be able to get! Where do I sign up for Max's waiting list? There'll probably be 10K Max's on the road before whoever wins the x prize (doesn't deserve a capitol X) produces their first production vehicle! It would be ironic if you show up as a spectator and still kick their a$$!!! Keep up the good work and let me know when I can order one!!! I'll beg/borrow/steal the cash! :-)

8/27/2009 12:00:13 PM

Sorry to see Max out of the race. Your approach was refreshing, as I have had a Midget, the idea seemed viable. The scope of the race has changed from inception. It was at first touted as a "Cross Country Rally" type race to have legs in various cities across the states. Then it was reduced to a smaller number. Now it doesn't seem like much more than a showcase for a few upstart producers. The spirit of invention seems to have flown out the window to the EV-1 scrapyard! Seems like this event has suffered from Litigeous Lawyeritus. The Eco Challenge in Australia is what the X Prize race should have been.

neil larkins
8/25/2009 8:30:06 PM

Jeff, I like your idea. There are already local high-mpg competitions all over this country. Jory Squibb, he of "Moonbeam" fame (Google his site), has entered his 100 mpg car in several, notably the one in his home state of Maine. A national competition would be nice, if for no other reason than to showcase the best DIY designs for others to emulate. Something else: Designs like MAX have been around for awhile - R.Q.Riley's 128 mpg Centurian being one of them. (In fact, MAX is remarkably like it in its propulsion method, though the Centurian has been in existence since the late 70's, I believe.) Nevertheless, if such a competion could show people how do-able these designs can be by someone with slightly above average mechanical skills with a decently-equipped shop, and at a cost well within MAX's target cost, then a lot would be accomplished.

jeff dean
8/24/2009 10:39:03 PM

It seems to me we need another competition. One geared more for the DIYer. Most don't do it for the money, so a big prize isn't necessary. The rules should be kept very simple, with little paperwork. There should be lots of emphasis on inovation keeping low cost at the forefront. It needs to be open to everyone and if we had enough entrants we could have "heat races" across the country, then an A and B main to get to the winner. Maybe we could get Max to be the pace car since we would probably want to outlaw any corporate sponsors. Any ideas? Any takers? Maybe Mother Earth News??? Jeff

8/24/2009 12:57:18 PM

First, I'd like to offer a LOVING rebuke. If we don't like when big business tries to tell us that we can't do what we feel is best for us and ours, it's nothing short of hypocrisy when we (myself included) get irritated at a company for doing what's best for them. It's their competition, and they should be allowed to run it how they like. I, personally, equate this to getting mad at a retailer for selling ... I dunno ... a flavor of ice-cream which I don't like. That's ridiculous. If I don't like it, I should just keep on walking. It's their company, and their choice. Let's lead by example as to not become what we detest. NOTE: Big government is an entirely different issue. Their job is to represent us, so if we feel they are not doing that accurately, it is our DUTY to raise our voices. KUDOS TO JACK MCCORNACK FOR TAKING THE HIGH ROAD. WE CAN ALL LEARN A LOT FROM HIS EXAMPLE. Secondly, keep up the good work on this project and any like it. The extinguishing of self-reliance is one of the most imminent threats to America. Lets keep fanning the smoldering coals until we get a flame that can spread around the globe. ~ Mo

roo trimble_2
8/24/2009 8:30:37 AM

Wow, oh well, they were making it too hard, and I still think that their concept (minimum mpg, maxium speed) is off base...I think it should be minimum speed, maximum MPG...they say that is for the public to get excited...I give the public more credit...keep tuning MAX and making it better, they did not write a bussiness plan when they invented the ___ (almost evertyhing) what a way to styme rants....I almost have the roopod on the road! Roo

8/23/2009 3:39:40 PM

Actually there are already in production motor vehicles that are capable of achieving very close to that, but none are manufactured in the U.S.A. Total sponsors an economy rally in South Africa open to all classes of cars. The Citroen C3 1.4 Hdi has won it a few times averaging a superb 3,5 L/100 kms or 76 m.p.p (Imperial). Cars carry a driver, a navigator and an observer. No freewheeling is allowed and the stages are pretty tough. Having done the rally course without the constraints of the rally, I can vouch for the difficulty involved. If Citroen / Peugeot wanted to, they could easily modify any of their small 1.4 Hdi models such as the C1 or the C2 for this competition and walk away with it.

neil larkins
8/23/2009 2:58:56 PM

Thank you, Ben Haldeman, for voicing my sentiments: If you want to have a super-economical car, then DIY by converting an existing car to electric or hybrid electric or whatever method achieves that end. Better on the environment in many ways, re-using what already has been made being one of them. Additionally, like you said, an existing car has already been approved by the contolling governmental entities for safety, etc. As long as you don't alter the brakes or the body, it's OK to convert an existing car or truck or whatever to other methods of propulsion. Going with all new is counterintuitive to the goal of saving money through high-mileage. $10,000 to build a new car that would be as basic as basic can be? An existing car can be converted to electric for under $3000 and hybrid for under $7,000. And you'd still have all the government approved safety and comfort of the original car. Sorry MAX.

tony k.
8/23/2009 8:42:42 AM

My hats off to Mr. McCornack!!! A, for taking on this project and sticking with it--no easy task for sure. And B,for having the clear vision to see what MAX started as (DIY)and not changing it to conform to the rules of the contest. I recently csme across a great book at the local library that I think will be of great interest to all involved with or following the project. Its called"Charging Ahead" by Joe Sherman-(Oxford University Press 1998) and it tells the story of MIT student James Worden, a lifelong tinkerer and builder of solar powered electric cars, with many entries in the annual American Tour de Sol race for electric vehicles.It chronicles his path from this background to starting a company(Solectria) to develop and manufacture an electric car in the 1990s. Its a great view into the daily struggle with technology, logistics and government regulators. And a real eye opener as to what happens when you ruffle the feathers of the "Big 3" automakers and Big Oil and their powerful lobbyists as well as to the capriciousness of government programs and politicians.Great stuff! Best of luck to ya Jack!TonyK.

ben haldeman_1
8/22/2009 7:54:28 PM

Thirty years ago, I worked for Mack Trucks Engine Development. One of the projects was a bottoming-cycle engine. The design used waste heat from the diesel engine to add power to the engine. As I remember, it was estimated that it would add 18% power without any increase in fuel consumption. The prototype produced a 12% increase. It was never put on the market due to the increased cost and weight. (Increased truck-weight reduces payload.) The MAX project needs to focus on a power plant that a DIYer can install in an existing auto-body. (Who wants to go through the red-tape to create a title and register a new car?) I would like to see a diesel-sterling combination with and an engine-brake. The engine brake would be a compressor for a pressure tank. The air-pressure in turn would provide an acceleration boost. Diesel-hybrids should be used on school buses. The start-stop driving would utilize regenerative braking to its best advantage. Plug-in electric cars are a passing-fancy. Electricity prices are projected to rise and there presently is an electric shortage in some areas. As an independent-type person, I would be interested if I could recharge them with wind or solar energy.

8/22/2009 10:51:52 AM

You made the right choice. Look forward to your progress with great interest.

8/22/2009 2:30:18 AM

Kudos for thinking of the DIY'er instead of bowing down to big business. Having been in the body shop business for more than 20 years, I've developed an attitude toward the insurance industry, especially (Re)gressive. They are one of the most crooked insurance companies I have to deal with. Geico is another! Just TRY to get them to pay up when it's their turn! I'm all for anything DIY when it means saving money, the environment and not having to deal with big business. I saw a question at the top of this page, "would you give $40,000 for a Chevrolet Volt?" Let me think about this...NO. I wouldn't give a plugged nickel for another GM car since they were largely responsible for killing the electric car to start with. Had they kept producing the Impact and actually allowed people to BUY IT, we would be light years ahead of where we are right now. Their current electric car doesn't even measure up to the one they were producing years ago! All GM was concerned with was $$$$$. People like Steve Fambro and Jack McCornack need to take the market away from The "Big Three" and don't even get me started on Big Oil! The average Joe is long overdue to rock the boat. The world doesn't need another expensive Toyota Prius or Chevrolet Volt, we need cars like Max, we need homebuilt vehicles that don't need a lot of gas, we need anything that gets us from point A to point B that doesn't kill the earth and feed the Fat Cats. No, I will not get off my soap box! :)

neil larkins
8/21/2009 9:03:59 PM

I think it's called mission creep. Nevertheless, it appeared to me from the first time I saw the incomplete rules 2 years ago that DIY was not what they were looking for. The more they have added to and revised the rules, the more it became plain. It became fully plain when Progressive took over.

sidne kneeland_2
8/21/2009 6:03:02 PM

I feel that the competition has gotten completely off track given what you say about the logistics of creating a manufacturable vehicle. The idea is to get folks to come up with a vehicle that gets 100 mpg, not how to make another $40,000 car. Let's get the mpg and then worry about how we are going to make it feasible either for DIY or wholesalers.

jack mccornack
8/21/2009 3:12:48 PM

"What MAX central and anon are saying suggests they don't really want anyone competing that isn't big enough to be a manufacturer." So what's wrong with that? To qualify to even put a car on the starting line, the entrants must first convince the X Prize Foundation that they can run with the big dogs in the auto biz boardrooms. At this stage of the competition, the X Prize Foundation isn't judging cars, it's judging business plans, and those plans are being scrutinized for such things as warranty coverage and national dealer networks, items I agree are necessary to sell 10,000 cars a year. Frankly, our business plan got pretty fanciful once annual production quantities went over 400 cars a year. The X Prize Foundation is changing the world in their way, and their way is big business. And I'm not going to argue that they're wrong. The world needs the automotive big dogs to make some big changes, and more power to 'em, but it isn't going to happen overnight. Meanwhile I'll do what I can, here and now.

caroline halliwill
8/21/2009 2:17:36 PM

Good for you. I hope that dropping out does not mean that we will stop getting updates on MAX. I am all for DIY projects that allow us improve on what we already have and make it our own. There is a Jim-Bob Walton in all of us if we will only let him out (remember that he built his own car on the show "The Waltons"). Keep up the good work and please keep us informed on how MAX is doing.

8/21/2009 2:05:07 PM

Jack, Thanks for giving it a 'try', but what I would like to see, is continued articles on MAX. The Automotive X-Prise is interesting, but your development with MAX is in the spirit and covering some ground that even as a hobbiest in the area, I find interesting. Thanks again for working on MAX and documenting it so we can all appreciate what you are doing! ... Jack

8/21/2009 1:26:11 PM

Here is a thought... The contest is sponsored by an insurance company. The bottom line is money and insurability. By limiting the contest to those vehicles that can be mass-produced, it would be easy for them and other insurance companies to set rates and coverage. For DIY vehicles, they won't want to insure vehicles for big money only to have a DIY-built car fall apart at highway speeds (due to faulty preparation or construction) ... thus causing them to pay out. With mass-produced vehicles, extensive safety testing can be done. I am sure MAX is well tested. But, how well tested will some vehicles be when built in a garage by someone with limited skills and abilities? Being an avid motorcyclist, I would be curious to see insurance rates and coverage for equivalent motorcycles built by Harley-Davidson, Big Dog and any of the thousands of "custom motorcycle" shops that have popped up over the years. I don't know of many people who build their own cars from the ground up ... nor, how hard it is for them to get the car passed for licensing and insurance.

8/21/2009 11:53:13 AM

You did the right thing. Continue with your vision of building a car the world needs. Deal with the production and marketing later, if that's the route you want to go.

len buckholtz
8/21/2009 10:52:36 AM

hey. it CAN be done, it WAS done back in the 60's & 70's by a fellow in swanton ohio. i know it was legit; my old partner in old pc work knew the guys. no one wanted to finance / buy the idea. eh midified a rambler, 3000 lb car, and it got 70+ mpg. a real american, solid car. fwiw, investigate before investing such time. i am sad that you were blindsided by the insurance industry. it has never happened before, an insurance co being less than truthful, has it? :-) if i find the data from the 60's please provide contact info for you & your company, and if any others want to work with/ in this issue, send me an email. len buckholtz long beach ca

mary carol
8/21/2009 10:50:34 AM

What a graceful exit - the MAX team is a class act! Thank you for all your hard work. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your updates and look forward to reading about your future success. I'm saving my pennies so that I'll have $10k handy when your DIY plans go public.

ed bartley_2
8/21/2009 10:16:17 AM

I have to agree, that it is their contest and they can run it any way they want, but it seems like they dropped the ball when they kept changing the rules as the game progresses - or so it seems. The rules should have been established before they allowed anyone to enter or start building. I to wonder what sort of pressure was put on them by the auto industry to change the rules to require being able to manufacture in even limited numbers. It is too bad that another sponsor cannot be found to sponsor a new contest for DYI's and even engineering school programs to get involved. Then, when the DYI's blow the socks off the big boys we can all sit back and smile. Please continue developing MAX into the best it can be. I am rooting for you. seaedb

8/20/2009 12:00:26 PM

I don't know if the car companies are meddling with the process, but I'm seeing a measure of dishonesty from the X-prize foundation that is raising some red flags to me. Right on the front of their web page is written: Imagine a world where super-efficient cars are desirable, affordable and everywhere... This message and variations are all over their web page making this competition appear to the casual visitor to the site believe this contest is all about fuel efficiency. It's all about shaking up the status quo. What MAX central and anon are saying suggests they don't really want anyone competing that isn't big enough to be a manufacturer. This is counter productive to the front page message. If you really want to shake up the status quo, you need to rake in as many variables (contestants) as possible short of allowing paper mache' cars. Limiting the variables (contestants) to groups big enough to manufacture limits the group to people who may have already bought into the status quo.

jack mccornack
8/18/2009 5:02:32 PM

I don't think it's the big car companies stifling the little guy, though as anonymous alludes, it's harder for little outfits to deal with increasing demands on rule compliance. It's been enough work load for a full time employee doing nothing but dealing with X Prize issues, and that's pretty tough on a shoestring staff. For MAX, retiring from the competition is no great loss. MAX will still evolve, MAX will still become as good a car as we can make it, all MAX is losing is the publicity associated with being a Progressive Automotive X Prize entrant--and most of that publicity is being directed to Progressive Insurance and the X Prize Foundation (which is as it should be--they're putting up the money and they're running the competition).

8/18/2009 1:44:12 PM

We, too, as an officially registered Automotive XPrize team, have been overwhelmed with the paperwork involved, very little of which was outlined when the race was announced and the registration deadline trumpeted. We scraped together the money and then thought, 'Yeah, here we go, we can finally do what we know can be done with existing technology.' Instead, the rules have grown faster then genetically modified soybeans and have kept us, too, from building the DIY easily maintained 100mpg car that can be done by someone with moderately developed automotive repair abilities, or by someone who can read and follow directions and think. Suffice to say that the constant changes issued by PIAXP are stymieing the development of a really neat car not too unlike MAX.

8/18/2009 1:23:54 PM

So, again the big name car companies get scared that some guy in his garage could rock the boat by making them look bad and applied pressure on their buddies. All the more reason for people with the skills to start building their own cars as much as possible.

preston moore
8/18/2009 9:40:47 AM

Phooie! I have enjoyed watching Max evolve and the updates. Besides a DIY car would compete with the Government owned GM and probably will not be allowed in the future. Rats! Preston

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