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

Reader Contribution by Staff
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“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We have officially withdrawn MAX from the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize competition.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.

But 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.

So go ahead and ask: Why didn’t we figure this out two years ago? Why didn’t we realize we’d get drowned in paperwork before we ever sent in our entry fee? Why didn’t we predict that 10,000 how-to e-books to 10,000 potential DIYers wasn’t going to count as “manufacturing capability”? It’s simple — we entered the competition before the X Prize Foundation wrote the rules.

Mind you, I have no bone to pick with the Auto X Prize folks about the rules. It’s their $10 million dollars and they can write the rules any way they like. They’ve always been perfectly up front that anybody who didn’t like the final rules could get their entry fee back. Rule development is a tough job –I can see why it took years to complete them.

But now that the rules are done, they left us with a simple choice: Is MAX going to be a $10,000 DIY car you can build this decade? Or a $40,000 factory-built car you can buy in 2014?

Well, we chose to stick to our DIY roots. The Auto X Prize is a fascinating competition, and I’ll enjoy covering it for you … from behind the wheel of MAX, a high-mileage car that I built with my own two hands.

Photo by Katherine Loeck

Browse previous MAX Updates.
Read the introductory MAX article, Here Comes the 100-mpg Car.
Visit the Kinetic Vehicles website for more technical details on MAX.