Electric Cars

Tough Loss for Homemade EV

By Michael W. Kahn | ECT Staff Writer Published: July 6th, 2010

A co-op couple’s $5 million dream ended when the electric car their team built had a technical problem and was knocked out of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE.

Illuminati’s electric car on the track at the Michigan International Speedway. (Photo By: Nate Knappenburger)

Illuminati’s electric car on the track at the Michigan International Speedway. (Photo By: Nate Knappenburger)

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    Kevin Smith, a member of Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative, Auburn, Ill., and his wife Jen Danzinger, a graphic designer at the statewide, were part of the seven-member team behind Illuminati Motor Works, which built the car called “Seven.” They hoped to snag the top prize in the contest to design and build real cars capable of being mass produced.

    Late last month they returned to the Michigan International Speedway and Danzinger said Seven passed its technical inspections, even though the team’s electronics wizard “had to stay behind at work or lose his job.”

    The car went on to the durability track, which Danzinger described as “a really rough track with a lot of turns, a lot of bumps—it beats the heck out of cars.” Seven also did fine there, and went on to the knockout stage.

    During tests to simulate city, urban and highway driving, it got the equivalent of 119.2 miles per gallon, the highest in its class. And in the range test, it got an incredible 182 mpg.

    But the zero-to-60 test would prove to be the end of the line when the transmission gave out. Smith was driving and later blogged, “The high-pitched whirring sound from the transmission, the lackluster feel of the acceleration, but mostly the look on the faces of all the teams and judges that had gathered to cheer us on told me all I needed to know long before the final words were sent down, ‘I’m sorry, you didn’t make it.’”

    After nearly three years of effort, the team is taking a break, deciding what to do next. “Several people have suggested that the car be in the Illinois State Fair Twilight Parade, so we’ve applied for that,” Danzinger said. The University of Illinois EV club invited the team to speak at its July meeting, joining members of TW4XP, the German X PRIZE entry.

    And Danzinger said every member is proud of Illuminati’s effort.

    “I think we showed what you can do with determination and $120,000 of pretty much your own money.”

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