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Group Competing for Alternative Vehicle X-Prize

Note: A previous version of this story misidentified Keith Swan as general manager of Cygnet Stamping. He is general manager at Crystal Mark. Two entrepreneurs, a group of Pierce College students and a Glendale business are combining their technical talents and business savvy to create what they hope is a new type of vehicle engine. The short-term goal of the San Fernando Valley Hybrid Alliance is to win $5 million in the Progressive Auto X-Prize by making a retooled Scion XB travel 100 miles per gallon. The long-term goal, however, is to make a viable business out of this technology to make vehicles go farther using multiple types of fuel. When installed in vehicles, the alliance’s powertrain could prove to be a stepping stone to alternative fuel vehicles; a transition technology that doesn’t break the bank and releases fewer emissions than gas-powered vehicles. “There may be some spinoff technology from this (engine) that we’ll definitely see on the market,” said Keith Swan, general manager at Crystal Mark Inc. in Glendale. Crystal Mark’s sister comapny Cygnet Stamping and Fabricating is building prototypes of the fuel cell used in the vehicle. The H-Power 95 competition vehicle is one of more than 100 vying for the X-Prize. To get the Scion ready, students in the Pierce College summer auto tech program will gut the insides. When the new components are ready in the fall, Pierce students will install them. The H-Power is the brainchild of Adam Compton and Greg Smart, two Valley-based entrepreneurs. Compton handles the technical details while Smart makes the connections in the business community, bringing in the Valley Economic Alliance to support their entry, for example. The X-Prize vehicle grew out of another venture the pair started – Smart Compton Hydrogen Fuel Co. to develop a hydrogen/oxygen generator that uses excess energy from a car engine to increase gas mileage. They got as far as a prototype for the generator when a roadblock appeared. Namely that a vehicle fitted with the generator could not pass a smog test, Smart said. Entering the X-Prize competition brings exposure for the hydrogen fuel company while allowing the pair to pursue developing the powertrain using diesel, hydrogen/oxygen, electricity and solar power. Fuel supplies Having four different fuel supplies may be the biggest drawback for the vehicle, and one that the market is not ready for, said Kenn Phillips, of the Economic Alliance. “Creating hydrogen as you go is not a new concept but mixing that with other types of energies is,” Phillips said. Data submissions for the contest are due this month, with the next event taking place in New York City in September. Vehicle competition events take place from May to August 2010 with the winner announced in September. The competition, however, involves more than just the vehicle. Smart and Compton had to devise a business plan to bring their powertrain to market. The competition judges the cost of manufacturing, the selling price, and the available support and service infrastructure, Compton said. “With limited capital we can compete and make a good business out of it,” Smart added. Compton and Smart have identified three ways to bring the powertrain to market as a joint venture with an established carmaker; as a third party manufacturer selling to multiple carmakers; or as an independent automaker, although Smart finds that scenario highly unlikely.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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