Automotive X Prize: $10 Million for the Greenest Cars

X Prize - Team Edison2's Very Light Car

Some of you green geeks may remember the big X Prize drama in 2004, which saw a privately developed spacecraft (by Burt Rutan and Paul Allen) win $10 million by flying successfully to the edge of space.

The X Prize Foundation has created some spinoff X Prizes, one of which is for cars, and that competition is now entering its final stages in Michigan. The prizes are designed to stimulate and leverage private investment, develop real-life innovations, and create effective change strategies to get us out of oil consumption.

Now the Automotive X Prize is entering its final stages, and you can watch the progress here. Team Edison2’s Very Light Car (above), for example, developed in Lynchburg, Va., by a group of racing and engineering nuts, is still in the running. The VLC is a four-seat sedan, weighs 700 pounds, and does 0-60 mph in 7 seconds. It meets all U.S. safety requirements.

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The Gearhead Bucket List: 8 Things To Do Before You Die

For the average person, a list of things to do before kicking the bucket is pretty predictable.

Things like skydiving and seeing Niagra Falls are well and good, but where’s the originality?

As gearheads we are people who love cars and anything related to their history, design, performance and development. We love the competition of racing cars and the dedication it takes to keep them running in top condition. In short, we love the absolute thrill cars provide.

Folks like us need our own bucket list – things to see and do that will epitomize our love of cars and leave a lasting legacy of our passion for the automobile.

Keep reading for eight essential gearhead experiences!

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Three Big Cautions in Financing a Used Car

Car loan

Not too many of us can walk into a used-car lot and pay cash—unless you’re buying, perhaps, an Oldsmobile Achieva. So you will likely need to finance your car, whether it comes from a dealer or a private seller. Don’t forget to check our DealFinder to help you find the lowest prices.

We offer some financing tips and cautions below. Used-car prices have been steadily rising in the last year (trucks are up 11 percent!). So you might get a bit more for your trade than you thought.

But, Caution #1, get your credit report first, before you go shopping. If your credit score is less than 700, you’ll have a tough time getting a loan. Try DriveTime if that’s your situation, or if you are buying from a private party. You’ll have a problem getting a loan for cars more than 4-5 years old.

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Cars Coming Soon->ICONIC Motors AC Roadster, a Turbocharged Mazda RX-7

Mazda RX-7

Sports car fans everywhere miss the Mazda RX-7.

Exiting the car world way back in 2002, the RX-7 hasn’t been sold in the U.S. since 1995. A day hasn’t passed since without fans clamoring for the return of its sleek styling, unique rotary engine and affordable price. Yeah, Mazda sent us the RX-8, but come on, it’s a four-door and not nearly as sexy as its predecessor.

Rumors of an RX-7 return have swirled since the car’s demise, but now enthusiasts might actually have something to celebrate.

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Caring Too Much—and Too Little—for Your Car

Gurcharn Sahota at work

Two stories we found illustrate the sometimes ridiculous extremes of car care. TopGear reports on one Gurcharn Sahota (above) who, operating out of his parents’ garage in the U.K., charges up to £7,200 ($11,000) to wash, clean and detail the highest of high-end machines.

He claims it takes up to 250 hours to do a single car—with the most expensive waxes and “cutting-edge” equipment. And he’s getting customers.

Said one TopGear commenter: “I would have to backend a manure truck in a Veyron before wasting so much [money].” Well, we are glad to know that one-man entrepreneurship is still thriving at the highest levels. The guy was apparently trained as an accountant.

Most car owners are far less compulsive. LeftLane tells of a British study reporting that “more than half [56 percent] of all women [compared to 44 percent of all men] go at least six months between washing their cars.”

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Volkswagen Invests Billions in U.S., But Comeback Plan Could Backfire

2011 Volkswagen Jetta

2011 Volkswagen Jetta

Remember when Volkswagen was the top import brand in the United States?

It was about 40 years ago, so you’ll be forgiven if that fact has slipped your mind.

Today the carmaker holds just 2 percent of the U.S. market, pushed to the fringe by Japanese companies that have dominated sales here ever since. Now VW wants its mojo back and has an ambitious plan to retake the American market.

Like all plans involving a serious comeback, VW will face some stiff challenges that could derail everything.

Here’s the plan:

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Green Update–>Nissan’s Rumored Sports Car, Honda and VW Electrics

Infiniti Essence concept

Nissan is a company that doesn’t do things by the book. It has let it be known that it’s going to develop an upmarket version of the Leaf as an Infiniti. Now it tells Edmunds’ Inside Line that Leaf technology will be used to produce an electric, Infiniti-branded sports car. They can base such a car on the 370Z (right) or, just maybe, on the Essence Coupe concept (above). Let’s hope they can use the Essence look and bring it in near the 370Z’s price. That would indeed be rewriting the book.

Autoblog thinks Nissan might use the Leaf platform and move the motor to the rear, keeping much of the rest of the Leaf hardware. Creative thinking, boys! If the Leaf is as good as the buzz has it, well, why not give Tesla’s Roadster a run for the money?—at a lower price, we would hope.

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Best Used Alternatives to Popular New Cars

2008 Dodge Charger

2008 Dodge Charger: a perfect family car?

What if the perfect new car for you isn’t new at all?

As one of your resident CarGurus, people occasionally ask my advice on what new car they should consider. My answer always begins the same: How will you use it?

Whether the intended use is family hauling, boat towing, weekend getaways or street racing, I always have an opinion and a recommendation. From there the discussion filters down through price, reliability, resale and performance of the vehicle in question.

While I’ll never hesitate to recommend a new car, there are usually some perfectly acceptable (and often forgotten) used options available that could save a buyer boatloads of money without much sacrifice.

Since family sedans are always near the top of the best-sellers list, here are five examples of used models that are proving their worth as alternatives to the perennial top sellers, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

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Ford Goes Full-Bore Promoting 2011 Fiesta

2011 Ford Fiesta with sticker overwrap

One of the many videos (most are pretty funny) promoting the new-to-the-U.S. Ford Fiesta features a rent-a-zombie who chases two people to their locked cars (a Yaris and a Fit) with predictable results. The Fiesta driver, using keyless entry, gets away.

We’ll show you two more videos after the break. They are part of an extensive promotional campaign, described in some detail here, probably the biggest Ford has ever produced for a car. Ford’s digital communications guy, Scott Monty, gives still more detail about “humanizing Ford Motor Company” here.

In summary, the company has created: massive ad campaigns (print, broadcast, and digital); the Fiesta Movement (getting people behind the wheel, recording their impressions on YouTube); recruitment of 35,000 test-drivers; and a big social media campaign (including a forum called the Fiesta Faction).

You can even get giant stickers, waterproof vinyl “wraps” for the car (as shown above).

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Shelby SuperCars Wants Bugatti Veyron’s Speed Record

SSC Ultimate Aero

It’s like a high-speed-car version of Rocky against The Russian.

The independent underdog versus the muscle-bound king of the world.

It’s Bugatti versus SSC. These two supercar makers have been going back and forth, exchanging the world record for fastest production car since 2005. That’s when Bugatti set the record with the original Veyron, which clocked 253.8 miles per hour.

Two years later, independent automaker Shelby SuperCars (oddly enough, no relation to Carroll Shelby) came along with the Ultimate Aero and edged out the Veyron with a 256.1-mph run.

Just recently, Bugatti smashed SCC’s mark with the new Veyron Super Sport at 267.8 miles per hour.

We’ve had an eye out watching for SSC’s response, fairly certain the company wouldn’t sit around and let Bugatti rest easy with its new trophy.

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