This is the future. It is now, and it is here."
The "here" is Carl Guichard's garage at his home tucked in a neat Mandeville neighborhood. The "future," then, is the car skeleton he's leaning against. The empty frame is filled with electrical wire, loose parts and color-coded and size-appropriate cardboard boxes standing in for the motor, engine and batteries — several in a row alongside the passenger side.
A brief glance at the frame shows an average five-passenger, four-door car. But here's the pitch: "If I sold you a car but it doesn't last 10 years, it lasts 20, has fewer moving parts, you don't have to do an oil change, you don't have to go to the gas station, you don't have to change spark plugs, radiators, radiator hoses, it has air conditioning, a stereo, gets 110 miles per gallon and all you got to do is plug into your house every day," Guichard says, "is that so much to ask?"
The model car, dubbed the E1, is not just his after-hours pet project. Guichard, a Stennis Space Center aerospace engineer by day, heads the Global-E automobile design manufacturing team, which is piecing together its 110-mpg hybrid gas-electric vehicle, slated for production as early as December 2009.
Guichard entered Global-E in the Progressive Automotive X-Prize, a multimillion-dollar competition to design, build and race the next generation of fuel-efficient vehicles against competing teams from across the United States and around the world. The winning team receives a net prize of $10 million. Based on Global-E's current risk assessment, Guichard believes his design is a top contender.
In 2004, the X-Prize Foundation launched its first race, the Ansari X-Prize. Burt Rutan, financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, won by building a spacecraft fit for commercial flight (now the future flagship spacecraft for Virgin Galactic's pricey stellar getaway). The foundation aims to prove these seemingly futuristic and unwieldy projects — from recreational space flights to sustainable future cars — are not only ambitious, but possible.
"Commercialize via contest," Guichard says. With that commercial interest, Guichard sees Global-E's fully functional end result as user-friendly and as affordable as an average car.
"You've got to start to wake up," he says. "Don't listen to rumors like, 'I don't want to buy a Toyota Prius because the batteries are so expensive.' That's the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard." Guichard hopes Global-E's locally based, affordable and environmentally sound alternative will dispel such myths about battery replacement and fueling costs. (Guichard's Prius battery has a six-year warranty, and the car gets 48.5 mpg. He pays an equivalent of 75 cents a gallon.)
"It's those myths we've got to get over," he says. "That's what the X-Prize bears on all of us. It's going to drive innovation to the forefront, and we can educate people right now."
The Global-E fleet would need refueling once every 700 miles with only 5 gallons of gas. Production requires only half the materials and energy used to produce vehicles currently on the road. The G1, Global-E's three-seater, parallel series hybrid-electric sports car, is near completion and gets nearly 100 mpg.
The models may look like delusions of grandeur compared with the auto industry's status quo (gas guzzlers, cars with short lifespans and unsustainable manufacturing), but the team gathers high-caliber engineers and designers from the top tier of the aerospace and automobile industries — from Boeing and Lockheed-Martin to NASA and several Hollywood studios — and a select group of engineering student interns. (University of New Orleans engineers do wind-tunnel testing on scale models, and a team at Delgado works on designs.)
"We all got some kind of link back to cars," Guichard says. "The technology is there. We know what to do with it. We're not doing anything different than what we do daily. We're just doing it for ourselves."
Last year, Guichard and his crew worked through Idea Village and Greater New Orleans Inc. to help find local company sponsors. "(We talked to) anyone in the city we could get ahold of and let them know what it is we're about to do," he says. Global-E still seeks more investors to get the ball rolling for large-scale production and has already drawn up an extensive plan for its future production facility. The only thing holding it back is finding the right location in New Orleans.
"Most of us doing this for Global-E are from this area and the Gulf South," Guichard says. "We want to keep it here. Keep it hometown. In a post-Katrina world, this is what the people are about, and what they need is some jobs."
The Global-E network already has about 70 employees worldwide, including hires in Japan and Italy. The initial target date for production was May 2009, but a crashing economy caused them to delay production until winter.
"Otherwise, we would be ready at a drop-of-the-hat's notice," he says. "We think by Christmas we could have 150 employees trained and a facility where we could start producing at a rate of about 3,000 to 5,000 vehicles that year. By February or March, we'd be up to about 10,000 a year."
Having local universities on board also is vital to the company's future. "We didn't partner with UNO and Delgado to move away," he says. "Those engineers get enthused: 'I'm actually doing automobile design work, or preliminary automobile testing work. This is far more interesting than oil pipelines and lifting equipment.' That keeps these newly trained engineers home, in the area."
Global-E engineer Steve Cacioppo joins Guichard inside Guichard's office, which doubles as a trophy room with a model car, plane and spaceship for every one he has engineered or constructed. The electric-blue centerpiece sits on his desk — Global-E's car of the future.