Oliver Kuttner Talks About the Future of Cars

Oliver Kuttner speaking at the Field School on January 28.
Oliver Kuttner speaking at the Field School on January 28.

“The philosophical point I’ve come to is that less is more,” said Oliver Kuttner to the crowd that gathered at the Field School Jan. 28 to hear from the 2010 winner of the $5 million Progressive Automotive X Prize. Kuttner’s Lynchburg-based team, Edison2, designed and built a four-seater called the Very Light Car that is said to get 102 miles per gallon of fuel and should, Kuttner said, inspire new thinking in the automotive industry. A model of his newest car, now under development, was on the stage in front of him.

“We decided to become a technology leader who could show how it is done,” said Kuttner, a well-known commercial real estate developer in Charlottesville before he pursued his lifelong interest in building cars. He built a car in high school that was capable of going 165 miles per hour.

“We’re trying to show people who are stuck how to become unstuck. We see ourselves as teachers who develop proofs of concepts.”

His winning car met 2014 pollution standards. “No Indian company and no Chinese company has met them,” said Kuttner proudly. “[The car] makes so little pollution it’s just ridiculous. It also does not produce heat. Heat is just wasted energy.

“One message I want to get out to young people is to look at the fundamentals. You don’t have to do it the way others do it. This car is an example of that.”

Kuttner said Edison2 is developing a method of how to build the car. “The value of this company is it is cheaper for us to make mistakes than it is for larger companies,” he said.

“We wanted a tubular design [for the frame] because Third World countries do a lot of tubular construction. We think the world needs more jobs. The way we approach the car, it is completely recyclable. We really want to build the Volkswagen of the 21st century.”

The key to the design, Kuttner said, is a new suspension the team designed that some other car builders are becoming interested in. He held it aloft for the crowd to appreciate. “The car really handles nicely,” said Kuttner, who once placed third in a world championship class car race.

“I blame the strut tower [in current cars]. They are determining the design of the rest of the architecture. It’s the Achilles heel of the industry today.”

The car he is now working on has a three-cylinder engine and is rear-wheel drive. The engine has a run-along mode in which it produces just 10 horsepower and another mode that will produce 50 horsepower for acceleration. “The X [prize] car can go 90 to 100 mph,” said Kuttner. “Managing the air is important because of the large surface area and less mass. I think 250 mph is possible.

“We see the car as costing less than $20,000. It has a few complicated parts, but only a few. These cars are simple and it’s easy to replace parts. For you students here, there was a lot of math in this car. We ran numbers like crazy.

“This could be one of the world’s leading companies. I was hoping this would be an American project, but it appears there is a lot more foreign interest.

“I want the parts made in America and assembled in America. We want a network of dealers where cars are assembled. You pick out the features you want and three days later you come back and pick up your car. I really want to convince General Motors that this is what they should be doing.

“We are trying to teach someone who knows how to make a million copies of something to make a million copies of this. If I have my way, you’ll be able to buy a derivative of this car in five years.”

Addressing students again, he said, “The most important thing is to learn how to think and how to explain your ideas. Try it. Present yourself well.”

In a question and answer session, Kuttner was asked if the car could be offered as a kit. “We really want to control the quality, but I’m not saying no to that.”

Field School head Todd Barnett presented Kuttner with a picture of Henry Ford with one of his first cars, which shares many design concepts with Kuttner’s cars.