When the X Prize was announced for a 100 MPG vehicle in 2007, it is doubtful anyone had a Hummer on their mind. But a partnership with energy company Raser has yielded just such a contender. The new plug-in hybrid Hummer gets a 100 MPG average* and offers substantially more power than a typical Hummer (0-16 in 8.5 seconds) with a 200 kw "advanced AC induction motor" and high-powered Lithium Ion batteries.

The electric Hummer joins several other contenders unveiled this Earth week, including Bright Automotive's IDEA plug-in minivan and the uber sexy carbon fiber biodiesel hybrid Lightening LH4 (video link below).

I just read a great piece by LA Times writer Dan Neil who suggested that a theoretical "U.S. Dept. of Prius" could do more to get us off of foreign oil than many other green stimulus investments, by simply buying Prius' for people. According to his back-of-envelope calculation, a $46 billion investment would buy 2 million people a Prius, and save 1.4 billion gallons of gas per year.

Well I'm going to one up you a bit Dan...what if we leverage that investment a bit... Instead of buying 2 million Prius' (Prii??) outright, the U.S. Dept. of Hummer instead offers an instant 1/3 rebate of the Raser H3 (remember that old Bush rebate)? So we get 6 million people into Hummers at 100 MPG average each.

Maintaining Neil's assumptions -- retiring now 6 million polluter vehicles with an average 15 MPG at 15,000 vehicle mile per year -- we would save about 8.4 billion gallons of gas per year, or about 3 month's worth of OPEC oil!

Of course this does not factor in embodied energy. The Hummer is about the worst body model to choose because of the additional energy required to produce such a large and hefty vehicle (which interestingly is about the same as a typical Prius). With a standard Sedan body style the efficiencies would be even greater over long distances.

But its a fun case in point...plug-in electric vehicles are by far the best approach to getting 100 MPG, as they allow a driver to handle a typical day without ever tapping their backup gas engine.

Over the next few months, we will be seeing more X Prize contenders, but they have to prove the ability to scale manufacturing. Yesterday at the Fortune Green Brainstorm, Raser CEO Kraig Higginson made the bold claim they could do it AND provide clean, geothermal energy to power the vehicles, making an almost carbon-neutral vehicle.

2009 will tell if a Hummer can save the world.. or if its all a lot of hunky hype.

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* Fuel efficiency for an electric hybrid has to be calculated as an average per month. If a driver stayed in the city and never exceeded 40 miles in a day (or before recharging) he would never need to use gasoline so he would have essentially "unlimited" MPG. Based on EPA data, the typical driver goes about 30 miles per day. Factoring in (very generously) 4 additional 100 mile long-distance trips per month, Raser assumes a typical driver would average 60 miles per day. With the first forty miles being all electric, the total average MPG estimated by Raser is 100 MPG.

(MNN homepage photo: Hummer)