The Big Crazy EV Rally Known as Challenge Bibendum

By · May 24, 2011

The Peugeot EX1 and Citroën Survolt at the Challenge Bibendum in Berlin

The Peugeot EX1 and Citroën Survolt at the Challenge Bibendum in Berlin

It's still hard to define what the Challenge Bibendum is. It's part motor show, part conference, and it's also a ride-and-drive event. But what really sets the Challenge Bibendum apart is its sheer size, and importance, with many CEOs and top level politicians attending. What attracts them is quite simple: the organizer. The Michelin group is the world's largest tire manufacturer, with more than 100,000 employees all over the world, and doing business with all car manufacturers. Michelin also has the advantage of being a neutral player. The company makes tires for big trucks and small EVs as well, and that helps make every challenge the most diverse exhibition there can be.

The Venturi Volage and the Finnish E-RA at the Challenge Bibendum in Berlin

The Venturi Volage and the Finnish E-RA at the Challenge Bibendum in Berlin

There were cars, buses, trucks, low-speed vehicles, electric motorbikes, Segway-like machines, more than 200 vehicles total were in Berlin, using all known forms of energy. Compared to past editions, LPG and biofuels were down, and natural gas too, but less so. (Volkswagen was heavily promoting it.) Electrics were way up. According to Michelin, there were 30 cars running on fuel cells, and 35 on batteries. All production EVs were participating: Nissan LEAFs, Mitsubishi's, Tesla Roadsters, but what grabbed my attention were all the others. The prototypes, the "not yet available" stuff that came the challenge to be tested. Sadly, this has not been very successful. I understand it's difficult to compare a 30-kW Think City with the 420-kW Protoscar Lampo 3, so Michelin organized different tests. There was an Intercity (186-mile long) rally, an Urban rally, and an EV rally. There were different categories for each race (production models, prototypes) and a design award on top of that, with the results being just too many winners! I'll only give you a few results.

The electric Porsche and the Protoscar Lampo 3 at the Challenge Bibendum in Berlin

The electric Porsche and the Protoscar Lampo 3 at the Challenge Bibendum in Berlin

The Venturi Volage was the fastest accelerating car 0 to 50 kph (31 mph). The most incredible EV ever made, it should be in limited production next year. I've been lucky to have a ride in it. The car in front of it is a prototype made by students from the Metropolia University of Applied Science in Helsinki. It's called the E-RA – RaceAbout. It won the EV rally in the concept class. It's a one-off prototype, but an impressive car getting impressive results. There are some really talented students in Finland. I was expecting a lot from the Protoscar Lampo 3 but it didn't participate in any rally, nor the Porsche—yet that was easily the most sought after car in Berlin. Everybody wanted to test-drive it. There were so many people waiting for it that I couldn't manage to find the time to get in the line. But I talked to another journalist who had the chance to drive it, and he assured me it's the best electric he has ever driven. Not as fast as a Tesla though, but better to drive. I hope Porsche will take it to brand club events so that its customers can drive it too, and say if they would be happy to buy it if it were available.

The Renault Fluence ZE, most efficient car at the Challenge Bibendum in Berlin

The Renault Fluence ZE, most efficient car at the Challenge Bibendum in Berlin

The Peugeot EX1 and the Citroën Survolt were also fantastic but they will never be produced. Yet I had a talk with an engineer that has been working on the Citroën, and he told me he doesn't work on anything but EVs. That might be the best thing about the Michelin challenge. Compared to a motor show, where you most often only meet PR people, you can meet engineers at the Michelin event. That made the challenge a great meeting place, but maybe not for me: I failed to meet up with fellow PluginCars.com contributor Nick Chambers who also attended.

I'll conclude with the biggest winners, which are a bit of a surprise. The EV rally was won by the Nissan LEAF, and the best EV in the Intercity rally was the Renault Fluence ZE. There were 3 Tesla Roadsters competing, but the Renault four-door five-passenger sedan was the most efficient, requiring only 37.44 kWh to cover the 186 mile rally. I hadn't expected that.

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