Now that the sun has set on the premiere international solar car race, the winners of the 3000-kilometre World Solar Challenge (WSC) are feverishly discussing when, not if, a solar-powered mass production family car will be made available.
It is the fertile minds behind the world-beating Dutch solar car racing teams that are leading the charge to push the envelope in solar car production.
How is it that a country with nowhere near the solar-power-producing potential as Australia can dominate an event that cuts through the heart of the sun-bleached outback?
Anthony Prior, the manager of Australia’s fastest solar car racing team Clenergy Arrow, is dumbfounded by the Dutch strength.
“Perhaps it might be because they don’t have much sun so they have to learn to seek every little photon out of the sun and make their cars as efficient as possible,” he said.
Young energetic competitors from the Netherlands won both the speed-focused challenger class and the recently introduced cruiser class, which is focused on encouraging development of the “car of the future”.
In the 2013 event the winning cruiser-class car Stella finished seven hours behind the winning challenger car.
This year the winning cruiser car Stella Lux recorded the fastest lap (90.6 kilometres per hour) at Darwin’s Hidden Valley race track to win pole position.
Passenger car faster than pencil-thin challenger vehicle
The cruiser class competitors have to make a mandated stop for a night in Alice Springs to recharge their batteries from the main grid, leaving the challenger machines room to hit the finish line first.
Talk after the presentation ceremony this year was all about whether the two distinct classes would be combined for the event in 2017.
A representative from the fastest United States competitor, University of Michigan’s team manager Pavan Naik, said he would prefer to see the continuation of the two classes.
“I think it’d be better if it’s separate because there’s two distinct things you’re looking at,” he said.
“In a cruiser class car it’s all about practicality. It’s all about what does the car of the future look like now whereas with the challenger class you’re advancing technology you’re doing a lot of research and development implementing in this car.”
Australia’s Clenergy Team Arrow is planning to switch from challenger to cruiser class in 2017.
Mr Naik said Michigan had contemplated making the move as well.
“We’ve got some great automotive support from GM and Ford and making a car like that would be kind of cool,” he said.
“We’ve thought about it but for now the challenger-class cars really give us that excitement.”
Cars to become community resource
Team Eindhoven — the team that built ‘Stella Lux’ — is pushing for a climate conscious change to car ownership.
Eindhoven’s Tom Selten is offering to share the team’s knowledge with any other team that joins the WSC with a view to developing solar-powered family cars as a shared community resource.
“What we believe is that cars are not a possession anymore in about 20 years, we believe that cars are shareable,” Mr Selten said.
“We believe that cars should be available for everybody in need. I think this is a solution for the future.
“What we do right now is make a prototype and show the world that it’s possible to drive this car so the next step is to scale up.”
Jay Manley, a former Australian solar race car team member who is now working for electric car maker Tesla in the United States, was in Adelaide for the race finish.
Mr Selten spoke to him and issued a cheeky challenge.
“We hope that over maybe 10 years or something we will hopefully have this company and it’s going to compete with Tesla,” he said.
“Wait a minute this is Stella and she’s better than Tesla so we’re coming.”
Before any mass-produced Stella Lux cars roll off the factory floor the next stop for Team Eindhoven and their innovative car ‘will be a visit to China where they will share their ideas with like-minded Chinese students.
Read the article on The ABC.