World's first solar-powered family car to drive across Australia

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Students at Eindhoven University have created what they are calling the world's first solar-powered family car, a solar-powered vehicle that can fit four people inside.

(Credit: Solar Team Eindhoven)

The World Solar Challenge — a 3000-kilometre solar car race from Adelaide to Darwin — is kicking off on 6 October — and this year will see the entry of a new kind of solar car: the family vehicle.

Called Stella, the oddly shaped car is the work of a team of students from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and, in a world first for solar-powered cars, it can fit more than one passenger in its roomy interior. Because it is the first of its kind to enter the challenge, a new category has been created: the Cruiser Class, where the car is judged on practicality and real-world needs rather than speed.

Thanks to a roof covered with high-yield silicon solar panels, the car can draw down more energy than it needs, storing the excess in a battery. The team predicts that half the power required for the race will be acquired this way, with the rest coming from three solar-recharging stations. According to Solar Team Eindhoven, the car has a typical range of up to 600 kilometres, with a top speed of 110 kilometres per hour.

Stella has been built out of lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium; combined with its compact, flattened and aerodynamic form factor measuring 4.5 metres long and 1.65 metres wide, it weighs just 380 kilograms, greatly increasing its energy efficiency.

Inside, the car boasts a steering wheel that expands and contracts according to speed and a buttonless, touchscreen dashboard.

In its present, bare-bones state, it probably won't be winning over any families that are looking for comfort; however, after the race, Solar Team Eindhoven hopes to get the car road legal and on the consumer market.

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