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University Solar Team Switches Focus From Competition to Near-Production Ready Vehicle; Changing the Solar-Powered Paradigm

The new Sunstang is a three-wheel, fully electric, single-passenger vehicle. Click to enlarge.

After 17 years of building solar cars to enter into competitions—the World Solar Challenge and the American Solar Challenge—the Sunstang solar team at The University of Western Ontario is shifting its focus to developing a near production-ready commuter vehicle.

This next-generation Sunstang is based on the team’s re-evaluation of the solar-powered vehicle paradigm. Rather than trying to use solar cells to provide power directly to the vehicle, the new Sunstang will use a removable battery system which will be recharged by a residential solar charging stations. One battery pack will remain on the charging station, while the other is in the car.

The issue with the competitions is that the difference between our car, which was basically the lowest budget possible, to the cars that were winning is the solar panels and that’s it.

—Geoff Gauthier, project manager for the Sunstang

Efficiency to cost ratio. Source: Sunstang team. Click to enlarge.

Today’s solar race vehicles are nearing a technical saturation point in which little improvement can be made without a growth in efficiency of the solar panels, the Sunstang team says. The team calculated that the cost of solar panels grows nearly exponentially with an increase in efficiency. Not only does this create major issues for racing vehicles, it suggests that applying these technologies directly to a practical vehicle would be in vain, the team concluded. Hence, the switch in the solar-powered model to using swappable batteries recharged by home solar stations.

The new Sunstang is a three-wheel, fully electric single passenger vehicle with a steel chassis and composite body. The car will be powered by a 10.5 kW CSIRO motor designed for solar racing. The car has a top speed of 135 km/h (83 mph) and can drive approximately 200 kilometers (124 miles) based on a speed of 120 km/h (75 mph) or up to almost 300 km (186 miles) in the city on a fully-charged battery.

The interior will be similar to a traditional car: it will have more than two cubic meters of storage space and a spare tire.

Sunstang has received a $10,000 donation from Yokohama Tire (Canada) Inc., which distributes tires for high performance, passenger car, commercial and off-road vehicles. Yokohama is considering designing and producing a tire specifically for the new Sunstang project.

The group plans to drive the vehicle across Canada in August or September to raise awareness and build exposure for the team. There are 32 members from the Faculty of Engineering and other faculties across campus working on the design and production.

At this point, the group has finished its design and is manufacturing the vehicle. The battery system is in the designing process.



This is definitely the direction we need to be heading in: ultralight, ultra efficient vehicles for day to day use coupled to sufficient renewable capacity to make them near to zero emissions.

Make it a tandem two seater and I will be very interested. Car clubs could provide vehicles with larger carrying capacity when needed.

Even in the not so sunny UK, a domestic scale (2.5kWp) solar PV installation will generate sufficient electricity (2,125kWh/yr) to power a car 8,500 miles (@250Wh/mile which is well above what this thing would consume).

The car manufacturers sometimes talk about taking the car out the environmental equation, usually referring to large fuel cell powered cars but that won't work. This could though, possibly.

Watching with interest!


Even within segments of the energy sustainability frontier, there's no all-encompassing solution. This included.

How many families
i. park (or could park if they cleaned out the junk) one car in a garage
ii. have two automobiles and would like to stay that way
iii. have one breadwinner who drives 20+ miles to work each day, but not so far that a round-trip would require some daytime charge?

Answer: lots! Even if only 10% of autos, as we use them today, could be replaced by solar powered one-seaters (protected from the weather) with limited round trip, that's a huge change in the marketplace and the way we use fossil fuels. Over time, their increased popularity will result in workplaces installing chargers (thereby increasing the share of autos eligible), and technological improvements will expand the range (again, increasing share).

Good stuff.


For many decades, some very smart people convinced the majority that they need 3-tonne steel boxes on four large wheels to drive to work (safely).

Few people known that's very far from the truth and that a 1-tonne or even less e-vehicle could drive one or two people to work very safely while using 75% less energy.

Who is going to de-program the majority? Oil (and large vehicle) addiction goes very deep.


What happens when one of these gets hit by a two ton monsters SUV or truck? We would like to have more pedestrians and cyclists, but you put your life in the hands of those at the wheels of huge vehicles.

Maybe that is the popularity of Monster Truck Rallies. They see huge trucks running over regular cars as if they were beer cans. This may be what people mean when they say large SUVs are safer, they can just crush everyone else. Until everyone downsizes, we still have a problem.


We've turned vehicle weight into a weapon's race. It's almost like they are weapons of "mass" destruction.

I've done talks to audiences of intelligent executives who very much want to be green and do things "right", but they can't get over the idea that "mass equals safety simply by the laws of physics" and I've had that quoted to me a number of times.
When I point out that an approx 500kg Formula 1 car can hit a wall at 170mph with thousands of times it's own mass and still have the driver walk away 90% of the time they always get this thoughtful "gee, I never thought of that" look.
It's about the vehicle design. We could clearly build super safe cars at nearly any weight. But are we willing to pay for it (carbon fiber, etc)? No...we just keep throwing more steel and a slightly higher bumper at the problem so we can make sure it's the other guy who gets killed in a wreck, not "us".


Oh yeah, I have had the same discussion with others and they say "why don't we do that?" as if it is a democratic decision. It is not, it is in the hands of law makers that are lobbied by those that make the vehicles.

There is no ground swell grass roots movement to do the "right thing". If there was, logic and reason would have prevailed when the car makers wanted to sell everyone more large SUVs for higher profit margins.


Why do they worry about solar charging at all - why not just charge off the grid - this thing will be so efficient, it won't matter very much where the electricity comes from.

[ By all means have some solar panels if you wish, there is just no need to link them to charging the battery for these ]

On the safety vs greenery argument, one group of people ARE prepared to accept lower levels of safety (cyclists, both pedal and motor). However, what they get for this is the ability to move through and around slow moving or stationary traffic, due to their narrowness. The deal seems to be speed/predictability for safety.

This vehicle, however, is quite wide - wide enough to be stable, and thus not narrow enough to move through or around traffic: thus the cyclist's deal doesn't hold - you will still get caught in traffic. You will be protected from the elements, if not from the SUVs, which is something.

It looks a bit like an electric version of a bubble car from the 1950's, but with better shut lines.

I wish them well, but I am not sure they have it.


For everybodies' safety, very heavy vehicles (2+ tonnes) and trucks should not mix in the same lanes with light (under 2 tonnes) passenger cars unless their speed is restricted to well under the normal speed limits. EX: Highway speed limits for cars could be set at 65/70 mph but at 55 mph (max) for monters and trucks. Exceptions may be set for long haul buses with experienced high quality drivers. The same principle could be applied on all other roads and streets. Penalities for breaking speed limits could be set according to the potential danger = (vehicle weight x miles over limits).

Four-ton 4 x 4 do not really belong on city streets but on war fields. People driving those monsters normally have a strong internal desire to run over or push smaller vehicles off the road. Their bully nature is often re-inforced when they drive a monster. If you're careful enough, you will see heavy 4x4 drivers interfering with traffic flow every other mile or so. They rely on their vehicle weight to force other drivers to give way. A very dangerous game typically played by many monsters drivers.


I hope people will come to their senses and drive more responsible vehicles. Where I live, 1 in 4 vehicles is a large truck or a large SUV. They block the view of others in traffic, they block the view in parking lots and really don't care, they can see just fine.

It is a metaphor for "I got mine, the heck with you" on wheels. As long as their needs are met it does matter at all about anyone else...the heck with them! This lack of caring about others follows through to almost everything they do in life. Why should they care about anyone else, they are all that matter.


If single seater race chassi can be made to survive 300 kph+ impacts then it HAS to be technically possible to make a crash survivable small road car.


@Paul, it is certainly technically possible to make a racing car survive a horrendous crash.
It is not possible to do so at a reasonable cost (i.e. < 12K Euros).

On the other hand, people in Europe and Japan drive small, lightish cars without many problems.

If you run into a Merc doing 120 mph in a Yaris doing 60, you will be in trouble, but this does not happen very often, and we should not build our cars for these worst case scenarios.

How many people who worry about small cars smoke or don't wear seatbelts ? (Or gorge on Big Macs?)

Lets worry about the things that actually kill us, and not just use excuses to buy huge cars so we can look down on other people (literally).


Why worry about electrical power.
Just use a small, efficient ICE.
It won't burn much fuel anyway (partly because it won't sell).

If would be more practical in two seat form - but that has been tried repeatedly.
There was the BMW Isetta, the Insight 1, the EV1, the Smart, etc. and they don’t sell well.

Making them even more expensive with cutting edge materials will only make matters worse.

As for the great Satans of industry or government or callous disregard for others or the desire to push others off the road, keep in mind that vehicle size does not seem to be shrinking world wide and such vehicles as the Sunstang are not selling anywhere.


The Sunstang bears a certain resemblance to the 3-wheel autorickshaws which are ubiquitous across S. and SE. Asia. The major difference is that it's used by the owner for transport, not for hire. And India is getting even closer by trying to replace the ICEV versions with electrics.

I don't see vehicles like the Excursion doing very well if they are subject to carbon fees, pollution fees or congestion fees based on their excessive size. The Sunstang (and Tango) would be favored once those externalities were internalized. TT may disagree, and I can only say let's set up the experiment and run it.


This is the vehicle that should be rented in the city at arrival points: airports, bus stations, train stations, etc. But more than that, they should be available throughout the city at charging stations and parking provided by the city. Your rental card should be all that's required to bill your use to a monthly bill as well as starting the car.

Will S

Excellent idea, hope they move forward with it. The current US automakers need competition to wake them up.

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