The Challenging Future of Solar Powered Cars

How close are sun-powered cars to being part of daily life?

Last updated on August 16, 2019, by Yesenia Torres | Written by Nina Goodey

A car that charges itself after being left in the sun all day and then drives hundreds of miles with no need for gasoline or charging sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Well, a car that costs only a little sunshine isn’t too far off.

The first ever solar car was a tiny, 15-inch car displayed in 1955 at a General Motors Powerama auto show, made with twelve selenium cells and a small electric motor. While it was a cute novelty at the time, it foreshadowed the development of solar powered cars. 

A toy solar car

Solar cars have come a long way since, although we’re still working on getting prototype solar cars actually on the road. The general problem is that there isn’t enough available surface on the car to install the needed solar cells to power a car that weighs a ton and a half. So, car designers can make a car that’s essentially a solar panel with wheels and a small space for a driver, or try to find a way to make cars as aerodynamic and lightweight as possible. 


One car quickly getting attention is the Lightyear One, a solar car made by a startup created by students from the Netherlands. Reportedly, it can travel up to 450 miles on a single charge. If true, it’s a remarkable accomplishment. That said, it appears that this car would still need charging from an electrical outlet to be truly useful in daily life.

Light year one solar car

Made with carbon fiber and aluminum, the Lightyear One can charge up to 250 miles from a regular 230V power outlet or generate power from the solar cells on the car hood and roof. The Lightyear One is currently available for pre-order for $170,000.

Sunswift Eve

Sunswift, or the official solar racing team of the University of New South Wales, has won numerous awards for their designs. eVe features a sleek sports car design, beat a world speed record by averaging 66 mph over 310 miles, and can travel up to 310 miles on one full battery charge.  Currently, Sunswift is working on getting eVe street-legal in Australia.

Solar car facing the sunset

Sky Ace Tiga

The world record for fastest solar vehicle powered exclusively by solar panels is currently held by Sky Ace TIGA. With a top speed of 56.75 mph, the solar tricycle designed by Japanese students broke the record it previously set in 2005 (eVe, though faster, has a chargeable battery). 

Red solar car


For the most practical solar-powered car, check out the Stella and the Stella Lux, the world’s first family of solar-powered cars.

The cars in this series have won multiple competitions for their practicality and the feasibility of a truly solar-powered car (many other solar cars run on charged batteries).  Designed by students in the Netherlands (some of whom went on to design the Lightyear One), the Stella family seats 4-5 people with luggage space and can reach speeds of up to 75 mph. 

A man loading shopping bags into the back of a mostly white solar car while a woman watches

As exciting as solar car developments are, none are street legal yet in the U.S. and it’s simpler to just use charging stations to power an electric car anyways. Maybe one day at Santan Solar we’ll sell solar car parts, but for now, check out which solar panels we have available or click here to contact us if you have more questions!


About The Author

Nina Goodey is a guest writer for SanTan Solar.

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