The electric car had some popularity from 1832 up until the 1920s, where it was deemed to no longer be a commercially viable product. Its downfall was due to the availability of fossil fuels, consumer needs to drive longer distances, and also the lack of horsepower. Fast forward to 1997 and Japan releases the world’s first commercially mass-produced hybrid car, the Toyota Prius. Nowadays, electric cars are aplenty and you can pick one up by simply walking into your local dealership. The electric car is a prime example of how consumer commands shift throughout the years, demanding innovation and new ideas from manufacturers.
But even electric cars have a limit. They still need to be charged, they need to use electricity generated from non-renewable sources (for now) and many of them are still classed as hybrid vehicles. So what’s the next logical step? To use a renewable resource instead!
The history of the solar car
The very first solar car was actually unveiled in 1955 by William G. Cobb. It was far too small to drive and it was fairly clumsy, but it marks the starting point of the solar vehicle. Fast forward to 1962 and the world’s first driveable solar car was shown to the public. It was an electric car that was powered by over 10,000 solar cells mounted on the roof. In 1977, an Alabama University professor known as Ed Passerini built the Bluebird solar vehicle, a prototype of a full-scale vehicle.
Around the same time, a Japanese professor by the name of Masaharu Fujita created a sun-powered bicycle, then later scaled the project up to include a 4-wheeled solar “car” (it was really just two bicycles). From then until the modern day, several solar cars have been prototyped, with DUEM being one of the most recent attempts. They are the UK’s longest running solar car team, powered by a team of students that come from various academic backgrounds. But will the solar car see a rising popularity like the electric car, or is it doomed to fail like the many electric vehicle attempts in the past two centuries?
Consumer demands and changes
One of the most important factors that will determine if solar powered cars will be successful is consumer demand and trends. As seen with electric vehicles, the availability of gas made electric vehicles less attractive to the general public. But as the public’s awareness shifts and they realise that they’re using non-renewable resources and costing themselves a lot of money to run their vehicle, they’ll eventually switch over to long-term solutions such as hybrids or electrics. To take that a step further, they would need to purchase a solar vehicle, but there are some cost concerns.
Solar panels are incredibly expensive, which in turn makes a solar-powered vehicle an expensive investment that might not be commercially viable. Will it have a major impact on the auto industry? Not likely. It will most likely be a trendy vehicle to see driving around the street, but it will not have a big market share much like how electric vehicles are only just now starting to penetrate the market.