Solar Vehicles and American Culture
Solar cars aren’t a modern concept. The first solar powered vehicle was introduced to the American public in 1955. Developed by William G. Cobb, a General Motors engineer, the “Sunmobile” was not practical; the size of the car was too small for a driver! Since then, there have been many solar vehicle designs, such as a two-bike vehicle designed in Tokyo and a battery-less solar vehicle designed at the University of Alabama.
Interested about the history of solar cars? Read more here: http://www.firstcarnow.com/first-solar-car.htm
In 1987, an American-built solar car, the GM Sunraycer, completed the trek from Darwin, Australia to Adelaide, Australia in 44 hours and 54 minutes, driving at an average speed of 41 miles per hour. In 1988, the Sunraycer set a new world record for a solar vehicle, driving at a max speed of 48.7 miles per hour.
Learn more about the GM Sunraycer here: http://history.gmheritagecenter.com/wiki/index.php/GM_Sunraycer
Despite these two solar vehicles and numerous others in history, you still don’t see solar cars driving alongside hybrids and gas-powered vehicles. This is simply because the solar-powered vehicle is not yet practical for widespread use. The cost of purchasing a solar car vehicle is too high to justify the gas savings. The Sunmobile, Cobb’s solar-vehicle, took around $7 million to build and the GM Sunraycer cost “several million dollars” (the actual price was never released). But there is another reason as well: the car culture in the United States isn’t ready to accept a solar vehicle.
In 1955, the same year the Sunmobile was introduced, the most popular car in the United States was the Chevy Corvette. A stylish, large, loud vehicle, the Chevy Corvette, as Lee Cowan of CBS News put it, was “flashy, unrestrained, and proud.” Followed by the Ford Mustang, and the ‘59 Cadillac, the Chevy Corvette was the trigger for a long line of gas-driven American cars. Even a line of “muscle cars” became popular, featuring cars like the Pontiac GTO, which Paul Ingrassia, author of “Engines of Change” calls “Gas, Tires, and Oil”.
For more information regarding the American Car Culture and an interview with Paul Ingrassia, read: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3445_162-57481892/waxing-nostalgic-about-americas-car-culture/?pageNum=2
However, there is a culture change coming to America. It began with the Chevy Corvair, made infamous by Ralph Nader. The car, Nader said, was “the leading candidate for the most un-safest-car title.” In recent years, White House, too, has tried to influence the current automobile culture in America. The popular Cash for Clunkers program encouraged motorists to trade in environmentally-unfriendly used cars for cash to purchase more environmentally friendly vehicles. The Obama Administration has also placed stricter emissions restrictions. The evidence of the culture shift is visible on the streets: more and more hybrids are seen being driven on our highways and roads.
Read about how our efforts are similar to the efforts of automakers when it comes to meeting the emission restrictions: http://solarcar.engin.umich.edu/2012/12/developing-an-efficient-car/
While the solar-powered vehicle may be years away from the general American market, the solar-powered vehicle does reflect one aspect of the American public: driving truly free on the countryside – no worries or cares, and especially, no stopping for gas!