What Do We Do?
The University of Michigan Solar Car Team is an entirely student-run organization that designs and builds solar electric vehicles. The team races both nationally and internationally. Since its establishment in 1990, the team has built 12 vehicles, won the American Solar Challenge seven times, and placed third in the World Solar Challenge five times. The team is recognized as the most successful team in North America.
It takes the team 2 years to build a new car. Improvements on the design and construction of the next car begin immediately following the completion of the current one. In the summer, the team is either participating in the American Solar Challenge or preparing for the World Solar Challenge, depending on the year. This makes it essential to maintain a level of commitment within the organization year-round.
The Race Crew, composed of around 20 people, takes off the fall semester in order to travel to Australia to race in the World Solar Challenge. The crew ships off to Australia in early September. They then go through a solid month of strenuous testing. The team stays at a hostel during this month and works around-the-clock on the car in a workspace which has been loaned by a nearby boarding school. The strategists adjust to predicting car performance and energy usage in the Australian sun, the engineers practice driving the car on new roads, and eventually the crew runs a ”mock race” 1,800 miles (2,900 km) from one side of the country to the other in order to prepare for the real 1,800 mile race. While the Race Crew is in Australia, the fresh group of interim leaders take charge in America to keep the team running efficiently.
The Michigan Solar Car Team is comprised of four unique divisions. Specialization within the team is a large part of what makes umsolar so successful. The Engineering Division is divided by specialty to design and build the car. The division is composed of engineers who focus on aerodynamics and body, mechanical, electrical, and micro-electrical systems. Nearly every system on the vehicle is custom-designed and manufactured for each race. The Business Division markets and advertises the team in order to procure the resources necessary to construct a state-of-the-art solar electric vehicle, which often costs more than 1.2 million dollars. The Strategy Division maximizes the performance of the vehicle on race day by performing extensive weather tests and designing custom software to analyze and predict the most efficient way to run the race in order to win. Finally, the Operations Division does all the work in between that allows the team run smoothly, including shipping the team and equipment off to Australia and maintaining a safe and effective camp abroad for several months.