Sunseeker (solar vehicle)

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Sunseeker (front) at a midday stop in Sunrayce 1995.

The Sunseeker Solar Car Project, Sunseeker for short, is Western Michigan University's solar car team. Each vehicle is designed, built, maintained, and raced by students. Sunseeker has competed in all of the American Solar Challenge events, going back to 1990.[1]

The mission of the Sunseeker Solar Car Project is to design, build, and race solar powered vehicles to advance and demonstrate the abilities of the renewable energy technologies. When not racing, the team participates in numerous events, where they show their cars to the public.



In 1990, WMU's Sunseeker competed in the General Motors sponsored Sunrayce USA that ran from Orlando, Florida to Warren, Michigan. With over 1600 miles and 38 competitors, Sunseeker 77 finished in 8th place.[2]


In 1991, Sunseeker competed in two Arizona solar challenges. One of them was the Solar and Electric 500 at Phoenix International Speedway where Sunseeker received the honor of 5th place. Sunseeker placed an impressive 2nd place in the Arizona Governor's Cup Solar Challenge, a 2.5 mile Grand Prix course through the streets of Phoenix, Arizona.


In 1993, GM was joined by the DOE, National Renewable Energy Laboratories and EDS to sponsor the solar challenge. The Sunrayce ran from Dallas, Texas to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Rain and clouds contributed to a disappointing 18th place for Sunseeker 93.[3]


The NREL, EDS, and GM together sponsored the 1995 Sunrayce. The route ran from the Indianapolis Speedway to Denver, Colorado. Sunseeker 95 took advantage of the excellent chassis from the previous race and built a new array, installed a new power train, refined the aerodynamics, and formed a new strategy. These changes allowed Sunseeker to place 8th in a competitive field of 36 cars.[4]


The 1997 Sunrayce ran from Indianapolis to Colorado Springs, Colorado with the DOE, EDS and General Motors as its sponsors. The team built an entirely new vehicle for 1997. Sunseeker 97 finished in 16th-place finish.[5]


1999 brought about a whole new aerodynamic body design that was different from all previous Sunseeker designs. There was only one problem: rain. Nine of the ten race days from Washington, D.C. to Orlando, Florida were plagued with overcast and rain. The rain damaged one of Sunseeker's two motors, which had to be taken apart and dried. On the last and only sunny day of the race, Sunseeker 454 passed more than 20 competitors and finished 3rd for the day, but still finished in 26th position overall.[6]


The first American Solar Challenge race in 2001 was sponsored by EDS, the DOE, and NREL. WMU hosted scrutineering where the solar cars are inspected for mechanical, electrical and safety requirements. Sunseeker 95 was modified with a new array panel and more efficient solar cells. The wheels were replaced with the carbon fiber wheels used on the 1999 car. A number of other modifications were made and the car was renamed Sunseeker 295. After a 2400-mile race from Chicago to Los Angeles down Route 66, it finished 5th in Stock Class and 23rd overall.[7]


For WMU's Centennial in 2003, the team reduced the 1999 car's length and width and constructed an all composite body and chassis of carbon fiber and honeycomb, designed a new rear suspension, built a high efficiency solar array, and installed the hub motors from the '99 car. Entered in the Open Class, again following Route 66, Sunseeker 03 captured 5th place in the race, sporting car number 786. It also won the Inspector's Award for best mechanical and electrical design, the Sportsmanship Award, the Most Improved Award, and EDS's Gold Award for Best Solar Car Design.[8]


For 2005, the race became the North American Solar Challenge as the route started in Austin, Texas and ran north to Winnipeg, Manitoba then west to Calgary, Alberta. It was the longest solar car race ever at 2500 miles (4000 km). Sunseeker 03 was given a new canopy, stronger rear suspension, improved aerodynamics and renamed Sunseeker 05. With no mechanical or electrical breakdowns, car number 786 crossed the finish line in 6th place and took home the Aesthetics Award for the prettiest car.[9]

The 2005 car can still be seen in public events, such as the Kalamazoo Holiday Parade, along with other past Sunseeker solar cars.

The 2008 Sunseeker solar array with gallium arsenide (GaAs) multijunction cells


A radical change in driver seating for the 2008 solar challenge caused all teams to build totally new cars. Sunseeker 08 used the very efficient array from the previous car and was changed to a front wheel drive quasi three wheel vehicle since the two rear wheels were about a foot apart behind the cockpit bulge. However, the array blew off the car during qualifying and the car could not participate in the event. WMU team members joined other teams to assist during the race. At the award ceremony after the race, they received the Sportsmanship Award to a long round of applause.[10]

The 2010 car racing towards the top of the hill at turn one at Circuit of the Americas during the 2014 Formula Sun Grand Prix Powered by Austin Energy.

2010 - 2014[edit]

For 2010, the team introduced a new solar car to compete in the American Solar Challenge. The vehicle was the first, and remains as the only three-wheeled design produced by the team. It has two powered wheels in the front, and a single unpowered wheel in the back. It is considered an experimental motorcycle by the Michigan Secretary of State.

Each of the two CISIRO motors produce 6 horsepower, and enable the 600 pound (without a driver) car to travel at most 80 miles per hour.[11] During races, however, the car's top speed was limited to 45 miles per hour in order to keep it running efficiently.

The 2010 car raced in three American Solar Challenge road races, and five Formula Sun Grand Prix races.

2015 - Present[edit]

During the Fall 2014 semester, the team began working on the next generation Sunseeker solar car. The car will incorporate four wheels, with the two rear wheels being powered. The aeroshell will be made of light-weight carbon fiber, while the chassis will be made of carbon fiber and chromoly steel.

The next solar car is expected to race in the 2016 American Solar Challenge and Formula Sun Grand Prix.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2009.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2009.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2009.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ [1] Archived July 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2009.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ [2] Archived July 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Archived from the original on April 24, 2009. Retrieved September 27, 2009.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2009.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2009.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ "Sunseeker 2010 | Sunseeker Solar Car Project". Retrieved 2015-07-17. 

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