Winning five out of the last nine biannual national championships has made the University’s Solar Car Team the most successful solar car team in North America.
As one of the most heavily funded student organizations on campus, with a budget of approximately $2.6 million, the Solar Car Team brings together students from a variety of disciplines, including engineering, business, art, economics, education and history.
The current car, Infinium, holds one passenger. It gets energy from solar panels that is then stored in a battery and used to power a two-horsepower motor. Using the same amount of energy as a common hair dryer, the car reaches speeds of up to 87 mph.
Such an undertaking requires a large budget — approximately $2.6 million — and a serious time commitment, ranging for each student from 10 to 40 hours per week during the school year and approximately 80 hours per week during the summer. Students receive neither financial compensation nor course credit.
According to Engineering senior Steve Durbin, the Solar Car Team’s interim project manager, the goal of completing the project is enough motivation.
“A lot of times, especially (with) homework, students work on something but don’t see a finished product,” Durbin said. “It keeps them coming back, week after week.”
The team raises funds through a variety of sponsors, including each of the “Big 3” automakers, the College of Engineering, Ross School of Business and the Michigan Student Assembly.
According to Interim Strategy Director Rachel Karmer, an LSA sophomore, the corporate and public relations aspects make up half of the work.
“So many students put in time, energy and brain power to perfect every aspect of the team – it’s a perfect collaboration of business and engineering,” Karmer said.
Each car the team builds is for a two-year competition period. The National Competition and World Solar Challenge alternate each year.
Currently, 18 members are in Australia competing against 40 other teams in the World Solar Challenge. Although competition is still underway, Durbin expects a top-three finish.