7 Awesome Solar-Powered Vehicles

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The sun is shining. Hot weather makes gas expand. Gas emissions contribute to global warming. Dontcha wish there was a better way, like cars that ran on solar power? There is, although they're experimental and in the development and gee-whiz stages. Who knows if solar cars will ever take off (maybe solar hybrids?). In the meantime, put on your sunglasses and check out these contenders.

1. Tokai Challenger

photo world solar challenge 2009 winner tokai

The 2009 winner of the World Solar Challenge, held on a 1,864-mile course in the Australian desert outback, was a Japanese team called Tokai Challenger. The team, from Tokai University, had an average speed of 63 mph, according to Wired. The car was equipped with Sharp compound solar cells developed for outer space applications. Sharp says the cells have an output of 1.8 kilowatts and a cell conversion efficiency of 30%, the highest level in the world.

The next Challenge is set for October 2011. The competition, billed as the world's premier solar racing event, runs every two years. Tokai won despite a flat tire.

2. University of Michigan Infinium

photo university of michigan infinium winner

Like the Tokai, this is a car built for speed and setting records, not passengers and carting around the family.

The University of Michigan's Infinium car finished first in 2010 American Solar Challenge, which ended Saturday.

It was U of M's third straight national championship and sixth overall. The car crossed the line after traveling 1,100 miles over six days on a cross-country course from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, to Naperville, Illinois. Average speed: 40 mph.

3. Solar Knights

photo sts9 solar knights solar car

This one is cool (and hot) because it's a Florida high school project supported by STS9, an electro band with a progressive track record.

The band has helped fund the Solar Knights project at South Plantation High School by selling VIP tickets to shows, then donating the proceeds for ray-powered race car equipment.

4. Eleanor

photo MIT eleanor

If only for the name. And a decorated team at MIT that has kept this vehicle on the front lines of solar development. Based on a description from The Tech, you'd think she was a too-tall woman:

"Her sleek, reflective body spans the length of nearly 16 feet -- encrusted with over 580 silicon solar cells and capable of generating an estimated power output of 1200 watts. Her streamlined curves and futuristic design make her an instant star of any roadway, whizzing past other cars at speeds of up to a potential 90 mph and boasting a drag coefficient of only 0.11."

Her name comes from the most-elusive car in the car theft movie "Gone in 60 Seconds."


5. Steve Titus' Solar Bug

photo steve titus solar bug

This one is a more practical, almost-auto version of the university/corporate solar racing car.

According to AutoBlogGreen, the Solar Bug showed up at a 2006 Alt Car Expo in Santa Monica, looking like a squished school bus built on an ATV chassis.

The latest version has a top speed of 35 mph, and goes up to 60 miles on a three-to-five hour battery charge. Two-hundred watts of roof mounted solar panels help supplement the electric power to the tune of up to 20 miles per day, Titus says.

The Solar Bug is expected to cost about $15,000 and be available through a network of dealers.

6. The Mysterious Solar Flyer

photo solar motorcycle bike arizona

Mysterious because some of the only evidence seems to be a video taken from an ABC newscast.

Gas 2.0 reports that an Arizona man named Richard Gryzch has developed the two-wheeler, billed as the world's first fully sun-powered electric motorbike. He calls it the Solar Flyer after those Radio Flyer wagons.

And it sounds like the whispering cycle from that old Captain America TV show. The Flyer allegedly travels up to 50 miles on a full charge, with a top speed of 90 mph.

7. The SUNN

photo sunn ev solar diy pickup

This is a kit vehicle that makes up for its boxy, do-it-yourself design with ... a $4,500 price tag, not including batteries or solar panels? You're sure to be the talk of the campground or neighborhood with this one, though. The SUNN Solar Electric Vehicle is made in Maine and also comes in a pickup truck version, shown above.