Drivers along Highway 99 may have gotten a glimpse into the future for at least a brief moment Thursday. A unique-looking car that runs entirely on solar power was on the road.
It’s hard to miss the space ship-looking car as it flies down the road. It's part of an ongoing project organized by students at Stanford University. The students are mostly engineering majors, with at least one economics major, Wesley Ford.
”These vehicles that we build are designed to be ultra efficient,” said Ford. “They're super lightweight. It's covered in about 400 small solar cells. And those solar cells can turn into electric energy, which we can use to drive the car on the highway.”
The car's ultimate destination is Australia for the "World Solar Challenge" in October, a competition of solar-powered cars. The students at Stanford have been test-driving the car between Chico and Red Bluff because the climate here is very similar to that of Australia.
The car's speed has been untested, but it's reached 70 miles per hour. These wiz kids say it could go faster.
”We know it can go quite a bit faster,” said Ford. “But there are no places in California that have speed limits that go high enough. We know that once we get to Australia there are some parts in the outback that speeds are 80 miles per hour. So we'll take it to the top speed there.”
The car has a battery as a safety valve. It's used only when there isn't sufficient sun and it only lasts about 200 miles. The solar car isn’t cheap to operate, but sponsors of all kinds have helped defray the seven-figure price tag.
Spectators do a double-take when they see the sleek car during its brief appearance in the Northstate. We caught up with the solar car team during a brief stop at DeGarmo Park in Chico. After a few minutes it was back on the road, up Highway 99 toward Red Bluff.
In case your wondering, the interior is not luxurious. It resembles the tight quarters of an Indy-car and there is no air-conditioning inside.
After road testing the car Wednesday and Thursday, the team heads back to Stanford.