New solar car from U-Michigan has sleek, asymmetrical design

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Posted June 21, 2013

The lopsided solar car named Generation, unveiled today, might be the oddest-looking vehicle the top-ranked University of Michigan team has ever built. But the bold shape is a calculated effort to design the most efficient car possible, given major changes in World Solar Challenge race rules.

The World Solar Challenge is an 1,800-mile, week-long endurance contest across the continent of Australia that takes place every other fall. The U-M team has come in third place five times, most recently in 2011. The reigning national champions are hoping that Generation can carry them to their first world race victory this October.

“We spent a lot of time refining the design and we’re feeling really good about it,” said Eric Hausman, team project manager and senior in industrial and operations engineering.

The most significant rule change for 2013 is that cars must have four wheels instead of three. That, Hausman says, is the biggest shift since 2007, when the driver moved from lying down to seated. Both new requirements called for teams to essentially start from scratch and outline new vehicle shapes.

“So in ’07, you had to figure out where to put the driver in the air foil,” Hausman said. “This year, it’s similar. You have to figure out how to arrange the wheels and the driver in the new optimal position, and we think we’ve found that basic geometry.”

The component the team had the most leeway with wasn’t the wheels, but rather the driver’s seat—nicknamed the “butt bucket” by the team because that’s essentially what it is. In the old three-wheeled cars, the butt bucket was situated right behind the front wheel—encased in the same fairing, actually.

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