The first solar-powered car and are they challenging the Electric vehicle (EV)?

We install home solar panels in Croydon (and southern areas of it). These domestic panels are great for charging batteries that power Electric Vehicles (EV).

More recently there a been a range of new cars where the solar panel is part of the vehicle. The leaders in the market are Sono Motors (Germany), Aptera Motors (US) and Lightyear (Netherlands).

The Lightyear 0 bills itself as the world’s first solar car,  BUT we would like to give this title to something from some decades earlier!

Lightyear O Solar Panel Car

Sunmobile – The First Solar-powered Model Car

On August 31, 1955, William G. Cobb of the General Motors Corp. (GM) demonstrates his 15-inch-long “Sunmobile,” the world’s first solar-powered automobile, at the General Motors Powerama (“The World’s Fair of Power,”) auto show held in Chicago, Illinois.

The Sunmobile introduced the field of photovoltaics (where the sun’s rays are converted into electricity) to the automobile industry.

Sunmoble Solar Powered Car

From the image:

“Sun’s Light Powers Tiny Car SUNLIGHT runs this 15-inch Sunmobile built by GM researchers. Rays striking 12 selenium photocells atop the car (above) generate electricity to run a 12-volt motor and spin the rear wheels.

Is the Sunmobile a forerunner of full-size sun-powered cars? No, says GM. Even 100- percent-efficient cells could produce only 12 hp. for the average car.”


The 1912 Baker Solar Car – Our Choice for World’s First

Back in 1960 Charles Escoffery (for the International Rectifier Corp) retrofitted a 1912 Baker Electric car with solar panels.

It was powered by a ten thousand cell panel on the roof. The panel cost $20,000 (roughly $206,000 in todays money).

After 8-10 hours of sunlight it could give the car 1-3 hours of travel time up to 20 miles per hour. International Rectifier had plans to sell the  “noiseless, smogless” solar cars for $5000 ($51,000 today). It never happened, but the company was acquired in 2015 for $3 billion by Infineon Technologies so we imagine they recouped their costs.

In this charming video we see Charles Escoffery driving down country roads in neighboring (to us) Surrey.


Are Solar-powered Cars a Threat to the Future of EVs?

This will be debated for sometime with a hybrid perhaps becoming a more popular option. Sara González for OpenMind says

“At present, using photovoltaic panels for automobile travel has not proven to be an efficient solution to the problem of replacing fossil fuels, but it could serve to supplement other systems.”

It’s also hard to know how the market will respond. One cool and stylish project by the Spanish company Evovelo (below) has already shut shop after 8 years. They cite ” enormous difficulties in raising funds”.

Evovelo Solar Panel Car


Our Conclusion

With the British weather, those in our populous catchment area of South London would probably find that investing in a Electric vehicles (EV) with solar panel for the home would be the safer option for the foreseeable future.

If you want to learn more about home solar panel installations please see the contact form below or contact me on 020 8914 8297 . We are never pushy!  See our reviews:

Google Rating4.9 out of 5 from 150+ Google reviews

We install solar panels and batteries in these South London (UK) areas:

Wallington, Purley, Carshalton, Coulsdon, Sutton, Croydon, Merton, Wimbledon, Streatham. Tooting, Mitcham, Reigate, Sevenoaks, Chipstead, Banstead, New Malden, Surbiton, Bromley, Beckenham.

Anthony Jones Electrician Profile

Your Local Electrician

Anthony Jones

I'm an electrician based in Surrey. I run two small family business called Wandle Electrical Services  and The London Electric Radiator Company. I'm also a MCS certified solar panel installer.