It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a 100-member team from Ann Arbor, Mich., defines success as no less than a national championship. It also shouldn’t surprise you that the team works together around the clock preparing for a grueling competition driven by a desire to leave a legacy for future Wolverines. What may come as a surprise is this team doesn’t play in the Big House.
Welcome to the University of Michigan’s Solar Car Team, seven-time national champion.
The team is the largest entirely student-run organization at Michigan and the pride that comes from designing and building solar electric vehicles is on par with the passion seen in the Wolverines’ student section on a college football Saturday.
When you are working in the shadows of the Motor City, it is hard to impress a state filled with automobile mechanics. However, the bright maize machine, which takes a collaboration of diverse students two years to make, can stop traffic with its head-turning design. The solar car may look like a movie prop from the Back to the Future movie trilogy, but this is much more than a student science project.
The Wolverines started the program back in 1989, the same year the men’s basketball team won the national title. Since then, in addition to seven national titles, the team has been a regular top-five finisher in the world championships held in Adelaide, Australia.
“You can take your classes, and do your theory, and solve your math homework or you can go out and really apply it,” said solar car crew chief Bryan Mazor. “That is what the business world is about and that is what the real world is about.”
In October, fans and friends at home were able to watch the World Solar Challenge from an insider’s perspective.
During the challenge, part of the team stayed home in Ann Arbor to recruit and train the organization’s next generation. The group also monitored the race online, and chatted with the crew in Australia. This year, for the first time, the conversations between the ground crew in Australia and the team back home in Michigan were open to the public, so interested fans could experience the team’s communication.
“The chat was great,” said Connor O’Brien, a member of the team’s interim leadership group. “Family members, alumni and people interested in solar cars were able to watch our conversation and see us interacting in real time. It’s definitely something we’re going to do again in the future to spread the word.”
Michigan’s dynasty in the sport is more than just a race to beat competitors and their own gold (or is it Maize?) standard. It is a race to help impact the auto industry and hasten the chase to find alternative fuel sources which can make a significant environmental impact for future generations.
Ford, one of the primary sponsors of the Michigan Solar Car Team, has so it can directly benefit from key insights and technological developments that can truly help transform alternative fueled automobiles.
If you’d like to learn more about the Michigan Solar Car Team and its real world applications, you can follow its journey in several places: