The University Record, August 12, 2002

High-tech car has solar flair

Some 130 U-M students are hoping to get their kicks on Route 66 in the summer of 2003. These students make up “Team Spectrum,” and they’re charged up about the 2003 American Solar Challenge (ASC).

“We’re a young team, but we’re optimistic,” says Josh Harmsen, Team Spectrum project manager. “We feel we’re going to win because our whole team is working very hard.”

The U-M Spectrum has some big shoes to fill. Wolverine-built cars have won three of the six American Solar Races. The U-M set a precedent in 1990 by winning the first GM-sponsored solar challenge, called The Sunrayce.

“This is a very competitive sport,” Harmsen says. “We want to be as innovative as possible, drawing on what worked well in the past while trying to integrate new strategies.”

With only a few returning solar car team veterans, this year’s group is relying on ideas from each team member. In fact, that’s how Spectrum got its name. “One of the things we did right off the bat is we identified the things we all do well,” says Harmsen. “When we pooled all these thoughts and ideas together, it really ran the full spectrum of talent and innovation.”

And a car was born.

With a little less than a year left before the week-long race, students already are cramming as many as 50 hours a week into their busy schedules just to get the car off the ground.

“This team is really run like a small corporation,” says Amit Shah, Team Spectrum administrative director. “There’s the engineering side of designing, developing and building the vehicle, as well as the business side of keeping all the accounts, getting sponsors and marketing the car.”

Students don’t receive credit or compensation for participating in the solar challenge, but “it counts a lot. It’s a great accomplishment and a great learning experience,” Shah says.

The solar challenge is getting students noticed. Many automakers and other manufacturers are taking note of the design of these alternatively fueled vehicles and their use of composite materials.

“One of the things automotive companies are trying to do is reduce the weight of the vehicles to provide better fuel efficiency,” Harmsen says. “We use composite bodies and parts instead of steel, so many manufacturers are interested in the reliability and integrity of these cars.”

Another hot point for automakers is the vehicle’s alternatively fueled engine. Running on solar power and batteries, Harmsen says, “Last year’s U-M built car reached freeway speeds on the same amount of electricity it takes to power your hair dryer.”

Next summer, cars will race from Chicago to Los Angeles on regular highways and roads. Despite the colorful name, Spectrum will carry on the tradition of being Maize and Blue. Shah says these are the only two colors that matter when it comes to the 2003 American Solar Challenge.

For more information on the U-M’s Team Spectrum, or if you would like to help sponsor its racing efforts, call (734) 764-2257 or e-mail Amit Shah at