General Motors 'SunRaycer'

In 1987, General Motors, 16 GM subsidiaries, and an AeroVironment, Inc. engineering team led by company founder and famed aeronautical engineer Paul MacCready designed the GM Sunraycer to compete in the first World Solar Challenge in Australia. The team combined lightweight materials, solar power technology, and cutting edge power management systems to create this energy efficient speedster. Sunraycer’s photovoltaic solar cells converted the sun’s radiation into electricity to power its motor and charge the battery. Gallium arsenide cells make up 80 percent of the solar arrays, and single crystal silicon cells comprise the remaining 20 percent. The chassis was constructed of aluminum tubing, and the lightweight body was made of two Kevlar layers sandwiching a layer of Numex. The race began on November 1, 1987; the route was a 1,950-mile north-to-south transcontinental course starting in Darwin and ending in Adelaide. Sunraycer won the challenge by completing the route in 5 1/4 days with a running time of 44.9 hours and an average speed of 41.6 miles per hour. Ford’s Sunchaser finished second, 2 1/2 days and over 620 miles behind Sunraycer. After the race, Sunraycer went on a national tour of auto shows, museums, and schools to promote interest among students in alternative energy technology and engineering careers. When the tour ended, GM donated Sunraycer to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. Using lessons learned from the World Solar Challenge, GM and AeroVironment collaborated on the development of the GM Impact battery-powered electric car. Sunraycer provided new insights into how driver activity, power consumption, battery life, and range interact. The Impact was the prototype for the EV1, GM's first electric production car. AeroVironment carried the research and development from Sunraycer, Impact, and EV1 into other technologies, including rapid battery charging systems and power processing systems used to test and develop electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and batteries. Sunraycer laid the theoretical and practical foundation that made modern electric and hybrid vehicles practical for everyday transportation.
Currently not on view
Object Name
automobile, racing, solar
date made
General Motors Corporation
GM Hughes
overall: 3 11/16 ft x 6 9/16 ft x 19 3/4 ft; 1.11557 m x 2.0065 m x 6.0198 m
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Sports & Leisure
Road Transportation
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
Road Transportation
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of General Motors Corp.

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.