General Motors 'SunRaycer'

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
Credit Line
Gift of General Motors Corp.
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
Road Transportation
Sports & Leisure
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object