It is currently the 21st century, [this article was written in 2016] and after a quick look on the road you could be forgiven for thinking that the motor car has not radially changed much since the first horseless carriage back in the 18 hundreds. They may have had several design changes, be more comfortable but still the internal combustion or petrol engine is largely dominant. We are still waiting for automated, driver less cars, flying cars and all the other gadgets that scifi movies predicted.
Although there had been a lot of work and experimentation done on battery driven cars, there were still serious limitations. In 2008 TESLA introduced their roadster as the first fully electric car galvanising other main steam brands into action. Today there are a number of EV or hybrid vehicles in production, but so far, no solar cell driven auto mobile. Will Tesla again be the first to come out with this model? Only Tesla really knows.
But that isn't to say there are no solar energy cars, a lot of experimental models have been produced and driven supported by organisations such as NASC or the North American Solar Challenge. These organisations act as hosts to bring teams of engineers together with the aim of building and racing a solar powered vehicle.
But these models are probably not going to turn too many heads at the Beijing motor show, to begin with they are long quite wide and flat. In fact, they look something like a solar panel on wheels. Which is essentially what they are. To maximise battery life they need to be aerodynamically designed to reduce wind resistance and friction and in the interest of weight and speed, usually only carry one [small] person. But they work and serve as the test bed for future development.
However, whist it has been proven to be technically possible, in reality there are still enormous challenges to overcome before we can see the first solar cell motor car on the roads. With present technology, generating sufficient energy to move a family car, the number solar cells needed to move that weight at speed are impractical.
Another major stumbling block is the gathering of power, most applications of solar cell energy generation today are static and positioned in places of maximum sunshine. But a vehicle is moving, and most cities have trees, tall buildings, tunnels, and flyovers where the panels would be unable to utilise the sunlight.
So whilst it is an exciting idea, the actual solar driven family sedan might be some time away, on the same back shelf as those flying cars we were promised. But then again, before Tesla exploded on the scene scientists and engineers were saying a totally electric car was still a dream, so who knows.