The Secret to Designing Solar Cars

By Dora Smith

Principia College designed its solar car in NX by Siemens PLM Software

Earlier this week we had a visit at our St. Louis office from Principia College. They brought their solar car that placed third in the American Solar Car Challenge this summer. Students shared stories on solar car racing with employees and customers who were attending a regional user group meeting. It’s no secret you need some sun to race these cars. But we learned a few other tricks of the trade.

Principia College's John Broere discusses solar car design and racing at Siemens PLM

Faculty advisor John Broere shared details on the design of the car and the race.

He noted that the car weighs 400 pounds. It can travel 55 miles per hour on 1,100 watts, which is less wattage than a hair dryer. Even during pouring rain, they were able to maintain 40-45 mph.

For you University of Michigan fans (GO BLUE), he make a few competitive digs but just to highlight that a small liberal arts college is competing head-to-head with the big engineering schools. You’ll see John’s good sense of humor in the videos.

After attending a PLM Connection event, John was inspired to bring 3D printing to the school. They originally thought they would use it just for prototyping. They printed their 3D NX parts in ABS plastic and then reinforced them with carbon fiber.

John also gave us a little education on solar cells. He pointed out they used to use much smaller and more expensive gallium solar cells. Today they use silicon cells. The car has about 600 of them at a cost of about $65 USD each. They require special cleaning.

Principia is preparing for a 2013 race in California, as well as the next ASC race in 2014 and the next World Solar Challenge in 2015.

I’ll be making a trip out to Principia early next year to learn more about solar car design. In the meantime, keep up with the team on Twitter. And check out the other academic projects and competitions we’re involved with.

Hope you have a solar-filled weekend! 😉

– Dora

Leave a Reply

This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at