In the last couple of years, electric cars have come a long way. Solar cars, those that can charge themselves, have been limited to industry concepts or DIY experiments. This sort of thing:
Browsing a copy of New Economy magazine last week, I discovered that there is now a fully autonomous solar car. Considering the marketing slogan for it was ‘Bring solar autonomy to your airfield!’, it’s not something you or I will be buying anytime soon, but it exists.
It’s made by a company called Catecar and it’s called the Dragonfly. CEO Henri-Philippe Sambuc explains why: “Prehistoric dragonflies had a wingspan of 74cm. Over time, confronted by oxygen diminution, they evolved into the smaller, quicker and highly efficient insects we know today.”
The Dragonfly is indeed small, and very light. The cabin weighs a mere 35 kilos, thanks to cutting edge materials technology. It’s made out of flax. Banknotes are made from flax, so it doesn’t sound like the safest material to make a car from, but this is a moulded composite that is stronger than steel. The Swiss came up with it. That’s usually a good sign.
Solar autonomy refers to the fact that this is an electric car that doesn’t need to be plugged in. Its batteries charge from the 300W solar panels on the roof, delivering 5-7 km for every hour parked in the sunlight. If you need to go further, the petrol-driven range extender kicks in and you’ve got a range of 1,000 km to play with. You’ll rarely need that of course. Catecar have made a car for everyday use, and half of the world’s cars go no further than 20km on an average day.
There’s more. The plan going forward is for the cars to be manufactured in smaller production units serving local markets. It’s designed to be easily repaired and maintained. In time, the vision is to serve communities with self-sufficient transport options.
At the moment, the car isn’t on sale to the general public. Production will start in 2015. In the meantime, Catecar’s plan is to focus on selling the Dragonfly to airports, ports, military based and resorts. That’s because these are private roads, and it will allow the company to test and refine their concepts while certification is sorted out. On the off-chance that you are in possession of an airfield or a private island, get in touch and they’ll sort you out. Otherwise you’ll have to wait a bit.
With the usual caveats that fossil fuels aren’t the only problem with cars, I’m quite impressed with the Dragonfly. It’s locally produced, and it’s solar powered. Being made out of woven vegetable fibres, it’s practically organic. Is this the greenest car in the world?