An unusual car was on display on Tuesday, June 20 in the parking lot of HNI on 2nd Street in Muscatine.  The “World’s First Practical Solar Utility Vehicle” is a product of the collaboration of 120 students from Iowa State University.

The PrISUm Solar Car Team partnered with HNI to develop and install lightweight seats in the vehicle.  HNI Vice President of Community Relations Gary Carlson says that the students contacted HNI during an annual HNI Day.

Partnering with HNI “has been a huge advantage to them, improving the quality of the seat, while having much less weight in the vehicle,” Carlson explains. “It has also been a lot of fun for our engineers to be involved in the project.”

Matt Goode, a senior in materials engineering, is the project director for the car. Goode explains how all the features in the car are built to take every advantage of aerodynamics, including door handles that lie recessed in the door.

The vehicle, named “Penumbra,” runs on a combination of solar power and a battery pack. “The vehicle can reach speeds of 72 miles per hour, and we can cruise at speeds of 35 miles per hour just on sunlight,” Goode explains. “The reason we can get those efficiencies is because of the construction, and part of that is the lightweight seats that are found inside the vehicle.”

Goode explains why partnering with HNI and Allsteel was beneficial for the construction of the vehicle. “Your normal automotive seat weighs 60 to 100 pounds. These seats weigh only about 25 pounds.”

The HON Company provided seating that is comfortable and lightweight.

“It basically has the same suspension as a motorcycle in the rear. It’s called a swing arm,” Goode states. “In the front, it has the same as an automotive race car. It rides a little rougher; it has that sports car feel, with some family seating on the inside.”

Work on the project included students from a variety of fields of study, “not just engineering majors—we have business majors, elementary ed majors, finance majors; one of the cheerleaders from the cheer squad manages our Facebook page and publicity. Any single person at Iowa State who wants to come help out is invited to come join the team. It takes a lot of different majors, and a lot of different people, to make the team to make the car and to make it reliable.”

The vehicle is fully street legal and will be participating in the 2017 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, a road race held later this year. The race will take the car from the north coast of Australia to the south coast of Australia, with the route traveling directly through the outback.

Those interested in following the car’s journey can visit or search Team PrISUm on Facebook, PrISUm_Solar on Twitter, and team_prisum on Instagram.