General Motors capitalized on its solar-powered success and spearheaded efforts to introduce the technology in the wake of the Sunraycer's triumph in 1987. In 1990, 32 college teams designed and raced in the first GM Sunrayce USA; a 1,800-mile (2,896.8-kilometer) race from Florida to Michigan, with the top three finishing teams earning a trip to the World Solar Challenge in Australia.
After the Sunrayce in 1990, GM developed the Impact -- the vehicle that would hit the production line as the EV-1. The Impact was to be an electric sports car that would meet the rigorous specifications of the Zero-emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate that stated at least 2 percent of all the vehicles sold in California by the major auto manufacturers would emit no emissions.
The EV-1 proved to be the next logical progression and it was GMs answer to the ZEV mandate. It may have worked had the company executed the program better. Current CEO Rick Wagoner called the termination of the EV-1 the biggest mistake of his tenure and regrets not refocusing the company's efforts on hybrid technology.
In the years following the Sunraycer and EV-1, fuel prices skyrocketed and U.S. consumers changed their tastes from large SUVs and trucks to smaller, gas-friendly sedans or compact cars. As a result, GM is in danger of permanently shutting its doors. The Chevy Volt, an extended-range electric vehicle GM has been working on for several years, may be the answer to the company's decline in the market. The Volt could have been the car that saved the beloved bowtie brand had GM transferred its electric vehicle technology from the EV-1 when it had momentum. Instead, GM found itself years behind fuel-efficient manufacturers such as Honda and Toyota. Now, as the federal government pumps money into the struggling auto industry, the Volt may be GM's last-ditch effort to stave off the permanent foreclosure.
Today, the GM Sunraycer sits in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., a testament to the innovative minds of the times. The Sunraycer proved solar energy could be a viable fuel alternative. Only time will tell if the path the Sunraycer laid over the Outback of Australia more than two decades ago will be the swan song of a proud American company or the turning point of a new generation.
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