So, is it?
Maybe another question should be asked first: Is it a car?
Technically, no. It's classified as a street-legal motorcycle due to its three wheel layout. Seating is limited to one person, who must be helped into the long, narrow cockpit by two aides. There are no mirrors, and the window ends just behind the driver's head, eliminating rearward visibility. There's no power steering or brakes, but at a weight of just 550lbs. this is hardly a problem. The driver is secured in a full racing harness. There's little to the interior aside from a small steering wheel and the exposed tubular aluminum chassis. The shell is made out of a combination of Nomex, Kevlar, and carbon fiber.
In other words, it looks and drives about like every other solar car model. If you follow solar racing you might even think the body shape seems familiar, and with good reason: It was cast from the mold MIT designed for their own solar racer. It uses SunPower C-50 solar cells which are the most popular choice for solar events today both for their efficiency and the company's support of these experimental builds. There was also help provided by the Solar Energy Consortium. The car even managed a middling sixth of eleventh at the American Solar Challenge.
It would seem that everything about this car is like every other solar car model, except for one thing: The Sunhawk was built by students at the State University of New York's New Paltz school. This is not a prestigious engineering school, it's a small undergraduate college that focuses mostly on the liberal arts. It's hardly the first place that would come to mind when talking about advanced vehicles.
What used to be the domain of high-dollar doctorate-oriented universities is trickling down to smaller schools, spreading experience to a wider population of students. The Sunhawk was built over the summer by a professor, technical advisor, and a handful of students at a cost of $250,000. The car is not "the car of the future," but the way it was built is very promising: Real-world experience in solar design and vehicle efficiency is reaching students outside top-flight engineering schools.