Perth to Sydney for $45 – and a Guinness World Record attempt

UNSW Sydney's Sunswift solar electric car team is about to embark on a trans-Australia mission aiming to set a benchmark in energy efficiency - and maybe show Tesla a thing or two as well.

A team of UNSW Sydney students will leave Perth on Saturday hoping to drive a solar electric car more than 4000km to Sydney for around the cost of a McDonald’s family meal.

The young crew is attempting to set a new Guinness World Record for lowest energy consumption driving trans-Australia in an electric car.

“Traditional cars are highly inefficient,” explains Chelsea Liang, 18, Operations Lead for the Sunswift solar car team, a student-led initiative at UNSW.

“When cruising, our car 'Violet' uses about the same amount of energy as a four-slice toaster.”

Violet is the sixth solar car to be designed and built entirely by students at UNSW. The students are between 18 and 21 years old and study a range of disciplines, mainly engineering but also commerce and science.


Having a whale of a time: 'Violet' arrives at the Nullarbor Roadhouse on the journey to Perth before the record attempt.

To set the world record, the team must drive the car from coast to coast, Perth to Sydney, ensuring energy consumption is kept to less than 5.5kW per hour.

“We are aiming to use about eight times less energy per kilometre than a Tesla,” Liang says.

The students hope that by taking on this challenge they will inspire all Australians to learn more about solar technology and the planet-saving benefits of renewable energy.

“I am hoping that people will come out to see us along our journey and talk to us about the benefits of reducing our impact on our planet and how we can all contribute to this cause. School kids particularly seem to get a kick out of seeing Violet and often talk to us about wanting to join Sunswift when they grow up,” Liang says.

UNSW Dean of Engineering Professor Mark Hoffman says the benefits of the Sunswift solar car program are twofold: “It is wonderful to see public support for Violet when the car leaves the University campus on a mission – and yes, it is about spreading the message about how we combat soaring energy demands across the globe and help fight climate change. Furthermore, I see immediate benefit for students who participate in student-led programs such as Sunswift while at university, that being the significant competitive advantage they have upon entering the workforce.

“These students gain real hands-on, project-based learning in engineering, in addition to other aspects of our world-class teaching, providing our students with a unique university experience and a truly well-rounded education. They leave university not only with a first-class engineering degree, but also practical experience, plus teamwork, project management, budgeting and communications skills, all needed to do well in a corporate environment.”

Liang says: “My time at Sunswift has definitely been character-building. We get the best practical knowledge – and we also learn skills for the real world. We are more than just a working team. We are team mates, we have become friends, confidants and we really lean on each other.

“Most of us are city kids. The Australian desert will chew us up and spit us out for the better. The record stretch will involve 6am wake-ups, hours driving under the blistering sun, through dust and rain storms and frantic pit stops for supplies, before crawling into our swags and sleeping under the stars.”

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