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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Australia Hosts Solar Car Race

DARWIN, Australia -- Almost $50 million worth of the world's most advanced solar racing cars are registered here for a race that may decide the shape and future of the family car in the next century.

On Sunday, they will line up for the fourth World Solar Challenge (WSC) which, in the view of some carmakers, has become one of the world's greatest battles for automotive technological supremacy.

The 48 cars from 13 countries have been spread throughout the suburbs of this northern city, where the October temperature rarely drops below 30 degrees celsius beneath an unrelenting tropical sun.

The latest generation of solar cars was concealed from public view in garages, trucking depots or hotel car parks until the wraps came off at the official inspection.

From Darwin, the cars will purr gently down the great Stuart Highway to Adelaide, traversing 3,000 kilometers of Australian outback among the world's most arid and inhospitable terrain. Race organizer and solar car race pioneer Hans Tholstrap says records will be broken this year, with at least three cars tipped to average over 90 kilometers an hour.

"The leading vehicles could travel from Darwin to Adelaide inside four days -- equal to the average motor car burning fossil fuels," he said.

The contestants range from multi-national motor corporations to solar-cell manufacturers, universities and hobby constructors.

General Motors won the first race in 1987 with its Sunraycer, which spawned the world's first electric car built by a major company and due to enter mass production soon.

Much of the technology used to develop GM's two-seat EV1 electric car announced in January flowed from Australian involvement in the design and construction of the Sunraycer, GM says. A car designed by the Ford Motor Co. came second in a field of 23 in the 1987 race, only seven others finishing. Spirit of Biel III, entered by Switzerland's Biel School of Engineering, won the next race in 1990, to prove that private ingenuity can still take on the automotive giants at least in solar racing.

In 1993, Honda quit Formula One and went after the solar crown with its state-of-the art, 140 kilometers-an-hour Dream, which reputedly cost almost $7 million. It won, smashing GM's record by 9 1/2 hours, completing the 3,013-kilometer course in 35 hours, 38 minutes. Honda is back again hoping to win with its latest Dream.

"It is a competition in which there will be winners and even greater winners," said Tholstrap, "for all the competitors are racing toward a future where our energy needs leave a safer planet for future generations."

-- Agence France Presse