Are solar powered vans the future of Tesla?

Could the family van soon be a Tesla? You heard that right. Earlier this year Elon Musk told his shareholders that Tesla had plans to create a fully electric van. 

Imagining a Tesla van was a strange concept for me. Are we about to have an army of techie soccer moms in the near future? Well, I suppose the design wouldn’t look exactly like a minivan. More like a sci-fi Amazon delivery van, or a sweet upgrade for all the middle-aged minivan-driving dads. 

When I took a deeper dive into what the van would look like, I was surprised to find a feature I wasn’t expecting to see. Elon explained that the design of the Tesla van would mirror a normal van design with one major change: solar panels. These panels could potentially extend out to the sides to expand the surface area for maximum energy absorption. 

Though Tesla does sell solar panels and solar roofs, they have never incorporated solar technology into their cars before. This new design would be revolutionary for the future of transportation, especially in rural areas. I got pretty excited thinking about the possibilities of a solar-powered van, especially as I was fueling up my car in -10 degree weather. 

Experimental technology with Tesla cars and solar panels has already proven that this type of solar panel integration is possible. Though these projects have proven to be beneficial and extremely promising, certain unchangeable characteristics about the surface space of the cars’ design have caused difficulties when adding experimental solar panels. 

Because electric car technology is still relatively new in the world of cars, I’ve always noticed the shiny price tag on Tesla’s cars before actually considering any of the mileage benefits. Now, the issue of outrageous expense may not always be the case. If solar-powered vans can take off on a large scale in the next few years, these vans could become extremely affordable and sought after. 

Yet, Tesla is not alone in the race to build efficient electric vans. Other competitors already have their hands on the wheel and are steering the market. With companies like Ford and Nissan paving the way for electric vans, Tesla is currently playing catch up to its competitors. 

Nissan already released the 2020 Electric E-NV200 van in Europe nearly a year ago. Even though Nissan has been producing European electric vans for a few years, they don’t plan on bringing them to the United States. 

In 2022, Ford plans on releasing the E-Transit which would be their first fully electric cargo van. Selling for under $45,000, the van will have a 126-mile driving capability alongside the ability to recharge power tools. 

Though there are major differences between plain electric cars and solar-powered cars, Tesla might still come out of the race on top if they can create a solar-powered van before their competitors do. 

Historically, solar-panel cars aren’t known to generate crazy amounts of energy. For example, the 2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid only gives users a mere 2.2 miles of driving a day (as long as it can constantly park in sunlight). This tradeoff isn’t much of a gain, considering not every car owner lives in direct sunlight all year round. For those who live in Alaska, they’d only have a working car 9 months out of the year! 

Tesla already has a great track record designing efficient electric cars. Their cutting-edge technology Model 3 car allows a driver to travel up to 353 miles on a 15-minute charge. With more and more countries looking for greener energy sources, Tesla’s solar-powered van might be a reality before we know it.