VW Australia Convoy Vehicles Review

Back in September, we arrived in Australia for the 2013 World Solar Challenge. While we did race a car across the outback on the power of nothing but the sun, this wouldn’t have happened without a convoy of support vehicles.

For this race and races prior, our convoy vehicles were provided by one of our project’s platinum sponsors, Volkswagen. This year’s support vehicles consisted of a V6 TDI DSG Touareg, a DSG Caddy Maxi Crew Van, a Manual Caddy Maxi Crew Van, and a DSG TDI Jetta.

The Touareg served as our trailer-towing vehicle, generally bringing up the rear of our racing fleet. We connected its towing attachment to a rented U-Haul trailer bed that we built up our own wooden housing over. This served to protect the solar car when it wasn’t being driven and to carry team equipment. The weight of our constructed trailer caused the suspension to ride visibly lower in the rear, but the car itself continued to perform well, towing our heavy trailer with relative ease and handling well even in high winds. This luxury crossover-SUV was perhaps nicer than what one would normally expect to cross the outback with. However, we enjoyed its nice interior immensely–often a welcome respite from the outback environment. Features such as the automatic drowsy driver alert system were especially germane to our usage, as both outback testing and the race itself involved many multiple-hour driving shifts. Also useful were the backup camera and area view display, especially when adjusting to driving (and then parking) on the left side of the road, hitching the trailer, and navigating the largest member of our convoy in cities.

The Manual and DSG Caddy Maxis served as lead and chase cars, respectively. These are both key members of the convoy, protecting the solar car and serving as the hub of mid-race operations. These vehicles were responsible for carrying team members as well as a great deal of pit crew equipment and our telemetry infrastructure. The driver and passenger experience was obviously very different from that of the Touareg, but we found the Caddy Maxi’s to be very practical and reliable vehicles for our needs. The spacious rear and simple interior were ideal for our constant loading and unloading and held up well through our heavy use.

The Jetta was our scout car, which served the most varied set of roles in Australia. On the race itself, the Jetta was our most mobile convoy member, driving ahead to check on weather and cell signal, or staying behind to restock on de-ionized water (for array cooling) and talk to race officials, among other things. Having a sedan in our convoy was also useful for media purposes, as our videographer, Mark Shwartz, could arrange to take drive-by photos or footage of Luminos in action. The backup camera, curb-sensing, and onboard navigation were all very well utilized by the team, just as with the Touareg.

There is nothing quite like extensive driving through the Australian Outback with a solar car as a task demanding rigor and reliability; for this purpose, we appreciated VW’s reliable German engineering. The TDI diesel engines helped the team minimize fuel consumption, another important aspect for our team.

This year’s fleet played a key role in our smooth race operations–from the logistics of acquiring convoy vehicles to the functionality of each car in suiting our needs.

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