Much Interest for Solar-Powered Car Built by Indonesian Students


FEBRUARY 06, 2015

Malang, East Java. It has been several months since the odd-looking car started entering and exiting the Muhammadiyah Vocational School in Gondanglegi, Malang, each time turning heads while attracting attention from passers-by.

It is hard not to stare at the box-shaped vehicle, which resembles nothing currently seen on Indonesian roads. More noticeable is the absence of the usual engine sounds, with the car emitting nothing more than a hum and an occasional whiz as it moves.

That’s because the Suryawangsa Arjuna 4.0, a prototype built by students of the school, runs on electricity generated by solar panels.

The Arjuna has been attracting a lot of attention, including from several investors, since Education Minister Anies Baswedan came to test drive the car in December. This is despite the fact that the concept car has not yet taken the government-required test for roadworthiness.

“Since the test drive between Jakarta and Malang at the end of December, there have been many people interested in buying the car,” said Ahmad Muhtadi, a teacher at the vocational school and project leader for the concept car.

Ahmad added that the potential buyers were mainly those looking for eco-friendly cars or nationalists who prided themselves in the fact that the Arjuna was designed and built by Indonesian students.

But as with the gasoline-powered Esemka, built by vocational school students in Solo, Central Java, getting a license to start mass production is no easy task.

The school’s principal, Pahri, said the five-seater Arjuna still could not be used on the open road.

“We have 10 commissions from several agencies, both government and private, for limited internal use such as touring a facility,” the principal said.

The specifications demanded by users also vary. Some want a two-seater while some have asked for a 16-seat minibus.

Pahri said the vocational school planned to add a facility to meet the orders, or even a fully commercial factory, which will employs the school’s graduates.

“We will not just sit around and wait for permits. We have received support from the education minister and support from Industry Minister Saleh Husin. All we need now is endorsement from Minister Jonan,” he said, referring to Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan.

Ahmad said the Education Ministry would use the Arjuna’s design and system for projects in vocational schools across the country.

Like its name — “surya” meaning “sun” and “wangsa” meaning “family” in Sanskrit — the car operates on eight batteries as well as four solar cells, Ahmad said.

Combined, the car can cover a range of up to 100 kilometers with a maximum speed of 60 kilometers per hour.

“Jakarta to Malang took a total of four days,” Ahmad said. “If we rely on solar power alone it would take eight days. So we combined the use of batteries and solar power.”

The Arjuna is also equipped with a DVD player and a 7-inch monitor, which also acts as a monitor for a rearview camera when the car is reversing.

Teacher Ahmad said the inspiration for the Arjuna came from former state-owned enterprises minister Dahlan Iskan, who is known for his passion for Indonesian engineering.

In 2012, Dahlan tested the Arjuna’s predecessor, the two-seat Semeru, followed by a 30-minute conversation with Ahmad.

During the talk, Ahmad said, Dahlan suggested a car that had more capacity with a design that could be easily adapted to a range of purposes.

Ahmad said that even with buyers lining up, the school was cautious about increasing its production.

One reason is the high production cost. To make one car, the school has to spend Rp 150 million ($12,000), mainly to import batteries, controllers and motors from countries such as China and Japan.

Another is manpower. Production of the Arjuna is done mainly as a class project with some 25 students and tutors, and the production is done almost entirely by hand.

However, 19-year-old Mario Andrianto, a senior student, said he was more than happy to be involved in the project, even after school hours.

“It gives me a great sense of pride,” he said. “Particularly when [Minister Anies] starts to compliment the car.”