Although some aftermarket operations have tried installing rooftop solar panels on the Toyota Prius, none of the pioneering hybrids have ever come so equipped from the factory. This will reportedly change next year when the third-generation model hits the streets. Top trim levels of the new Prius and likely the Lexus-badged version will be equipped with photovoltaic cells on the roof. The solar cells won't generate enough power to do any significant charging of the battery pack but will be able to power accessory drives like the air conditioning. That should reduce the parasitic loads on the power-train, helping to improve the mileage slightly. The solar panels could also be used to keep the ventilation system running on hot days while the car is parked. That would reduce interior temperatures, cutting the load on the air conditioning when the driver gets in. The new Prius and the Lexus hybrid will debut in January 2009 at the Detroit Auto Show. Thanks to Mike, Max and Kevin for the tips!

[Sources: CNet, the Gaurdian]

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