• Dec 2, 2009
Twelve years ago, Toyota started selling a car that was bought by those considered avant-garde, on the fringe. It was called the Prius. Now Toyota is looking to "turn around its struggling business with a futuristic ecological car," and the company is supposedly working on plans for a solar-powered car. We'll ignore, for a moment, that a company with $18 billion in cash and experiencing its first annual operational loss in 70 years is now called a "struggling business." The noteworthy news is that while other automakers are trying to get their hybrid acts together, Toyota is down the road working on a car powered solely by le soleil.

There is little in the way of hard information at this point. The Japanese newspaper Nikkei disclosed the development, saying that the car would have solar cells, and that it would also be charged by solar cells on homes. Also according to Nikkei, the solar cells on the car will be as powerful as those on the house, capable of generating 2-5 kilowatts.

Toyota has talked publicly about a solar panel option on the next Prius, but that was called "a symbolic gesture" by an insider. Privateers have also done their part contributing to the idea of a Prius augmented by solar power, largely with mixed results. Nevertheless, Toyota has a keen partner in the venture: Panasonic. The giant consumer electronics maker that makes Prius batteries is in the midst of buying Sanyo, the world's 7th-largest solar cell maker. Nevertheless, solar cell technology isn't advanced enough to create a mass-market solar car, which is why reports claim it will be years before such a vehicle is on the market. As one Japanese solar energy expert said, "Even if you laid solar panels out on the entire roof of a house, you only generate enough energy to run two hairdryers." Hat-tip: Jarrett

[Source: Yahoo!]


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  • 34 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      It's interesting how this rumor just happens to get "leaked" and is all over the internet shortly after the new Ford Fusion hybrid has been shown to trump the Camry hybrid in MPG and is close the smaller Prius.
      • 6 Years Ago
      What happens at night and when u put it in a garage?
      • 6 Years Ago
      I wonder how much weight the solar panels and the necessary wiring adds to the car? Is this enough to negate some of the value of the extra power created?

      A good use for these, nevertheless, might be to cool the interior of the car on hot days (particularly hot and sunny days). This means less work needed to run the air conditioning system off of the batteries or gasoline engine when one starts driving. If you could run a hair dryer using panels of that size you could probably run a highly efficient heat pump like the one used in the EV1. The GM EV1 was able to cool or heat the interior on a timer while it plugged in for the purpose of saving energy for the batteries once untethered.

      A small electric car company in California called Aptera has been talking about doing this with a small solar panel for some time (I think Popular Mechanics has a video of their prototype running). They went even further and pumped the hot air out in such a way that it reduces air turbulence at speed. Though their prototype supposedly has a Cd of 0.15 so this small amount of air could make a difference. Check out aptera.com or search on Youtube, I saw the test drive video there a couple of weeks ago.
      • 6 Years Ago
      If done right.This should be very good.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Solar technology has come a long way, to claim that something is technologically impossible is short sighted, defeatist thinking. GM gave up on developing a clean, small, diesel engine and warned Subaru about wasting their money. Subaru is not bringing a boxer diesel to the market, and it's a kickass engine.

      Even if the solar panels did not independently run the vehicle, it would mean free charging for the hybrid batteries, or do all of the charging needed.

      Also, solar panels do not require direct sunlight to take in energy, direct sunlight is best, but light will do.

      I doubt Toyota is losing a bunch of money too, I think they just want to be apart of the crowd in these hard times. Toyota is a notoriously conservative company, even by Japans standards, which makes it hard to believe they've been burning cash like the RNC on Palins wardrobe.

      Once again, Toyota is pioneering new technology which will be immensely well received and the Americans are left trying to explain why they didn't take the initiative by using the excuse that it just won't work.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @JV2k - I don't think that anybody is preaching this as a "solar vehicle", something that is powered 100% by the sun. what they're saying is that if you drive to work and leave it in a bright, sunny parking lot all day, it'll charge your batteries to a certain extent meaning that when you get home you won't have to draw as much electricity from your home's grid. combining this with an electric (plug in) car that has a small engine to recharge the batteries when needed, you could probably get a TON of miles per gallon of gas or kwh. Using a gas engine to charge the batteries (which then runs the car, like the Volt, as opposed to using the engine to run the car like the Prius) is far more efficient, and add plug-in and solar power technologies and you've probably got 100-150miles per (theoretical) gallon.
        • 6 Years Ago
        refer to Jeff's posting above. The surface area of a car is simply not large enough to accommodate the power output necessary, in ideal conditions. Ideal conditions being: 100% of solar energy is stored as electrical energy (which is impossible). This is not something a 'can-do' attitude will fix, it is a limitation of the laws of physics as they exist in our universe.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Exactly. Solar cars just aren't feasible and probably never will be.
      • 6 Years Ago
      http://www.americansolarchallenge.org/

      the required vehicle area would be huge and these "expert" vehicles prove it.
        mmstowes
        • 6 Years Ago
        Don't be so naive. Those are student-built vehicles and they have to work within the confines of an extremely limited budget provided (or sometimes, not provided) by the university and/or sponsors. The students used what was available to them to meet said limited budget and the size, appearance and practicality of their vehicles is a direct result of all factors involved.
      • 6 Years Ago
      As someone who has built solar powered vehicles (http://www.umsolar.com), I can provide some first-hand knowledge on this subject.

      Among the best solar car teams, such as the University of Michigan, University of Twente, Umicore, and Aurora, to name a few, these cars have more in common with F1 cars than consumer vehicles. They are constructed mostly from carbon fiber, high-alloy aluminum (6000 and 7000 series), and titanium to keep the weight low. These teams are composed of some of their University's best engineers who each spend thousands of hours designing and building these vehicles specifically for one or two races.

      The only major regulations restricting the designs are the maximum size of the car, the weight of the batteries, the size of the solar array, and for the most recent races the driver seating position. Previous races allowed the drivers to lay on their back, allowing for extremely thin cars (Michigan's 2005 car was less than a foot thick). A lot of time is spent optimizing the aerodynamics, and the drag coefficients of these cars puts any production or race car (even those that claim to have low drag, such as the Aptera) to shame. On a side note, CdA is a far more important number than Cd, and with that number the difference between a solar car and any other car even greater (with more than an order of magnitude difference). The chassis and body are almost entirely made of carbon fiber, and systems such as steering and suspension only need to work reliably for 10,000 miles, allowing for cars with a weight of under 450 lbs. The cars are driven by a single electric motor with a horsepower rating that can be measured in the single digits. The 6 m^2 solar arrays can cost several hundred thousand dollars and can be damaged by merely touching it. The batteries cost tens of thousands for a battery pack a fraction of the size used in cars like the Prius. The cost to produce and race one of these cars can easily be over a million dollars, and that's with free labor. The result is a vehicle that can just barely drive 10 hours a day at highway speeds in perfect weather.

      And when I hear that Toyota is planning to produce a solar powered car all I can say is LOL.
      • 6 Years Ago
      what's neglected in the post is this is an R&D exercise not a production plan exercise. I think the timeframes being discussed are in the 5-10 year timeframe. This has nothing to do with the solar cell dashboard that might actually happen that would help power electronics etc in a future Prius and/or ABAT.
      • 6 Years Ago
      "Even if you laid solar panels out on the entire roof of a house, you only generate enough energy to run two hairdryers."

      Is that accurate? I find that hard to believe.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Definitely PR. I hope most americans brush this off as nonsense. Do you know how much energy is in a beam of sunlight within a 1x1 ft surface area from the ground? Even if the photovoltaic material were to reach 100% absorption
        (impossible), there still wouldnt be enough energy. A glass roof on the '09 mustang costs several thousand. Imagine a photovoltaic roof. I pay for electricity by the dime/kW in nyc. Even if costs were to drop down to the price of the glass, it still wouldn't be practical. I can see how it would be useful on a house seeing how it's usually the highest point in most locations, but cars are usually parked/driven in less optimal places. Can you imagine if an accident were to occur? Expensive toxic metal shrapnel covered in glass over a weakened roof with hundreds of high temperature/high density chemical batteries everywhere. And that's not including the structurally light frame to toss you around in.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yes and no.

        A standard "big" solar system on a house is about 6-8KW. This would be enough to run 3-4 hairdryers. However, that's only on a cloudless day when the sun is at its peak and the system is running at max efficiency (have been recently cleaned for starters). At any other time, the output will be lower, and so yeah, for much of the day that same system would probably only run 2 hairdryers.

        Note that hairdryers take a LOT of power. An 1800W one takes the max output for an entire circuit in your house. In my house, I could only run 6 of these at once before the main breaker in my house flipped (I have 100A service).
        • 6 Years Ago
        I wouldn't be surprised if that was accurate, but I think that assumes that you're running the hairdryers *all day long*. The moment you switch them off, you can store the collected power, and over time, you'll accumulate enough to put a significant dent in your household's (or your electric car's) power bill.

        I saw a recent program on state-of-the-art solar energy, and it asserted that for about $15-20K, an average family in an average home could install enough solar panels to zero out their energy costs, at least assuming a reasonably energy-efficient lifestyle. Adding a car to the grid would probably at least double that cost, but given advancements in solar cell efficiency, I'm sure that could be reduced to a more feasible level.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Hairdryers actually use a ton of energy. Chicks are always blowing fuses with those things!
      • 6 Years Ago
      Never gonna work in Toronto. We had about 5 days of sunshine like all last year lol.

      Now if they can make a snow powered car, I'll have unlimited energy sources!!!
        • 6 Years Ago
        or Primanti's!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Same goes for Pittsburgh with the sun filled days. I think our Prius would need to run on Perogies or something.
        • 6 Years Ago
        That's okay. Toyota will just give a few of these to some ignorant Hollywood t*ats who will expound upon the wonders of the solar powered car and wonder why the rest of the evil Americans aren't driving them, completely ignoring the fact that SoCal is not America. It would be completely impractical in most areas.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Complete BS story repeated by mindless blogger droids.

      You could paint a car in 100% efficient (impossible) solar panels and it still wouldn't be enough.

      This "secret project" of Toyota is made up farce on a slow news day.

      This is problem with today's blogger media. Giving credence to utter nonsense.

      • 6 Years Ago
      I don't think this system could power the car all by all itseIf. I see this as a complementary system to a plug-in hybrid or a full electric car, it could help to recharge the batteries, giving more miles range.

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