• Jan 8, 2014
Companies ranging in size from small startups to major automakers have been experimenting with solar-powered charging stations for EVs and plug-in hybrids. And, of course, people have been powering vehicles with onboard solar panels for quite some time, too. Still, Ford's new C-Max Solar Energi Concept shows the promise of a truly practical implementation of solar on a production vehicle, and it may not be as far off in the future as we had thought.

As we reported a few days ago, the Solar concept makes use of a "concentrator lens" that focuses sunlight onto the Ford's roof-mounted solar panels mounted atop the charging canopy. The special lens follows the rays of the sun to maximize the amount of charge being fed to the batteries of the car, taking about a day to fully charge the 21-mile, all-electric range of the C-Max Energi. Ford data suggests that combination might be enough to power 75 percent of all trips made by a statistically average driver. In turn, using the sun to power a vehicle could reduce yearly C02 emissions by up to four metric tons when compared with the driver of an average gasoline-powered sedan.

We've got live images of the C-Max Solar Energi Concept, jauntily tilted on its display to best present its signature solar panels, straight from the CES floor.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this story implied that the concentrator used to collect more solar energy is built into the car. It is in fact built into the solar-panel-covered canopy.
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Let the Sun In: Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept Goes Off the Grid, Gives Glimpse of Clean Vehicle Future

- Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is first-of-its-kind sun-powered vehicle with the potential to deliver the best of a plug-in hybrid without depending on the electric grid for fuel
- C-MAX Solar Energi Concept with a solar panel roof draws power from a special solar concentrator lens similar to a magnifying glass
- By using renewable power, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is estimated to reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions a typical owner would produce by four metric tons
- C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, which will be on display at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas, Jan. 7-10, debuts as Ford's strong electrified vehicle lineup is expected to post a record 85,000-plus sales for 2013

Ford Motor Company announced today the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, a first-of-its-kind sun-powered vehicle with the potential to deliver the best of what a plug-in hybrid offers – without depending on the electric grid for fuel.

Instead of powering its battery from an electrical outlet, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept harnesses the power of the sun by using a special concentrator that acts like a magnifying glass, directing intense rays to solar panels on the vehicle roof.

The result is a concept vehicle that takes a day's worth of sunlight to deliver the same performance as the conventional C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid, which draws its power from the electric grid. Ford C-MAX Energi gets a combined best miles per gallon equivalent in its class, with EPA-estimated 108 MPGe city and 92 MPGe highway, for a combined 100 MPGe. By using renewable power, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is estimated to reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions a typical owner would produce by four metric tons.

"Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept shines a new light on electric transportation and renewable energy," said Mike Tinskey, Ford global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure. "As an innovation leader, we want to further the public dialog about the art of the possible in moving the world toward a cleaner future."

C-MAX Solar Energi Concept, which will be shown at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas, is a collaborative project of Ford, San Jose, Calif.-based SunPower Corp. and Atlanta-based Georgia Institute of Technology.

Strong electrified vehicle sales

The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept debuts as Ford caps a record year of electrified vehicle sales.

Ford expects to sell 85,000 hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles for 2013 – the first full year its six new electrified vehicles were available in dealer showrooms.

C-MAX Energi is Ford's plug-in sales leader, with sales of more than 6,300 through November. Ford sold more plug-in vehicles in October and November than both Toyota and Tesla, and it outsold Toyota through the first 11 months of 2013. Plug-in hybrids continue to grow in sales as more customers discover the benefits of using electricity to extend their driving range.

C-MAX Hybrid over the last year has been a key driver in helping Ford sell more hybrids than any other automaker in the United States, second only to Toyota. C-MAX Hybrid continues to bring new customers to the Ford brand, with a conquest rate of 64 percent and drawing nearly half of its sales from import brands. Conquest rates are even higher in key hybrid growth markets like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Breakthrough clean technology

SunPower, which has been Ford's solar technology partner since 2011, is providing high-efficiency solar cells for the roof of Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept. Because of the extended time it takes to absorb enough energy to fully charge the vehicle, Ford turned to Georgia Institute of Technology for a way to amplify the sunlight in order to make a solar-powered hybrid feasible for daily use.

Researchers developed an off-vehicle solar concentrator that uses a special Fresnel lens to direct sunlight to the solar cells while boosting the impact of the sunlight by a factor of eight. Fresnel is a compact lens originally developed for use in lighthouses. Similar in concept to a magnifying glass, the patent-pending system tracks the sun as it moves from east to west, drawing enough power from the sun through the concentrator each day to equal a four-hour battery charge (8 kilowatts).

With a full charge, Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is estimated to have the same total range as a conventional C-MAX Energi of up to 620 miles, including up to 21 electric-only miles. Additionally, the vehicle still has a charge port, and can be charged by connecting to a charging station via cord and plug so that drivers retain the option to power up via the grid, if desired.

After C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is shown at CES, Ford and Georgia Tech will begin testing the vehicle in numerous real-world scenarios. The outcome of those tests will help to determine if the concept is feasible as a production car.

Off-the-grid car

By tapping renewable solar energy with a rooftop solar panel system, C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is not dependent on the traditional electric grid for its battery power. Internal Ford data suggest the sun could power up to 75 percent of all trips made by an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle. This could be especially important in places where the electric grid is underdeveloped, unreliable or expensive to use.

The vehicle also reinforces MyEnergi Lifestyle, a concept revealed by Ford and several partners at 2013 CES. MyEnergi Lifestyle uses math, science and computer modeling to help homeowners understand how they can take advantage of energy-efficient home appliances, solar power systems and plug-in hybrid vehicles to significantly reduce monthly expenses while also reducing their overall carbon footprint.

The positive environmental impact from Ford C-MAX Solar Energi could be significant. It would reduce yearly CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from the average U.S. car owner by as much as four metric tons – the equivalent of what a U.S. house produces in four months.

If all light-duty vehicles in the United States were to adopt Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept technology, annual greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by approximately 1 billion metric tons.

About Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 180,000 employees and 65 plants worldwide, the company's automotive brands include Ford and Lincoln. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford and its products worldwide, please visit corporate.ford.com.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 11 Months Ago
      "taking about a day to fully charge the 21-mile, all-electric range" That seems like a pretty fast charge to get 8kw*hr, even with a concentrating lens. Are we talking about one day n real time, or around 24 hrs of direct sunlight? That's very different. For solar collection projects I've worked on here in Florida, cells on a flat roof get the time average equivalent of 4.5 hours per day of direct sunlight. If the lens is flat and level, I would think that its area would be comparable to the area of a flat and level PV cell. Other issues: Parking spot must align E-W Car must be parked along different line depending upon time of year as angle of sun changes. Doesn't collect when car isn't there, but might kill a few bugs, maybe even start a fire. Why not just put PV cells on a roof or carport and collect energy 24/7 using it in the house when the car is not there? Car would not have extra weight, un-aerodynamic roof bump or increase cabin temps from solar heat.
        • 11 Months Ago
        Also, 60-80% of the energy falling on the roof of the car is turned into heat, not electricity. Your car will heat up a lot by being under a big solar concentrator. Enough to peel the paint? Probably. Enough to make the interior of the car intolerable and age the materials in there too? Surely. I think the issue with parking along a different line can be minimized by tilting the concentrators (roof of the carport) to your latitude. This will also increase energy collected. You'll still have to park in a bit of a different spot through the year though. What I'm really having trouble working out is can you concentrate the light well enough on the car roof collector without spilling over onto any other surface of the car. You don't want to bleach out the paint, melt the door seals, etc. You can't concentrate to a pinpoint (even the solar cell wouldn't like that), so you have to diffuse, but without any spilling over. Not an easy problem. I wonder if Ford looked at it or just filed it in the same place as the E-W alignment issue.
      Charles Robichaud
      • 11 Months Ago
      so does it come with hydraulic jacks to lean it on its side towards the sun?? like in the pics!!!
      • 11 Months Ago
      So now all those people who say they don't have a garage to install a charger in at home can use this. Although I worry about their claims to make 6-7 kWh/day. Snow, clouds, and winter can effect solar power generation.
      • 11 Months Ago
      Baby steps! I love the idea and hope that it grows. I see thousands of cars parked in sunny parking lots every single day (when it's sunny at least). At least now when you park in the sun, you get in your car and it's a bit cooler and battery is charged up to make the few miles drive home from the mall, work etc. Trains, busses, tractor trailers are another benefit for something like this. I feel like a fleet of tractor trailers (102" wide x 53' long = 64,872 square inches of real estate to be used to charge a truck.) That's 450 square feet = 5.6 kw per hour generation if at a good angle. A car is a very very small fraction of that. Couple that with being able to run a small fan, a light and maybe charge a laptop/tablet would be nice for a trucker.
      • 11 Months Ago
      The panels are best on the roof, not the car. Sorry Ford.
      • 11 Months Ago
      This article says it takes a charging station with it everywhere it goes, but this vehicle actually has a separate solar concentrator that acts as the charging station for it (as without it it only adds at most 3 miles range a day). Where is the solar concentrator? Can it really come with you whereever you go? How does the repositioning system work if the parking spot is not east-west aligned? Does it back the car up and pull it back forward to move laterally (East-West) if the spot is North-South?
      • 11 Months Ago
      Useless when parked in a garage or under trees. Put the solar panels on your house or garage where they can be positioned at optimal angles to capture more energy. Consumer grade solar panels are only 15-20% so you need a lot of room to capture a significant amount of power. Semi truck trailers might have enough space to make such a system worthwhile. NASA has 40% efficient panels but they cost 1000% more. If they could be produced cheaply then we would see solar panels everywhere - even in smaller marginal locations like the roofs of vehicles.
        • 11 Months Ago
        It may not be perfect, but innovation starts like this. It will get better over time. I'd rather have this than nothing at all on the roof.
        • 11 Months Ago
        Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just because solar is better on a house roof. Doesn't mean we shouldn't have any on the car. I want it if they can make it work and reasonable. Especially since 21 EV miles is so short, adding energy without a public EVSE is a definite plus. For me it would still need to be 35 + EV miles and the solar roof. But at least they are trying to make it work.
        • 11 Months Ago
        Technically solar is already cheaper than gas. As long as they don't gouge us on it as an add on. It can have value.
      • 11 Months Ago
      Gosh, a solar roof panel! Wonder where they got that idea...
      • 11 Months Ago
      great, now if only they could do something about the nose on that thing. Originally I thought it was better looking than the prius, but the more I look at it, the more disjointed those two grilles look.
      • 11 Months Ago
      UPDATE: An earlier version of this story implied that the concentrator used to collect more solar energy is built into the car. It is in fact built into the solar-panel-covered canopy. Nope. No solar-panel-covered canopy either. It just has a canopy with a big fresnel lens in it to concentrate the solar energy on the panel on the roof of this car. People voted me down to the depths for criticizing Ford's message as being misleading. But now we see the car shown seemingly without the carport at the show. And we see AB writers being fooled by Ford's message and then fooled AGAIN in their corrections. And the article still sits with an inaccurate headline! This thing is pretty much a scam. Ford has not worked out the issues with solar charging with cartop cells. And it's unclear anyone ever will. Just put PV cells on the roof of your carport and collect the energy all day long. Skip this stuff.
      • 11 Months Ago
      This roof solar cell idea seems so slow in coming. It is something that should have been done long ago. But how much will the mileage tax be? I like this vehicle but I'd prefer to take out the hundreds of pounds of electronics, motors, and unsustainable battery technology and simply put in a small diesel. Because its a hybrid it probably pretty much a tin can and thus very lightweight without all the electro-jink. MPG would be killer especially particularly if the engine was undersized to its point performance matched the hydrid version.
        • 11 Months Ago
        William What is this "unsustainable battery technology" that you are referring to?
        • 11 Months Ago
        No, it is simply not economical nor reasonable. It takes all day to charge a measly 21 miles, it costs a ridiculous amount, and is totally nonfunctional for anyone that parks indoors or lives outside of California and Florida. Battery technology is far more sustainable than diesel. Lithium can be recycled once used, diesel is gone once you burn it. MPG would be terrible since you would need a huge engine to get the kind of torque an electric motor will put out at low RPM.
          • 11 Months Ago
          It cannot even charge 21 miles in a day, not with what you see here. This would get about 3 miles.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 11 Months Ago
        William, that was really funny. You should be a comedian.
      • 11 Months Ago
      Clearly not destined for production. This was clearly just a marketing exercise. Concentrator solar just doesn't make sense here. CPV efficiency drops off far too quickly to have a fixed lens or even to be used anywhere that may get clouds. (not even going to mention that the noon sun in Detroit is hardly overhead in the winter. And imagine how hot your car would get in the summer.
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