The new Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid will gain additional electric driving range with a rooftop solar panel that helps recharge the battery.
Stretching nearly the entire length of the roof, the solar cells can charge the lithium-ion battery pack when the car is parked, and will also supply the power to in-car lights, windows, and air conditioning while the vehicle is running.
With the use of these panels the Prius can boost efficiency by as much as 10 percent. This essentially doubles the vehicle’s electric range from 16.4 miles to 37 miles on a single charge.
That’s a far cry from the 100- to 200- mile range that full-electric car manufacturers such as Tesla and Nissan promise, but this vehicle also has the option to run on gasoline.
Drivers will be able to run the vehicle in full electric mode for quick trips to the store and charge up at EV stations, but when it comes to long trips the gas engine can kick in for hybrid support.
Initially the new technology will be offered only in the Europe and Japan versions, where it is named the Prius PHV. The United States roadblock has to do with meeting stringent Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Regulations.
Toyota has been unable at this point to laminate the photovoltaic cells in a resin that won’t shatter during a rollover crash; however, the roof panels meet safety standards in Japan and Europe.
During the New York Auto Show, the company announced Prius Prime would cost $30,000 after federal tax credits, but that’s without the solar panel roof. There’s no word on whether the solar panel will be an added feature or one that’s built into all models.