The new Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, called Prius Prime in the US, comes with a full length solar panel on the roof that helps recharge the car’s lithium ion battery when the car is parked. It also powers such things as air conditioning, power steering, power windows, and interior lighting while the car is being driven.
In an odd twist, the solar panel is manufactured in the United States but cannot be used on US-spec cars because it does not meet federal rollover crash standards. It tends to shatter in US testing protocols, but does meet standards in Asia and Europe.
Koji Toyoshima, chief engineer of the Prius plug-in, tells Automotive News that Toyota aims to introduce the panels in the U.S. Toyoshima said engineers are working on a solution so that it can introduce the solar panels to the U.S. version.
“We would like to introduce this, at least in the lifetime of the current model,” the chief engineer said at the car’s Japan debut. “It should be possible to do a lot of charging this way in places like California or Arizona.”
The automaker has been working on solar roof technology for several years. The Nikkei, a Japanese newspaper reported secret development as long ago as 2009. The third generation Prius had an optional solar roof, but it only powered the ventilation fan when the car was parked.
Toyota has been late to the plug-in hybrid party, as it concentrated its attention on burnishing the luster of its regular hybrid. The fourth generation Toyota Prius was recently rated as the non-plug-in car with the highest fuel economy ever tested by Consumer Reports.
Sales of the Prius have been disappointing of late, with low gasoline prices taking the focus off fuel economy for many car buyers. But when it comes to squeezing every ounce of energy out of a gallon of gasoline, Toyota is at the forefront of the automotive industry.