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7/8/2008
09:57 AM
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Solar-Powered Toyota Prius Coming?

Reports are burning up the enviroblogs that the 2010 Toyota Prius will boast optional solar panels on the roof. A solar array on a Prius would be like those flower vases in VW Bugs: cute design feature, but not a feat of engineering.

Reports are burning up the enviroblogs that the 2010 Toyota Prius will boast optional solar panels on the roof. A solar array on a Prius would be like those flower vases in VW Bugs: cute design feature, but not a feat of engineering.There is some speculation that power generated by the roof panels could boost the car's electric motor, but that is unlikely. The solar panels won't be powerful enough to help the car's engine, but they could be used to run the air conditioner, radio, or fans.

An array of solar panels, reportedly supplied by Kyocera, would be embedded in the roof of the 2010 Prius, according to the Japanese business paper, Nikkei. How many? And how much juice would they generate? The numbers may have been scrambled in translation.

"Some of the details seem implausible. Nikkei wrote that the panels would produce 2 to 5 kilowatts of electricity, roughly the same as a rooftop solar array on a typical house," writes SFGate.

I'm not knocking Toyota. The Prius is a decent ride and Toyota deserves kudos for having the foresight to time the hybrid market as well as it did. But the solar panel option has to be seen for what it is -- a neat marketing trick.

The bottom line is that a few solar panels on the Prius won't appreciably improve MPGs, but they could generate more discussion about the capabilities -- and limitations -- of solar power, and bust a few misconceptions in the process. That's a good thing.

Whether the solar buggies will ever roll off the assembly lines at all, and whether they would be shipped to the United States or stay in Japan remains to be seen. There's no official word from Toyota.

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