Consumer Energy Report is now Energy Trends Insider -- Read More »

By Samuel R. Avro on Jan 1, 2009 with no responses

Solar Car Secretly Being Developed By Toyota Motor Corp.

Tags:

Toyota Motor Corp. has secretly been researching and developing a solar powered vehicle, according to a report in the Japanese newspaper Nikkei, a leading business publication. The plan is for the vehicle to be powered solely by the sun, with solar panels on the roof providing enough power for short range trips. Long range travel would require the car to be hooked up to a solar grid for a recharge.

The ultimate goal would be for the vehicle to garner enough solar power from its own rooftop panels to fuel itself without having to hook up to an outside source.

The Toyota Prius has been leading the way in fuel efficient vehicles for the past decade, and the company plans to unveil a new plug-in version of the hybrid.

Toyota made a shocking announcement last month when it revealed that it had managed to achieve its first operating loss in 70 years, mostly due to the global economic downturn. That, and the recent rise in competition in the hybrid vehicle market have been a major setback for the auto manufacturer.

The BYD F3DM became the first mass-produced plug-in hybrid when the Chinese automaker rolled it out in mid-December 2008. The vehicle is expected to hit Europe in 2010, and the United States in 2011.

The Chinese plug-in hybrid vehicle costs just a little more than $20,000.

The F3DM can reach a top speed of 100 mph and has a range of 60 miles on battery power alone. The engine switches to gas when the battery is depleted, and can achieve a rapid 50% recharge in just 10 minutes. The Chinese automaker currently sells the car for a little more than $20,000.

Toyota’s solar powered vehicle plan will have to face some tough challenges.

For instance, being that most commuters return home when the power of the sun has already faded, it would pose a problem for someone who needs to leave to work early the next morning. To compensate for the lack of sunlight between the return commute and the next day, a grid would need to be created specifically for storing the day’s sunlight to be used when needed.

The report stated that it would be a few years before the solar vehicle would hit the market.

However, Toyota is set to receive a boost when its partner in developing and producing hybrid batteries, Panasonic Corp., takes over Japanese rival Sanyo Electric Co., a leader in solar energy, early next year. It can potentially provide much needed expertise and expedite the processof creating a vaible solar system for a vehicle.

The idea may not be that far-fetched. Last month, Swiss teacher Louis Palmer arrived at the UN climate conference in Poznan, Poland after completing a round-the-world journey in his ‘solar taxi’.

The company already produces some of its own power from the sun, using rooftop panels roughly the size of 60 tennis courts at its Tsutsumi plant in central Japan. According to Toyota, it harnesses enough energy to power 500 homes and is equal to 1,500 barrels of crude oil. That, in turn, reduces carbon emissions by 740 tons a year.