Prius solar panels: A cool idea not quite baked ~ Brand Mix

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Prius solar panels: A cool idea not quite baked

Photo: PR

I can imagine excited conversations over the last few months in the halls of the Toyota organization about how much they should or should not say about the solar panels available on the 2010 Prius. Such great potential for headline generation and such a fantastic proof point for the car on the one hand, so far from being fully realized on the other.

If indeed such conversations took place, voices of moderation have won out. As you can see in the official press release, talk about the new moonroof solar panels is relegated to low key inclusion on a list of features. (Even with this soft-pedaling, several stories about the new Prius (like this one) focused on this angle showing its potential news value.)

The problem for Toyota is that it hasn't fully solved the technical challenges that would make this more than a symbolic effort. According to this post, the original intention was to use the panels to charge the battery of the vehicle but this idea was scrapped for now because R&D has not been able to work out how to protect the battery from repeated charging. Instead, the solar panels are only being used to keep the car at ambient temperature while it's not occupied. It's something, but it's not enough of a thing to make a big deal about.

So, kudos to Toyota for resisting the temptation to hype this feature. No doubt the R&D team will figure out the technical challenges and then there'll be another opportunity to make hay when the sun shines.

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