Toyota Motor Corp. plans to install a solar power generation system on its Prius hybrid car, when the vehicle goes through a complete makeover as early as next spring, according to a media report Monday.
The move will make Toyota the first major automaker to install a popular model with solar panels. The redesigned Prius will have solar panels on the roof, which will supply part of the two to five kilowatts needed to power the air-conditioning unit, the Japanese business daily Nikkei reported.
The solar panels are to be supplied by Kyocera. However, Toyota has neither confirmed nor denied the report. Toyota spokesman, Paul Nolasco, said the company does not comment on product plans. It was reported that another Toyota official who prefers to remain anonymous, stated that product plans for a third-generation Prius are likely to be revealed in May 2009.
While some analysts have criticized the idea as merely a marketing trick, considering that solar energy won't change mileage appreciably, many others have applauded Toyota over this move.
They argue that such a system will reduce the load on the vehicle's engine, which typically powers the air-conditioner alone but will now share the work with the sun. In other words, not only will the sun's energy be used against itself, the move will also reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.
The Prius, the world's first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid car, first went on sale in Japan in late 1997 and in other markets in 2000, and its cumulative sales have topped 1 million units worldwide. It has also won several awards throughout its production run, and is enjoying a new upsurge in popularity in the wake of record fuel prices. (See: Toyota Prius wins J D Power's overall vehicle award and American buyers find the Toyota Prius more difficult and expensive to buy)
Toyota remodeled the Prius with an improved hybrid system in 2003 and is expected to launch a third-generation version by next year, which will feature automatic self-parking. The new version is also expected to be lighter to improve fuel efficiency.
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