By on January 1, 2009

It would be everybody’s dream come true: A car running on nothing else than sunshine. Well, not everybody’s dream maybe. In Saudi Arabia, they have a lot of sunshine, but it doesn’t fit in tankers. “Toyota Motor Corp. is secretly developing a vehicle that will be powered solely by solar energy in an effort to turn around its struggling business with a futuristic ecological car,” reports AP via Yahoo News. AP says, Toyota is working on an electric vehicle that will get some of its power from solar cells on the vehicle, and that can be recharged with electricity generated from solar panels on the roofs of homes. As a next step, says AP, “the automaker later hopes to develop a model totally powered by solar cells on the vehicle.” Sounds unbelievable? AP says they have it on good authority.

AP names today’s Nikkei as the source. The funny thing is, there is no such article in today’s Nikkei, nor is there one that was published in previous days. A search of both the Japanese and English versions of the Nikkei for “Toyota” and “solar” comes up with nothing.  The car doesn’t exist. The Nikkei article quoted by the AP doesn’t exist either.

What is in today’s Nikkei (sub) is a story about advances in construction technologies — of houses. It reads like this: “Homes that can use electric cars as power storage batteries is just one of the new construction technologies expected to receive attention in 2009. Such technology was jointly developed by Tostem Housing Institute Co., which belongs to JS Group Corp, Mitsubishi Corp., the Tokyo Institute of Technology and others. Their final goal is to develop a system whereby electric cars serve as a battery for homes. The cars are to be charged by solar power and less-expensive nighttime electricity, and their stored energy tapped to power homes when necessary. Such a system is seen slashing carbon dioxide emissions.” Granted, the story reads off-the-wall-ish. Don’t blame us, it’s the Nikkei’s official version. There is no Toyota mentioned anywhere. They are talking about charging a plug-in with solar panels on the roofs of houses. Big deal.

A case of too much sake last night for Yuri Kageyama-san, who wrote the article for AP?

The trouble is: The story is making headlines around the world, raising hopes for something that doesn’t exist. Not even in the news story that is quoted.

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21 Comments on “Toyota Allegedly Developing Solar Car: A Case Of Too Much Sake?...”


  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    As a next step, says AP, “the automaker later hopes to develop a model totally powered by solar cells on the vehicle.”

    Sure. Maybe if we lose the ozone layer completely. And the rest of the atmosphere while we’re at it.
    Seriously, it’s a math exercise. Calculate surface area of car, the amount of sunlight hitting this area per day, factor in solar panel efficiency, charging efficiency…

    …then forget it.

    Bottom line: AP doesn’t employ anybody with an engineering background or basic understanding of science. Surprised?

  • avatar

    The trouble is, AP employs someone who either can’t read, or who suffers from a case of runaway imagination. Except for the story quoted, the Nikkei has nothing. A search of both the English and Japanese versions of the Nikkei for Toyota and solar comes up empty.

    The wrongly quoted Nikkei story itself is non-news. I had solar power on Hawaii 20 years ago. If I would have had a plug-in car, I probably could have used its battery as a backup to my shack full of batteries 20 years ago also.

    Must be a slow news day. Or a bad hangover.

  • avatar
    philbailey

    And when it snows (global cooling, going on right now) on house and car roofs? You wait for spring clean up, I suppose.

  • avatar
    dastanley

    I think congress should discuss bailouts for the poor oil companies.

  • avatar
    Patrickj

    The article does miss the point. A solar powered car is an engineering exercise. Physics requires that it be a very light (probably one-passenger) vehicles with huge panel area. It would have to have presently nonexistent batteries so lightweight that it would be blown over in a strong crosswind.

    There is actually a practical application for solar power in a car, though. It is ventilation and cooling sufficient to keep the temperature down on a hot day. This would reduce the size of the air conditioning system and increase the practicality of hybrids.

    While some may propose photochromic reflective windows for that purpose, I’ll pass on having my car windows go opaque in case of an electrical failure while driving.

  • avatar

    By now, the article about a car supposedly mentioned in a nonexistent Nikkei story has been reprinted 10900 times, says Google.

  • avatar
    RedStapler

    In theory if you were willing and able to park the car for a week in an ideal unshaded spot and then drive it 20 miles you could have a solely sun powered car.

    There is no way you are going to power anything like a conventional car on a normal duty cycle with only the PV modules on roof of the car. You would need to cover the roof of a 53′ X 8’6 semitrailer with the most efficient commercially available modules to power a plug in Prius being used as a commuter car.

  • avatar
    RedStapler

    philbailey :

    Most modules are mounted at an angle so the snow slides off. You can actually order Sharp modules for snow areas that can be reverse biased to heat up and melt off snow loads.

    Patrickj :

    The Maybach offers an optional semi-transparent module that powers a fan to cool the car when in the sun.

    You can also get a cheap 2-5 watt module that plugs into the cigarette lighter to counter the self-discharge of a vehicle that will remain inoperable for long periods of times.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    “By now, the article about a car supposedly mentioned in a nonexistent Nikkei story has been reprinted 10900 times, says Google.”

    This is the point here. There is nothing too stupid or too nonexistent for our “mainstream media” to reproduce if they think it fits with their worldview, which is not the worldview of people who think for themselves. It is at the point where “mainstream media” and “affirmative action” come together in a big politically correct nsfw mess, and we elect politicians to high office who do nothing but exemplify it.

    This country is in for some interesting times when Mr. Obama comes out of hiding in Hawaii and actually takes office in a couple of weeks.

  • avatar
    pnnyj

    Bertel Schmitt :
    By now, the article about a car supposedly mentioned in a nonexistent Nikkei story has been reprinted 10900 times, says Google.

    Apparently the velocity of the lies has increased since Churchill’s day.

    “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    This is what happens when “news” is fully commodified – and becomes an area for agressive cost-cutting.

    Cheapest ‘reporters’ available. Very little editorial supervision. Average consumer is just this side of retarded, err, ‘special needs’. Been this way for a hundred years. Difference now is just the speed of dissemination.

    Don’t worry, the Saudis are quite aware that solar is part of the future. They are investing lots of the money we have given them in solar tech. Good thing we’re not doing that…

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Dastanley,

    Good one! You get the Dennis Miller award for the day.

    Has anyone emailed AP or the reporter to ask why they haven’t corrected their story? Or, how they got it so wrong in the first place?

    I tried this once. It was a real education. Everyone should do it.

  • avatar
    esldude

    Another way to look at it takes into account that something like 11,000 watt/hrs will pretty much equal the energy of one gallon of gasoline at the driving wheels. Solar will give you about 1000 watts per square meter.(yes a few details and it might be a bit more or less) Of course collection of solar energy is not 100% efficient. Lets be optimistic and call it 20%. So you need 5 square meters for each 1000 watts collected. Lets say you can average 6 hours per day. 6000 watt hours per day per 5 square meters of solar collection. Just round it off and say 10 square meters will collect equivalent energy to one gallon of gasoline. This is about 108 square feet or about 10ft x 11 ft. In a car size you might get 6 feet x 18 ft. So you might could make even a car that would do this though you need some collectors that tilt for the sun if on the car.

    Such a thing is totally doable, and one could probably design such a thing to go 50 miles of normal use excluding interstate speeds. The other obvious option is a panel at your house that feeds the car each day. So yes, this is in some sense doable. It probably isn’t economical, but doable. Other than guessing 20% solar collection efficiency all the tech to do it is readily available now. So real collection is maybe 10% efficient. Double the area for collecting the sun, do it at your house to charge the car each day and you are there.

    We could probably all have small 4 person vehicles with 50 mile range as long as we keep speeds in check that were powered by the sun for something like $100,000 each retail. Price on solar collection and good batteries needs to come down. Such things in our lifetimes are probably never going to be as powerful or versatile as what we have for the same money. But they aren’t beyond doing and one day their capabilities may have to do. And for the most part could do well enough now though we wouldn’t like it so much.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    Will these solar cells still work if vandalized?

  • avatar
    don1967

    If one is truly concerned about Global Warming, and accepts that said Warming is in fact caused by excess solar activity rather than Hummer farts, then one should write a letter demanding that all Priuses/Prii/whatever be run through the crusher and recycled into something like this solar car. At least it represents a bona fide attempt to kill two birds with one stone, as opposed to being some silly fashion accessory for the eco-cult.

    As for me, I am enjoying this mild period between ice ages.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    TTAC’s David Holzman has reported on the QCells Solartaxi (www.solartaxi.com). It recently completed its trip around the world. Yes guys, it used solar energy only.

    So the concept is thinkable. Is it commercially feasible, as in marketable-in-Schenectedy? Of course not. But Toyota is a global (meaning: non-parochial) company, so they might with justification chose to think of solutions to transportation problems in places like Africa. Where a petrol infrastructure is only semi-available, but solar is plentiful.

    Bertel is right that the AP was sloppy with this. But what is there to criticize if Toyota is indeed concerning itself with solar?

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    TTAC’s David Holzman has reported on the QCells Solartaxi (www.solartaxi.com). It recently completed its trip around the world. Yes guys, it used solar energy only.

    The Solartaxi is a very light vehicle (500kg), full of solar cells, tows a trailer full of solar cells and batteries, has a top speed of 90 kph and charges from the grid during the stops. A stationary solar panel in Switzerland produces roughly the same energy they take from the grid when charging the SolarTaxi elsewhere, so net total it sort of runs on solar energy.

    If you read their website, they advocate solar cells on your house, not on your car’s roof.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Mirko: you are right, I was wrong to say Solartaxi crossed the world on solar alone.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    Martin: The Solartaxi is actually very well documented on their website. They have 6 square meters of solar cells on it (would be pretty hard on a normal car) which generate enough energy to drive 100km per day.
    The ZEBRA battery on the trailer carries grid electricity for 400 km range. Their specs say the car uses 0.8 kWh/100km, so the battery carries 3.2 kWh.

    Conclusion: They drove around the world powered by grid electricity, with a bit of solar thrown into the mix. Not the worst way to promote QCells’ solar cells and a cool adventure for Louis Palmer, but not in the slightest way transferrable to a commuter car situation.
    Which is what the press seems to make out of it.

  • avatar
    woodgrove

    Gents, have you seen the Maine University – Solar Black Bear – pickup truck with std EV conversion plus 1kw of solar on the roof –

    http://www.evalbum.com/838

    They ‘say’ they can get the first 10 miles commuting each day on the charge from the solar.

    I reckon a better vehicle to do a EV conversion and to put a 1 kw array on, would be a light Van like a Toyota HiAce .
    Take it easy
    David


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