By on June 17, 2016

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Front 3/4, Image: Toyota

Hybrid fans looking to harvest free solar power as they drive (or park) won’t get that ability when the Toyota Prius Prime arrives in the U.S. this fall.

The automaker announced that European and Japanese buyers will get a solar roof version of the plug-in sedan, but Stateside customers will have to wait, Automotive News reports. Toyota faces an engineering and regulatory hurdle in the U.S. — America has stricter crash regulations, and its engineers haven’t been able to create a solar panel mount that doesn’t shatter during rollovers.

In Japan, the panels are placed atop a reinforced glass sheet, and guess what those do when they’re crushed? The solution would be to laminate the panels into a shatter-proof resin, but the company hasn’t found a way to do it.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo yesterday, Koji Toyoshima, chief engineer of the Prius line, said the company hopes to introduce a solar-topped version in the U.S. sometime after its introduction.

The Prius Prime sports an 8.8 kWh battery pack that allows 22 miles of all-electric driving at speeds up to 84 miles per hour. Having a solar roof would boost efficiency and range by about 10 percent, with drivers able to trickle charge their battery while parked in the sun.

Once the automaker finds a solution and lowers production costs, Toyoshima said he’d like to see solar roofs slapped onto other hybrid products in the company’s lineup.

[Image: Toyota Motor Corporation]

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36 Comments on “Toyota to America: Sorry, No Solar Prius Roof for You...”

  • avatar

    TESLA is missing out on a huge chance to design and produce an ultraview photovoltaic moonroof.

    If a large photovoltaic moonroof could be built and not weight more than what’s currently available, it would be ground-breaking.

    10-15% trickle charging would be great.

    I could theoretically drive this car for FREE if I lived in a desert or place with constant overhead sunlight (like when I was in Seychelles – or other countries near the equator)

    5 to 10 miles range is all some people would need on a daily basis.

    • 0 avatar

      Last thing I’d want to do is get into a 120 degree car that sat in the sun all day. The few pennies of electricity generated would be outweighed by the extra AC usage and my heat frustration. I always park in the shade or under cover.

      • 0 avatar

        Since the late ’90s (on expensive cars) they’ve had solar panel sunroof options (LEAF as well) which will run a fan to cool the car. This would assuredly be part of such a system on the Tesla.

        • 0 avatar

          The previous generation Prius had this as part of an option package. But just to run a fan to pull hot air out of the interior. …as Carfan 94 already mentioned below.

  • avatar

    ” Having a solar roof would boost efficiency and range by about 10 percent, ”

    So, 2.2 miles on a clear sunny day? If you were a retiree in Sun City, AZ, just going to the supermarket and the occasional doctors appointment, you might not need to buy gas or even plug it in. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    So we have to deal with the ghastly design of this thing, and don’t even get any cool, cost-saving technology to make up for it?

    No thanks.

    I was actually okay with Generations 1 – 3 of the Prius, but I think Toyota may have gone too far with this new one. I’ll be interested to see how many people that don’t need the “Ultimate MPG Champion” status flock over to Hyundai’s more-palatably-styled Ioniq.

    • 0 avatar

      “Hyundai’s more-palatably-styled Ioniq.”

      I just hope people recognize there are other choices besides the Prius. Unless they be functionally blind –or don’t give a shit about uglifying the streets.

      P.S. The Kia Niro might be even more attractive than the Ioniq.

  • avatar

    So let me get this straight…. America / Canada allow for gigantic panoramic moon roofs… that could impact structure integrity of the vehicle in a rollover situation, but they cannot figure out how to create a solar panel that will not shatter….

    You know, there are such things are flexible solar panels…. All they really need to do is put in a panoramic roof, with flexible solar strips integrated into glass or mounted below the moon roof glass. I am not sure why this is really an issue???

    • 0 avatar

      “All they really need to do is put in a panoramic roof, with flexible solar strips integrated into glass or mounted below the moon roof glass. I am not sure why this is really an issue???”

      If it were that simple, don’t you think Toyota would have done it?

    • 0 avatar

      it’s not the fact that it breaks, but *how* it breaks. Moonroofs (panoramic or otherwise) are made from tempered (toughened) glass. tempered glass is the stuff which breaks into small, blunt “pebbles” of glass instead of dagger-like shards. it’s likely that whatever the solar cells are made of (or sit on) doesn’t shatter “safely” like tempered glass.

    • 0 avatar

      Solar cells produced on flexible substrates are significantly less efficient than traditional glass+silicon panels.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Car-mounted solar panels are mostly for show. There’s not enough solar energy radiating down on the few square feet to power a car very far, and they can only be efficient if you park in a shadeless spot on a sunny day, in which case they may not even cover the added HVAC load.
    That’s why those Australian Sun racers have huge panels and bicycle wheels and extreme aero.

    The way to have a solar-powered car (for bragging rights?) is to charge it using fixed solar panels.

    • 0 avatar

      sunlight delivers about 1 kW/m^2 under ideal conditions, and photovoltaic solar cells are about 10-15% efficient. so you’d get at most a hundred watts or so.

      • 0 avatar

        “photovoltaic solar cells are about 10-15% efficient.”

        Is that the current number? I’m getting 20% for production cells in 2010 so presumably higher now…

        • 0 avatar

          Considering that it’s lying flat on a car roof, the panel will never get optimal sunlight.

        • 0 avatar

          Current number for good quality consumer cells is right around 20%. SunPower are a fraction higher.

          I’d guess that about 300w would be doable on a car roof, as that’s a rough average power rating of a single panel.

    • 0 avatar

      I make it a point while at work to park in a spot where the car will be shaded when it’s time to go home. The electricity needed to cool a heat soaked car is enough to drive it a few miles.

      A much better policy would be to install solar panels over the parking lot, that way you’d get both shade and electricity.

  • avatar

    Where do the solar panels and their components come from? Japan is third in the world in solar production, but I have to imagine there’s a high likelihood that lower-cost Chinese cells, modules, or complete panels might be incorporated into the finished product.

    The US places massive tariffs on solar products from China (in some cases, over 250%), so that was my first guess as to why it wouldn’t come here. And yes, the tariffs can include consumer products into which Chinese solar products are incorporated.

    Even if they solve the rollover issue, I can see them having massive headaches with US Customs if there’s any Chinese content in those solar panels.

  • avatar

    I can’t imagine what it will cost to replace one of these things after it’s been hailed on. Gulp.

  • avatar

    Surprised nobody’s mentioned the solar roof that was offered as an option on the previous generation north american market Prius, although it was only used to cool the cabin down while parked in the sun. It did not use the A/C, It just used the fans to ventilate the cabin, and bring down the temperature of the cabin down to the outside ambient temperature. The Mazda 929 also had this feature as an option.

    • 0 avatar

      Ditto, and it always bugged me that Toyota wouldn’t sell the solar roof on their plug-in Prius model.

      The big problem, as seen in some of the replies agile, is that if a car has a solar panel in its roof, people somehow will want that panel to magically power the car to infinity and beyond. And when that isn’t the case, those people somehow identify that as a problem with solar power and/or EVs.

  • avatar

    If you’re flipped over and the glass shatters, gravity sez it’s just going onto the road anyway. NBD, they’re already gonna have to clean crap up! Durr.

  • avatar

    I mean, the solar panel is cool, and very efficient, but in northern latitudes, it just won’t add any useful range to the car.

    But, for keeping the traction battery from going dead in a long-term parking scenario, yes, 100-300 watts could do that (if it’s not covered in snow).

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