The ‘Prius’ is Latin for ‘(to go…) before’. Quite fittingly it heralds a new era of hip cars which have moved away from Henry Ford’s vision. Today, they are petrol powered environmental ogres. Necessary ‘evils’, for cars have been the harbingers of human advancement by taking the wheel much forward. They may be Hollywood’s latest fad…Leonardo DiCaprio owns one, but they also are truly one of the most practical environmentally cars on the roads today. The 2008 Prius was tagged as the best fuel efficient car in The United States by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
The Prius is what is called an electric hybrid. More technically looked at as a SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle). It is powered by an internal combustion engine (1.5L) as all gasoline driven cars are. In synergy with this engine are various other technologies based around an electric motor running on NiMH batteries. The computer program used in the Prius monitors and controls fuel consumption by using the engine, electric motor, or both to power the car and recharge the battery. The working together of two disparate units leads to greater fuel efficiency. The 2008 Prius gives 48 miles per US gallon in city driving, 45 miles per US gallon on highways. With over one million units sold by mid 2008, Toyota says that the Prius owners have stopped 4.5 million tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. That’s 535,500,000 gallons of fuel or at current prices $2.01 Billion Dollars saved. Even without Leo’s endorsement, the Prius should be on every green minded guy’s Christmas list.
The latest models of Prius can now go even greener. The grapevine has it that Toyota is looking at the option of solar panels on the roof of the car. Reports state that the panels could be an option on the high end versions of the car. And no they won’t add a third dimension to the electric-hybrid combo but mainly would serve to cool the car when it is parked and idle. The panels are to be outfitted by Kyocera, a Japanese company known for its ceramics manufacture. We can expect to see the specially fitted out cars by the spring of 2009. There are no details currently on the website regarding this development. As officially Toyota does not elaborate on future product plans, details are vague on the exact picture of the modifications. Industry watchers though say that though adding solar cells would add ‘just a tinge’ of ‘green’ to the car, the cost of solar cells could jack up the price. The benefits could be little as some independent experiments have shown that the power output of the solar cells alone is close to just 160 – 250 watts. Not enough to power the AC but can add something economy of operation. Will the perceived utility warrant the cost on option?
But the great thing is the innovation itself. Toyota’s forward vision resulted in the Prius making an electric hybrid uber cool and with the solar panels it will be another first for the Japanese car giant. By 2009, the car enjoying an upsurge in popularity is expected to go through a substantial makeover. Solar panels are just one part of it.
Meanwhile, a company called SEV – Solar Electric Vehicles has already experimented with a solar rooftop on the Prius. The website quotes –
With the SEV solar system, the Toyota Prius can operate up to 20 miles per day in electric mode thus improving fuel economy by up to 29% (depending on driving habits and conditions).
There system available as a kit sets back the user by $2000 – $4000, but expectedly the amount can be recovered in 2-3 years through fuel savings.
As gas prices start to defy gravity, even a small shaving off the fuel bill could be a bonus for both the user and the planet.
Make sure you check out our Solar Powered Car section of our site for much more information about solar powered cars.