In an effort to improve the energy efficiency of their recently unveiled Prius plug-in, known as the Prime in the U.S., and the PHV in Japan, Toyota has embedded a solar panel covering the entire roof of the vehicle. This is good news for drivers in Europe, Japan and wherever else the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration isn’t standing watch.
That’s because as nice as it would be to rely on a solar panel to increase a vehicle’s energy efficiency by as much as 10 percent in powering internal temperature controls, lights and power accessories while the car is running and helping to re-charge the battery when it’s not, the solar panel is installed on reinforced glass sheeting that has proven to shatter during rollover testing, and therefore is not compliant with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
So until Toyota can figure out a way to laminate the photovoltaic cells in a resin that won’t shatter, you won’t be seeing it here in the U.S. What’s perhaps most ironic about the situation is that the panels are actually made here in America.
Now, this isn’t the first time Toyota has tinkered with solar panels on the roof – they first attempted that in 2005. And going back even further, solar panels were first attached to the top of a car way back in 1912.
Check out this footage of an early model Baker, which Dr. Charles Alexander Escoffery modified with a roof-mounted solar panel. That panel charged the car's onboard batteries in delivering enough power for 60 minutes of driving at an average speed of 20 mph.
Interestingly enough, the Baker was just one of a handful of electric cars from this time period that were somewhat popular before their more powerful and efficient gas guzzling siblings hit the road.