Toyota has announced that the next redesign of their highly successful hybrid Prius automobile will include solar panels on its roof. These panels will power the air conditioning system, allowing its operation without turning on the car’s main engine. The system prevents the vehicle from heating up while parked, significantly decreasing the time it takes to cool the car once it’s in operation again, and limiting the use of air conditioning that would otherwise be necessary to remove the heat gathered while parked.
The solar panels are located on a glass moon roof above the back seat of the car and can be operated remotely using the provided key fob. This allows the user to control the system from up to 30 yards away, much like the door lock and trunk systems already in common use. The cooling system also uses an exhaust heat recirculation system that improves performance of the air conditioning system at startup and makes the entire system more efficient.
In addition to the new cooling system, the 2010 Prius incorporates other energy saving and safety improvements. The car can achieve up to 50 miles per gallon of gasoline, an improvement over the current maximum of 46 miles per gallon. The car frame is lighter, the car uses disc brakes on all four corners, has an improved stabilizer layout, incorporates an anti-collision system to avoid some frontal collisions, and uses LED lighting for low beam headlights, the tail lights, and the stop lights. The car also provides customizable pedal responsiveness to suit the driving style of different people and saves gasoline in the reduced sensitivity ECO mode; it also has an EV mode that operates the car solely on battery power under certain (undisclosed) conditions.
The center console and controls have also been revamped to use more ergonomic buttons and touch sensors on the steering wheel with related displays on the changeable instrument panel displayed directly in front of the driver. This provides feedback to the driver while limiting head movement and other potentially dangerous distractions.
TFOT has reported on other hybrid automobiles including the Honda Insight (supposedly the most affordable hybrid on the market), the upcoming 2010 Chevy Volt (a hybrid that uses electricity to move the wheels at all times and speeds), and the Milner Motors ElectriCar that can operate up to two hours on battery power. TFOT has also covered several fully electric cars including the Tesla Roadster convertible sportscar, capable of operating for up to 220 miles without recharging and the first fully integrated internet car, the electric Th!nk Ox car.
More information on the Prius test plans can be found on Toyota’s third generation Prius preview site here. The site includes several photographs of the car, technical specifications, and high level descriptions of major new features. A detailed press release is also available with even more information here (PDF).