Prius Going Greener

July 8, 2008

Toyota's Prius hybrid is already a hit with environmentally minded consumers, a fact that has driven the gasoline-electric sedan to the top of the green machine sales charts. But now, the Japanese maker hopes to expand the appeal of Prius by making it even greener.

The Japanese business publication Nikkei reports that some versions of the hybrid will be equipped with solar panels capable of generating as much as 5 kilowatts of electricity, starting next year. That would be enough, according to the paper, to power the hybrid's air conditioning system. That's a significant step, as A/C is a major power drain, particularly if the Prius is operating in battery power, rather than using its internal combustion engine.

The Prius is just the most visible of Toyota's expanding lineup of hybrids, with the automaker promising to offer gas-electric powertrains on virtually all of its product lines by late next decade. It is also developing a so-called plug-in hybrid version of the Prius, which would be able to charge a larger pack of lithium-ion batteries by plugging into the household power grid.

While the sun-powered A/C system - which reportedly will debut next May - is the largest automotive application of solar power, it's not the only one. Several makers, including Mazda, have used solar cells in the past to run vent fans designed to keep a vehicle relatively cool while parked.

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