While enjoying a rather unusual and stormy day last weekend in Portland, Oregon, the sun was fairly far from this writer’s mind. That is until I saw a “third generation” Toyota Prius towing the sun like a parasail in its wake. The solar version is one of several similar Prius ads now running the gamut of television networks. In the few days since first viewing it, I’ve seen the ad probably a dozen times—all in the span of one hockey and one basketball game!
The new solar-topped Prius has been highly touted in the lead-up to its release, and it is the first mainstream auto to incorporate solar panels into its design—Toyota has also announced ongoing plans for 100% solar powered car. Although, fortunately for Toyota, solar cells are not the only energy-triumphant feature on the 2010 Prius, which gets an estimated 51 mpg highway, among other features. That is, car buyers expecting to find solar powered air conditioning—which the advertisement doesn’t claim per se, but is ambiguous enough to confuse some—will instead find a Solar Powered Ventilation System.
That system, according to Toyota:
The Solar Powered Ventilation System uses an electric fan to draw outside air into, through, and out of the cabin once the inside temperature reaches 68 degrees Fahrenheit. It will lower the cabin temperature to near the outside ambient temperature to help make the cabin more comfortable when reentering the vehicle. It must be turned on prior to leaving the vehicle and cannot perform cooling such as with an air conditioner.
Of course ventilating the car while you’re out will help reduce energy spent on air conditioning, which is a plus, but the system is not as powerful as some may think. There is also a remote AC starter available that is powered by the solar panels, which will start the air conditioner up to three minutes (depending on battery charge) before you arrive back at the car.
That being said, I in no way mean to diminish the significance of solar power’s entrance into mainstream auto production; it is an extremely exciting breakthrough. I expect to see solar automobile technology expand exponentially as time goes by.
The 2010 Prius comes in four different versions (Prius II, III, IV, and V). Each model has its own special options, which may be explored online through Toyota. The solar option is only available on the III and IV models, costing roughly $4,600 for the upgrade (that does include an available “Navigation” upgrade as well). The new Prius II starts at $22,000.