The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of the new Toyota Prius has been launched in Japan with the option of a solar roof which charges the batteries when the car is parked.
Dubbed the Prius PHV in its home market and the Prius Prime in the US, Toyota's plug-in hybrid won’t be made available in Australia, with the company's local arm having ruled out PHEVs for the foreseeable future.
The roof-mounted cells charge the car’s batteries while parked to increase pure-electric range, but they can also power the vehicle’s headlights, power windows and air-conditioning while the Prius is running to further reduce fuel consumption.
Toyota claims that the solar roof helps to improve fuel efficiency by as much as 10 per cent.
However, the solar roof option will be reserved for the Japanese and European markets only, with even the US missing out on the technology because the glass sheeting that the panels are laid on doesn’t pass America’s tough rollover crash standards.
According to Koji Toyoshima, chief engineer of both the plug-in Prius and its standard hybrid sibling, the company doesn’t yet have the technology to laminate the cells in a resin that won’t shatter dangerously if the car rolls over.
Speaking to industry journal Automotive News at the Japanese launch of the solar-equipped model, Toyoshima said that the company plans to introduce solar-powered technology to other hybrids in the line-up - which could hint at a solar upgrade to the Prius C and Prius V derivatives or even the Corolla Hybrid that was recently launched in Australia.
Previous-generation examples of the Audi A8 have also been available with a similar feature, however, neither solution was used to the same extent as that in the latest Prius.