Ford Motor Co. is testing a solar-powered electric car thats easier to recharge than the typical plug-in, though the cost of solar panels would potentially add thousands of dollars to an already expensive vehicle.
Using a days worth of sunlight captured by rooftop solar panels, the Dearborn automaker says the C-Max Solar Energi Concept will mirror the efficiency of the C-Max Energi plug-in vehicle currently available on dealer lots.
The Energi plug-in can go 620 miles on a tank of gas 21 of those in electric-only mode. And like the Energi-plug in, the solar-powered concept also has a charge port and can be re-charged via cord and plug if needed.
Ford plans to show the C-Max Solar Energi Concept next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Ford is working with San Jose, Calif.-based SunPower Corp. and Atlanta-based Georgia Institute of Technology.
Following CES, Ford and Georgia Tech will test the vehicle in numerous real-world scenarios to determine whether the concept car could potentially become one that consumers can buy.
The current, production-model C-Max Energi plug-in costs $32,920 and qualifies for a $4,000 federal tax credit. But the cost of solar panels especially ones that can capture sunlight equal to a four-hour battery charge, or 8 kilowatts can vary from a few hundred to thousands of dollars depending on size and efficiency.
A Ford spokesman said it is too soon to speculate on added cost for a potential production vehicle.
The benefit, however, is that a driver wont have to rely on electric-vehicle stations to re-charge their vehicle.
There are 6,708 electric-vehicle charging stations throughout the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Energys Alternative Fuels Data Center. There are about 105,000 gas stations, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
And although electricity costs are low, epecially compared to fuel prices, a lithium-ion battery charged via sunlight would effectively bring recharge costs to zero for a driver that commutes solely in electric-only mode.
Fords says internal data suggest the sun could power up to 75 percent of all trips made by an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle.
Solar panels and cars arent a new combination.
Automakers in the past have installed solar panels on numerous vehicles.
For example, Toyota Motor Corp.s Prius hybrid car has an optional solar panel, but it doesnt help propel the car; the solar panels help power a fan that keeps the car cooler when parked.
Audis gas-powered A8 can also come with solar panels to regulate cabin temperature.
Solar panels, at this point, cannot completely power a vehicle, because theres simply not enough surface area on most cars for the necessary number of solar panels to power a car. But a smaller number of solar panels can help recharge a cars batteries.
In the case of the C-Max Solar Energi Concept, the panels recharge the vehicles lithium-ion battery, which provides the approximately 21 miles of electric-only driving range.
Fords concept uses a Fresnel lens similar to a lens used in a lighthouse and reduces the size of the lens needed to capture sunlight.
Ford says that increases the impact of the sunlight by a factor of eight.