Ford experiments with solar-powered hybrid car

A car with solar panels on the roof could be on the market sooner than you might think.

Imagine an electric car that can charge without being plugged into an outlet and without using electricity from dirty energy sources, like coal. That's what Ford plans to experiment with in a new solar-hybrid concept car that it will unveil at the CES consumer electrics and technology show later this month.

The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept car will have solar panels on top of the car and, when fully charged, it will have a 620-mile range (the same as the company's C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid) and can run 100 miles per gallon, combined city and highway, according to Ford. The idea of solar-powered cars is nothing new, but thanks to innovation from Georgia Institute of Technology it could now be a real possibility on the mass market.

"Because of the extended time it takes to absorb enough energy to fully charge the vehicle," Ford said, it turned to Georgia Tech researchers to develop a solar concentrator that uses Fresnel lens, which act like magnifying glasses, to amplify the power of the sun by eight times. The system follows the sun east-to-west and can provide the car with the equivalent of a four-hour battery charge each day. The downside is that the concentrator is a separate structure that the car would set under to charge, potentially making the car a tougher sell in urban environments if the car ever makes it to market. 

The solar cells being used on the car were developed by SolarPower.

Of course, if you want to get your power from the electricity grid, there is also the option to plug-in to an outlet.

After CES, Ford will begin running tests to determine if, in fact, a solar-hybrid EV would be suitable for the mass market. Ford says that its data already suggests 75 percent of all trips made by an average driver could be done in a solar hybrid vehicle. Other cars currently on the market use solar panels on cars, like the Nissan Leaf, but it's for powering the car's accessories, not the car itself.  

Ford estimates its total sales of hybrids and all-electric cars for 2013 at 85,000.

Read more: Ford

Photo: Ford

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