Ford to unveil solar-powered car, but will it work?

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Ford is expected to unveil a concept model for a solar-powered car next week, but huge hurdles remain in making the car technically and economically possible.

The Detroit auto company is expected to unveil its concept for the C-MAX Solar Energi at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week. Ford is collaborating with SunPower Corp. and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept shines a new light on electric transportation and renewable energy,” said Mike Tinskey, Ford’s global director of electric vehicles. “As an innovation leader, we want to further the public dialog about the art of the possible in moving the world toward a cleaner future.”

The C-MAX Solar Energi would be powered by sunlight captured by solar panels on the car’s roof. This would give the vehicle the theoretical advantage of not having to use charging stations — which are sparsely located throughout the country. Ford says that solar power could fuel up to 75 percent of trips made in a solar hybrid vehicle.

On a full charge, the C-MAX Solar Energi is expected to have a range of 620 miles, but only 21 of those miles are power by only electricity. This is the same range as the already-in-production C-MAX Energi hybrid.

There are, however, major technical and economic hurdles in making solar powered vehicles for mass consumption. One such problem is that there is simply not enough surface area on a car to have it be completely powered by sunshine, the Detroit News reports.

Another major problem is the potential added cost of solar panels. The C-Max Energi hybrid already runs for $32,920, the Detroit News reports, and qualifies for a $4,000 tax credit. But the added cost of solar panels could potentially add thousands of dollars to the cost of buying the solar car.

Solar panels can range in cost from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars depending on their size and efficiency. The Obama administration also imposed tariffs on imported Chinese solar panels because domestic producers complained that their prices were being undercut. This could also put upward pressure on the car’s price.

Ford said it is too early to speculate on how much solar panels would add to the car’s cost.

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