Japanese carmaker Toyota is said to be using technology to develop an innovative environmental vehicle in its quest to dominate alternate-fuel vehicles. According to the Nikkei business daily, Japan's top car maker is developing a futuristic ecological car that will use solar energy to recharge electric vehicles.
The report said Toyota is experimenting with a version of an electric vehicle that will get some of its power from solar cells installed on the roof of the vehicle and can also be recharged by electricity generated from solar panels on roofs of homes.
In July, 2008 Toyota was planning to install a solar power system on its Prius hybrid car. The redesigned Prius would have solar panels on the roof, to supply some of the two to five kilowatts needed to power the air-conditioning unit, Nikkei had reported. (See: Toyota plans to make the Prius greener with solar panels in 2009)
Also the leader in green vehicles and maker of the Prius, Toyota, which is associated with luxury car Lexus and Camry sedan, has already started using solar panels at its Tsutsumi plant, in Japan to generate its own electricity.
According to Toyota, the solar panels on the roofs add up in size to the equivalent of 60 tennis courts and produce enough electricity to power 500 homes. This process reduces 740 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in a year and is equal to using 1,500 barrels of crude oil.
Toyota in the long run plans to develop a model totally powered by solar cells on the vehicle, which may take it a number of years to develop the final version, said the Nikkei newspaper.
Observors say this could also be a marketing ploy to keep it afloat in times where auto companies world over are badly hit. Barely 10 days ago Toyota made the stunning forecast of a 150-billion yen ($1.7 billion) loss, for the first time in 70 years this fiscal year, due to the economic downturn that has stymied sales (See: Toyota makes first annual loss in seven decades)
The slow down in sales was first noticed around August 2008 when the financial crisis in the US resulted in negative impact on Toyota, as it laid off 800 people or about 10 per cent of its work force at a plant in south eastern Japan, in response to declining sales in North America. (See : US sales slump forces Toyota to lay off workers in Japan)
To compound to Toyota's existing problem, the surging yen has hurt its earnings against the dollar. The Japan's finance ministry said that a surging yen coupled with a drop in demand for consumer electronics and cars has seen the country's exports nosedive by a record 26.7 per cent in November.(See: Global recession gives Japan's exports the chill)
Toyota is a leader in green technology. It launched the Prius - a hybrid car which uses battery power and a combustion engine - in 1997 (See: Swiss give top green ranking to Toyota's Prius)
Toyota and Nissan had said in July 2008 that they would work with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co to set up common standards for lithium-ion batteries being developed to power next-generation cars. (See: Japanese auto and battery makers join hands for common standards for next generation auto batteries)
Toyota will also benefit indirectly by gaining expertise in solar energy as its partner Panasonic Corp, has acquired rival Sanyo Electric Co., a leader in solar energy, this year. (See: Panasonic to acquire Sanyo for $9 billion)
Toyota's offices were closed yesterday and company executives were not available for comment said the Nikkei newspaper.
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