Solar panels can power your house, but what about your car? Hyundai is the latest automaker to experiment with solar charging systems for cars, unveiling a solar roof that helps recharge the Sonata Hybrid sedan’s battery pack. While the latest version of the Sonata Hybrid will likely launch in the United States soon, Hyundai did not say whether the solar roof would be included.
Hyundai claims the solar roof can charge a car’s battery pack to 30-60% capacity, given six hours of charging per day. Hybrids like the Sonata have smaller battery packs than all-electric cars, so a solar roof can make a bigger difference in charging. The solar roof can charge both while the car is stationary and while driving, according to Hyundai.
Adding solar cells to a car is not a new idea. The Karma Revero luxury plug-in hybrid is available with a solar roof, and Toyota even covered the hood of a car with solar cells to make maximum use of the sun’s energy. The World Solar Challenge invites students to race across Australia in solar-powered cars, and a Dutch company has tried to use similar technology for a production solar car.
Using the sun’s energy to power your car instead of just make the interior unbearably hot may sound like a good deal, but solar power does have some issues. Solar cells add cost and weight to cars, and it’s unclear how effective they can be in the real world. The cells need to be positioned to absorb maximum sunlight, and that may not always be possible in everyday driving.
Hyundai has not discussed plans to offer its solar roof in the U.S., but the car it’s attached to will eventually arrive here. It’s based on the latest-generation Sonata, which has more expressive styling than its predecessor. Both hybrid and non-hybrid versions of the Sonata will also get a “digital key” that lets the driver use a smartphone in place of a traditional key fob. The hybrid model will use a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine with electric assist, and even the non-hybrid version will also get new engine tech to help boost gas mileage.