Solar panels on cars may or may not conjure images of teardrop silhouettes on skinny wheels such as those on television programmes such as Beyond 2000, but electronics producer Panasonic is party to a renewed push for photovoltaic cells to be installed on electrified vehicles, according to a Bloomberg report.

“Car roofs have the potential to become a new market for solar panels. We made history in the auto industry and in the solar industry with the sun powering mass-produced cars for the first time in the world,” said Shingo Okamoto, general manager in charge of solar panel development at Panasonic.

The automotive market could hold the promise of great growth for Panasonic, which has currently partnered with EV maker Tesla for the production of batteries at its Gigafactory in the United States. Tesla chairman Elon Musk has reportedly also commenced sales of residential roof tiles with embedded photovoltaic cells, while Nissan offers an optional solar panel for its Leaf EV.

Toyota sold 1,350 units of its Prius Prime plug-in hybrid as of end April, according to the automaker. The Prius Prime is the first solar panel-equipped vehicle with a dedicated battery, says Toyota, with the car boasting a fuel consumption figure of 1.4 l/100 km.

Allowing for seasonal variations in sunlight, the average distance travelled on a single solar charge varies between 2.9 km to 6.1 km, Toyota says. “That means you get about 10% of annual mileage from solar just by letting your car sit,” Okamoto said.

“We are aware that the panels are supplying only a small amount of electricity. But this system is still a breakthrough as we are making use of the energy we would be wasting otherwise. By filling all available space with cells, it is possible to extend the range easily to 10 km,” said Shoichi Kaneko, Prius chief engineer.