INITIALLY it sounds like one of those inventions you can’t believe hadn’t been thought up earlier, like the rotary washing line or wind-resistant umbrellas – but there are few issues with Hyundai’s new solar-assisted hybrid car.
Don’t get me wrong, as the new Sonata Hybrid is still a decidedly clever bit of kit. Beneath its bonnet you’ll find a two-litre, direct injection petrol engine, which is teamed up to an electric motor to do all the crawling through traffic in a zero emissions way that’ll please the Polar bears. So far, so-so, but it’s the flotilla of solar panels on the roof that are its party piece, charging up the battery while you’re at work.
Solar panels are, of course nothing new – my parents have practically covered the roof of their house with them, as have plenty of folk up and down the land in this era of Government-backed eco-friendly energy incentives. They aren’t even especially new in the motoring world either, as Nissan have for years offered one as an optional extra on the LEAF, which allows you to keep things like the stereo in action without draining its batteries. Hyundai’s real smart thinking here is that it scrounges off the sun to charge up its batteries directly, meaning that on a bright day the big shiny thing in the sky can charge anywhere between 30 and 60 per cent of the hybrid’s batteries up over six hours. Net result? You don’t spend as much at the pumps, and Greta Thunberg won’t be asking you to commute by horse instead.
I reckon Hyundai could even go the whole hog and apply it to an all-electric car rather than a hybrid; it’s already common practice on plenty of zero emissions models to give them a quick charge that tops the batteries up to around 80 per cent of their full capacity, so the idea of having some solar panels that take care of the remainder, using a free, renewable energy source seems like a smart solution. All of it, using today’s tech, is definitely doable.
Or at least it would be if it weren’t for the Sonata Hybrid’s biggest problem – it’s not going on sale here. I’d love to crack a joke at this point about our cold, miserable summers and overcast afternoons in Aughton scuppering its chances but I can’t, because it’s not going on sale in the south of Spain, where it’s permanently 30 degrees, or in the northernmost reaches of Scandinavia – home of the midnight sun – either. That’s got nothing to do with it being a solar-assisted hybrid car and everything to do with it being a Hyundai Sonata.
So, in other words, a BMW-sized saloon with a Hyundai badge – even Hyundai knows that’s a tricky sell, which is why it dropped the Sonata from its range in 2010, with the Mondeo-rivalling i40 doing a rather more commendable job of filling the gap instead. The new Sonata will go on sale in Korea, and in America, but Hyundai, quite sensibly, concluded that given the choice we Brits would still go for an Audi A4 or Jaguar XE instead.
But the story doesn’t end there – the Sonata won’t be joining us, but the clever tech almost certainly will, because it’s looking to roll it out on other models too.
An i800 people carrier with the entire expanse of its vast roof decked out in solar panels? Sounds like a better plan than a rotary washing line, I reckon.