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Toyota's Third-Generation Prius Hybrid Has Solar Panels, Remote Control Air Conditioning

Toyota Prius

Car companies can't make hybrid vehicles fast enough, but the world's first mass-produced hybrid vehicle still reigns supreme. Toyota unveiled the third-generation Prius today in Tokyo, Japan, with a slew of new features to satisfy the gadget geek in all of us.

The most energy-efficient Prius yet--50 mpg compared to 46 mpg for the 2009 model--comes with an optional solar panel on the roof to power cabin vent fans. Since the remote control-powered air conditioner is electric, it can run even when the car is off--so a quick trip to the store doesn't have to mean an oven-like car upon return. Toyota's new Prius also comes with LED headlights that save 17% of power used by high-intensity low-beam lights.

Perhaps the most significant energy-efficiency upgrades are the Prius' new EV/Eco/Power mode buttons. When pushed, the EV Mode button allows the driver to cruise solely on battery power under half a mile under 25 mph. It's not useful enough for most trips, but the quiet electric mode is great for sneaking up on neighbors.  Eco Mode causes the throttle position to lag the movement of the gas pedal, and Power Mode does the opposite by causing the throttle to snap abruptly.

Not all of the Prius' upgrades are energy-related. The car can parallel park itself with Intelligent Parking Assist and steer itself on the highway with the Lane Keeping Assist. 

The third-generation Prius, available in Japan for approximately $20,900, already has 80,000 advanced orders lined up. Don't get too excited yet--Toyota hasn't revealed when the car will be available outside Japan.

[Toyota via MSNBC]

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