A couple of weeks ago we heard about plans for a solar-assisted Toyota [NYSE:TM] Prius, and now it seems Nissan [NASDAQ:NSANY] is jumping on the solar bandwagon as well. Reports about the Prius suggested it would feature solar panels to power its air conditioning, but Nissan is taking a less revolutionary step and using the sun's energy to charge a given car's battery. The panels will be made by a company called ICP Solar, which has reportedly just entered into a sales agreement with the European and North American branches of Nissan to make OEM solar chargers.
Obviously, there's already a doohickey in gasoline engines that does this -- it's called the alternator -- by using the engine's power, not the sun's. The idea, presumably, is to prevent that ugly scenario of returning to a car with a dead battery by charging the battery even when the car's off. But the reason that scenario usually comes up is usually headlights or maplights left on, and it's doubtful that a small battery-assisting solar panel could make up for a drain like that. This also won't ameliorate the worn-out battery problem; once a battery gets too old, it won't hold a charge, regardless of the power source. We'll leave Nissan and ICP to sort out those problems, but getting solar panels into a vehicle for anything at all is a promising step. Look for these by 2009.